So you’ve spent the summer spending and you can see those holiday expenses coming not too far around the corner. What should you do?
You need to give yourself a financial check-up. Using the wonders of online banking, you can give yourself a thorough audit while you wait for your laundry or the Chinese-food deliveryman. The end of summer is a great time to step back and look at your finances. The summer often brings extra spending, so the fall is a good time to see where you’re at heading into Thanksgiving and the winter holidays. Getting started is simple: If you take 30 extra minutes to sit down with your bank statements and online banking system, you could simplify your financial situation considerably. Here are a few efficient and effective steps to start getting your money under control.
Check Out Your Income — 10 Minutes
First things first, you need to know how much money you’re making. The best place to find this information is your digital or paper bank statement. Just look at how much is being deposited into your account every two weeks via your employer or other sources and multiply it by two to get a monthly picture of your income. Remember: If you are self-employed or work on a freelance basis, you may need to account for income taxes that will be deducted at the end of the fiscal year. If you are paid through a payroll system, the number you see on your statement should be accurate and adjusted for taxes.
Take a Look at Expenses — 15 Minutes
Keep your bank statement open and start adding up the withdrawals and purchases you have made over the past month. Once you’re done, compare that number to the total income number you generated a few minutes ago. If your spending has outpaced your earning over a period of two consecutive months or more, you may need to reevaluate how much you’re spending (it’s easier than finding a better-paying job!). Be sure to look at where and how much you are spending. If you are finding small repeat purchases on items such as coffee, those can add up over the weeks to as much as $50 per month. That could be the difference between your balance sheet ending up in the black or the red.
Read up on Your Debts — 10 Minutes
Student loans, credit cards, mortgages, auto loans and more: Debt comes in many forms. Gather up your most recent documents from each issuer (usually it’s best to keep these documents in one place) and look at how much you’re paying each month and how much you owe. Do the quick math and find out how long it will take you to pay off each debt completely. Are you on track or are you not allocating enough money each month? If you’re falling behind, go back to your expenses and look at cutting some expenditures. If you’re making your payments easily, you might be a candidate for refinancing. Or you could explore the ways to save for the future.
Take a Deep Breath — 0 Minutes
So you’ve done the most difficult part of the financial check-up: You’ve looked at the raw data and come face-to-face with the fact that your budget might not line up appropriately. Before you proceed, breathe deep.
Evaluate Your Investments — 10 Minutes
Maybe your employer contributes to a work-sponsored 401K package. Perhaps your parents set you up with some stocks or bonds while you were still living under their roof. Maybe you struck out on your own early on by making smart investments with an eye toward retirement. No matter what your situation, it’s always good to look toward the future each year. The earlier you start thinking about retirement, the longer you have to save effectively. Look at some retirement packages and evaluate the different ways you can invest your money. Savings bonds could be a good, low-risk, place to start.