Summer is the perfect time for a financial tuneup. It's probably been about six months since you gave serious thought to your goals for the year, and you still have half a year left to catch up to any major savings targets. So even if you've fallen behind, you can still get back on track. U.S. News turned to financial experts to share their top advice for giving your finances a midyear boost:
1. Rethink big goals. Like many Americans, you might have made a list of goals back in January, from saving $5,000 to buying your first home. Now is the time to check in to see if you are halfway there, or not. If not, there's still plenty of time to do something about it.
To get back on track, Cathy Curtis, a financial planner in Oakland, California, recommends Mint.com, which helps you monitor your expenses against a budget. "If you are spending too much, make a bigger effort for the rest of the year to catch up. If you're spending less than planned, pat yourself on the back and invest the surplus," she says.
2. Give yourself a raise. Even if your salary is maxed out, your earnings don't have to be. If you've been brainstorming ways to earn money on the side, the slower summer months are a good time to put those plans into motion. Do you know a second language you could teach? Or have craft or cooking skills you could share? To get ideas about how to earn extra money, check out the services section on Craigslist and see what people are advertising, from editing to gardening and event planning.
3. Put your money to work. Instead of keeping your money in a savings account, Danny Tobias, co-creator of the budgeting site Doughhound.com, says anyone who has money sitting in a savings account should consider moving it into a Roth or Traditional individual retirement account to reduce taxes later. If you already have money invested in the market through retirement or other accounts, spend an hour rebalancing them, so you are not over-invested in assets that have performed well recently. If you manage your own portfolio, Tobias recommends completing this task at least once a year, but says once a quarter is even better.
4. Get a flex-check. If you're among the thousands of employees who signed up for a flexible spending account at the start of the year, which means you set aside pretax dollars to cover certain eligible health care, transportation or child care costs, check to see where you stand with those accounts. If you haven't yet spent close to half of your allotted amounts, look into potential expenses throughout the rest of the year and ways you can make adjustments to get the most out of those accounts. In most cases, money that isn't spent is forfeited.
5. Cut your energy costs. During the summer, energy costs often skyrocket. In addition to the price of gas, overtaxed air conditioners add to monthly costs. Limit your expenses by turning your thermostat up a few degrees during the day, keeping shades down and plugging any leaks in your home.
6. Get covered. In many parts of the country, summer coincides with a rise in burglaries and thefts. The warmer weather also brings on a slew of natural disasters, especially hurricanes and thunderstorms. Check on your homeowners or renters insurance to make sure you have the coverage you need.
7. Don't overtax yourself. Summer might not be known as tax season, but it should be, says Curtis, because a midyear checkup allows you to recalibrate any withholding amounts. If you are earning more or less than you expected, you might need to adjust your W-9 form, she says. (She suggests another tax check in the fall to prepare for any end-of-year moves.)
8. Throw yourself a paperwork party. If paperwork has been piling up since winter, consider engaging in a little early summer cleaning. Regina Leeds, known as the "Zen organizer" and author of "One Year to an Organized Life," suggests setting up a file system to easily store receipts that pile up throughout the year. If your filing system looks a little ragged, consider spending an hour tossing or shredding what you don't need and putting the rest online by scanning them or making sure you can access the information through online accounts. Check that your most important documents, such as birth and marriage certificates, are stored in an archival box or locked file cabinet that's separate from your day-to-day files, Leeds advises.
9. Make smart summer vacation plans. Minimize airline fees by traveling light and packing your own food, traveling at off-peak times and using comparison sites to shop for the best deal. Tobias, who is also co-creator of the travel site ishouldlogoff.com, says many people overlook the pleasures of taking a road trip to a national or state park. "Camping is cheap, but even if you're not one to start your own fire, you can still pay for a nice stay at a park lodge or local bed-and-breakfast, neither of which should cost more than a standard hotel," he says.
If you have the flexibility to wait to book a trip until the last minute, you can snag great deals on cruises and hotels that need to fill empty rooms. And don't forget free summer activities from city-sponsored outdoor concerts, local library offerings and post-dinner walks around the neighborhood.
10. Keep an eye on upcoming splurges. Christmas gifts, school tuition and winter vacation are just a few costs that could be headed your way before the year is over. "A lot of people get excited about being outside and going on road trips, and they forget about what's coming up later," says Casey Weade, president of Howard Bailey Financial and a certified financial planner. He suggests factoring those fall and winter costs into your summer budget to prevent nasty surprises later.
11. Get creative with passwords. Tobias suggests changing passwords on a regular basis to keep thieves from hacking into your accounts. Tobias, who has previously been a victim of identity theft, urges people to take this simple step to protect themselves and possibly even enroll in a credit monitoring service.
12. Pick a pet project. If summer travel or reading exposes you to a global or local problem that you would like to help solve, learn all you can about it and commit to making a difference. Instead of saying "yes" and donating small amounts to friends' causes throughout the year, decide what your own priorities are so you feel like you are having the impact you want.
After completing this to-do list, you'll have earned that trip to the beach.
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