Fall Finances: It’s time for your annual check-up

With summer break over and the holidays on the way, fall is a good time to take a deep breath, get re-centered, and give your finances a once-over. Here are 6 steps to get your finances all raked up this fall.

1) Deal with Summer Debt

If the weddings, vacations, and summer socializing got to your wallet, now’s the time to get a handle on it.

  • Review your credit card debt. If you can pay it all off now, do so. If your debt is on a high-rate card, consider doing a balance transfer to make sure you pay less interest. Sierra’s Alumni Card is great for balance transfers.
  • Check your budget for places you’re overspending and take steps to cut back.
  • Until you get that debt under control, put yourself on a cash-only diet, and skimp on unnecesary expenses.

2) Review Your Credit Report

This is especially important if you have any major purchases coming up next year, or if you want to refinance old debt. It’s also a good way to make sure nothing suspicious is happening in your name. Take an hour to give your report a once-over, note anything strange, and follow up on it.

  • Download a free report and review it for any mistakes or forgotten debt.
  • Look for any mistakes & take steps to clean up any issues you find.
  • Look for other ways to give your credit score a boost this fall.

3) Prep for Open Enrollment

Many employers offer open enrollment for insurance and other benefits in the fall. Take an hour to review last year’s plans, consider next year’s expenses, and note any major changes you want to make. Contact HR or your benefits representative to ask for recommendations.

  • Do you have the right medical coverage? If you didn’t meet last year’s deductibles, consider changing plans.
  • Do you have major medical expenses coming up? You may want to up your coverage next year if you have a baby on the way, a surgery planned, or other big expenses ahead of you.
  • Do you need to add or remove family members from your plan? If you got married or divorced, if you had a baby or if your baby has outgrown your coverage, it’s time to update the plan.
  • Are you enrolled in life and disability insurance? If your employer offers these, especially if they pay for it, consider signing up.

4) Check Retirement Savings

Saving for retirement isn’t seasonal, but fall is a good time to check in on your progress. Take a look at these quick questions to get you started.

  • Are you on track? At your current savings rate, what will your retirement savings look like when you’re ready to step back? It might be time to start adding more money to the pot every month, or to change your saving and investment strategy.
  • Is Your 401(k) Happy? If your employer offers a 401(k), especially if they match contributions, make sure you’re taking advantage. Contribute as much as you can up to that contribution match.
  • Is it time for an IRA? If you’re meeting your 401(k) contribution limit, or if your employer doesn’t have one, look at opening another retirement account. Do a little Roth IRA research, and consider talking with a financial advisor.
  • Is it time to consult a financial advisor? As you get closer to retirement and as your investments grow, a financial advisor can help you make sure everything is in order. Establish a retirement withdrawal plan, make sure what you have will actually be enough, and understand the taxes and other expenses involved. Consider making an appointment this fall to plan for next year.

5) Make Your Holiday Budget

Now that your summer spending is cleaned up, let’s plan ahead for the gifts, food, and travel of the holiday season. Take an hour, sit down, and map out your holiday spending plan. Make a plan to stay within your Try these holiday planning apps to make this easier, and use Money Desktop to build in a Holiday Budget category.

  • Plan Gifts: Who do you need gifts for, and how much will you spend? Make your list now, and check it against your budget. You may need to cut back on expensive presents to keep out of debt this holiday season.
  • Plan Travel: Are you traveling this holiday season? Start looking at flights, car rentals, and housing now, before prices skyrocket.
  • Plan Parties: If you’re in charge of the turkey this year, sketch out a basic budget for the party.
  • Budget Decorations: It’s easy to impulse-buy the cute new yard decor or dollar store door signs, but these little purchases can add up. Give yourself a budget for the tree, the lights, and all the rest and stick to it.

6) Change Service Providers

It’s easy to overpay for phone, internet, and even banking services. Fall is a good time to check on these providers. How much are you paying vs. alternatives? Is the level of service worth that price tag? Can you shift to a cheaper plan, or is it time to choose a new company?

  • Phone & Internet: Look into options for lowering your payments. Family plan? Bundles? Discounts? Switch to a cheaper provider?
  • TV & Streaming: If you’re still hooked up to cable, consider cutting that cord. If you’re paying for streaming services, consider dropping the ones you don’t actually watch. Sierra’s Money Desktop tool can help you see upcoming payments and subscriptions. Take a look, and cancel any services you don’t use.
  • Banking Products: Check how much you’re paying for checking accounts, credit cards, and loans. Are you paying annual fees? Is your interest rate competitive? Can you refinance and save some cash (you know we’d love to help with that)?
  • Home Services: Are you paying for landscaping, home cleaning, pool management, or other home maintenance services? Can you cut back on any of those services? On the flip side, is it time to hire someone to check your heating system, clean out the fireplace, or do other seasonal maintenance?