Go to the gym. Read more books. Quit biting your nails. With so many resolutions for 2014 on your list, taking care of your finances might feel like it can wait … until next month.
But there's really no time like the present to start taking control of your money.
So in the spirit of making 2014 your best money year yet, we’ve put together a comprehensive, manageable financial calendar of all the must-do money tasks that could help you achieve your goals in the coming months—whether it's buying a house, saving for retirement, growing your family or just about anything else.
Once you've read through the to-dos for each month, you can create calendar reminders through your email or phone to help keep you on track. And since we've picked months for each task, rather than specific days, you get to choose the days of the week that work best for scheduling those to-dos. In other words, there's no excuse not to start setting those reminders today!
1. Reset Your Budget
While the New Year is a great time to look forward, it’s also a good opportunity to look back at the past year—especially when it comes to your saving and spending habits. If you’ve been using LearnVest’s free iPhone or iPad app, you can easily review your spending from 2013 to see where your money went each month. (And if you haven’t been using the app, it's never too late to start!)
Once you have a clear sense of your financial habits from 2013, you can figure out how to tweak your budget for the coming year. And don't forget to factor in occasional necessities, like vet bills, insurance premiums and maintenance costs. Of course, you'll need to adjust your budget as your needs change throughout the year, but January is a good time to reassess your spending and saving.
RELATED: I Want to Set Up a Budget
2. Organize Your Savings Accounts
LearnVest suggests putting 20% or more of your income toward financial priorities (this can include savings and debt payments)—but what you’re squirreling away for is up to you. Maybe it’s an African safari, a renovated kitchen or a comfortable emergency fund.
Regardless of the goal, figure out exactly how much you need to save, and then create a separate savings account for each goal, so you can easily track your progress and gauge if you need to ramp up your efforts throughout the year.
3. Set Your Retirement Savings on Auto-Pilot
Retirement contributions should be a priority, so make it a point now to set up automatic, monthly contributions of at least 1% to 2% of your income into a Roth or Traditional IRA or a 401(k) through your employer. If you have a 401(k), your goal should be to contribute at least enough to get your full employer match, as well as increase your contribution by 1% every six months, working your way up to 10% of your income over time.
Already doing this? Then it's time to increase your contribution percentage. For 2014, the limits for all three accounts are the same as they were in 2013, so you'll want to do your best to work toward maxing them out.
4. Put Your Annual Bonus to Good Use
Financial responsibility doesn’t have to mean all work and no play. If you received a year-end bonus, pat yourself on the back and enjoy it by spending 10% on something fun—and then allocate the remainder toward a financial priority. (You have until April 15 to max out your IRA. Just saying!)
5. Pay Your Tax Bill If You're Self-Employed, Own a Small Business or Freelance
You have until January 15th to pay your fourth-quarter estimated tax payments for 2013. And be sure to put reminders on your calendar to pay quarterlies on time for 2014, as well.
6. Map Out Your Annual Travel Budget
Vacations are a common financial goal, but taking your own Tour de France (or Asia … or South America …) doesn't come cheap. So make a list of any expected trips this year—like a friend’s wedding or a relative’s big birthday celebration—and start saving for them now in a separate account earmarked for travel. And then plan any other getaways around these trips, as your budget permits. While lounging on the beach each February may seem like a “necessary” cure for the winter doldrums, financial priorities should never suffer for travel.
1. Prep for Tax Time
By the beginning of February, you should have received your tax forms, such as a W-2 from your employer, or 1099s for supplementary income. Keep them in a safe spot, and start collecting any other information that you’ll need to do your taxes, like records of charitable donations and receipts for expenses you’ll be itemizing. Need more guidance? Check out LearnVest’s free Ace Your Taxes Bootcamp.
2. Get Your Credit Score
SATs are a thing of the past. As an adult, the only score that really matters is your credit score, which can have a major effect on the rates you lock in for mortgages and other loans. To get your credit score for free, head over to Credit Karma. Not happy with what you see? Use LearnVest's checklist to monitor and improve your credit score.
3. Have the Money Talk With Your Significant Other
It may not be the most romantic thing to think about this Valentine's Day, but the effects of a successful money chat last much longer than that bouquet of roses. No matter what stage you are in your relationship—be it dating or happily married—significant others can either be great partners to help you stay on track with your finances ... or seriously sabotage your best efforts. So make sure that you’re both on the same page when it comes to financial goals and priorities by having a forthright conversation (or two).
4. Fill Out Your FAFSA
If your child plans to attend college this September, it's time to submit your government application for financial aid, known as the FAFSA. You must re-submit the form each year that you request aid, and while it can vary somewhat by state, the forms are released in January, with a filing deadline of June. That said, it's a good idea to submit your application well in advance—many institutions award aid on a first-come, first-serve basis. And even if you're not sure that you qualify for aid, go ahead and fill out the form, because you'll never know if you don't ask!
1. Wrap Up Your Taxes
Your goal should be to finish your taxes in March—well, in advance of the April 15 deadline. If you get a tax refund from the government, treat it the same way as your year-end bonus: Put 10% toward something fun, and funnel the rest toward financial priorities.
2. Start Your Spring Cleaning
Spring doesn’t officially start until March 20—but this doesn’t mean you can’t get a head start early in the month. So take stock of your belongings and decide what you still need ... and what can go. In addition to donating items to charity, you can also resell goods on sites like eBay or take gently worn clothes to a consignment shop. Plus, going through your drawers gives you one last chance to make sure that you didn’t miss any hidden receipts that you can itemize on your taxes.
3. Take Stock of Your Personal Possessions
Speaking of going through your house ... in the event that your home is burglarized and your belongings are stolen or damaged, you’ll need detailed documentation to prove their value to your insurer. So spend a few hours photographing the items that made the spring-cleaning cut and create a running list of the value of all household goods. Then lock these files (be they paper or flash drive) in a waterproof and fireproof safe, or back them up on a secure file-sharing website, such as Box.
4. Pin Down Your Child’s Summer Plans
If you have kids, you know that their attention spans last only so long. In order to keep them busy when school’s out, research options like summer camp, enrichment programs and other activities—and start budgeting for them now.
1. Put Those Taxes to Bed
The deadline for filing your taxes is April 15th ... although you finished them in March, right? If, for whatever reason, you could use a little more time, you need to get in touch with the IRS now. The deadline for filing an extension, which will buy you six more months to complete your taxes, is also April 15. And if you’re self-employed, freelancing or running your own business, Q1 estimated tax payments are due April 15th, as well.
2. Review Your Insurance Policies
Why not knock this indoor task off your list before that summer weather sets in? And if you’ve recently had a major life event—say, a marriage or a child—it’s an especially good time to reevaluate your current insurance coverage. Check out quotes for home, auto and life insurance policies online, and then call your current agent to make sure that you’re getting the best rate possible.
RELATED: Life & Disability Insurance 101
3. Finalize Summer Travel
If a vacation is in the cards, now’s the time to hammer out the details. Whenever possible, it's a good idea to book airfare three to five months in advance—before prices start inching up. So now is a good time to nail down July and August flights. For more tips, check out these insider hints to save on summer airfare.
1. Revisit Your Credit Score
It's been three months since you checked your credit score—and it's time to review your score on free site Credit Karma to make sure that you haven’t been the victim of fraud or any errors that may have caused your credit score to take a hit. And if you've been paying off your debts on time, your score may have improved—enabling you to qualify for better rates on loans.
2. Get a Copy of Your Credit Report
Your credit report is akin to a report card: The free document offers a full record of your financial activity that's visible to creditors. Annualcreditreport.com lets you pull your credit report from each of the three major bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) once a year for free. So pull one to make sure that there are no errors, like unfamiliar credit cards or lines of credit. If you see something suspect, promptly dispute it with the bureau that produced the report.
3. Look Into Whether Your Child Qualifies for Scholarships
Now that the school year is winding down, you can turn your attention to the next frontier: college. If your kid is in high school, start checking out scholarships that could make higher education more affordable. The College Board’s Scholarship Search offers details on more than 2,200 programs, which provide nearly $6 billion in financial aid annually to students. Need inspiration? This enterprising student applied for 100 college scholarships—all on her own.
1. Revisit Your Budget
Does the budget that you set up at the beginning of the year still square up with your lifestyle, or have major life events since then thrown your saving and spending out of whack? Reviewing your budget at the six-month mark—and making any necessary changes to reflect your spending and saving needs—is a key part of taking control of your money.
2. Pay Your Tax Bill if You're Self-Employed, Own a Small Business or Freelance
Estimated tax payments for the second quarter are due June 15.
3. Hone in on Your Health
If you haven’t had an annual exam with a primary care physician this year, now is the time to schedule an appointment. And if your health regimen includes a workout plan, check in with your HR representative to see if your employer or insurer reimburses gym fees or offers any discounts. It can’t hurt to ask!
1. Up Your Retirement Contributions
If you’re saving in a 401(k) and aren’t already on track to max it out, increase your contributions by 1%. If you have an IRA, and you’re not saving $458.33 each month (or $541.66 per month if you're 50 or older), try to increase your monthly contributions by $100.
2. Analyze Your Energy Spending
The heat of the summer can drive up energy costs, so review your bills and get an idea of appropriate rates for your area using this handy tool. If you discover that you're overpaying, call providers and ask if there's any wiggle room on your bill.
3. Buy Big Ticket Items on July 4th
The holiday isn't an excuse to go on a shopping binge, but if you’re looking to purchase a pricey item, like a flat-screen TV or a grill, now may be the time to pull the trigger. Independence Day promotions often offer great deals on these larger items—just be sure to do a little researchbefore you head to the store.
4. Review Your Investing Strategy
You'll probably want to focus on some R&R in August, so consider checking off this important money task before you power down next month. Specifically, if your major life goals—like buying a home or saving for a wedding—are more than ten years away, you may want to retool your approach to investing to help you reach your target more quickly. To set up investments outside of a 401(k) or an IRA, set up an appointment with a financial professional and read LearnVest’s checklist: I Want to Set Up an Investment Account.
1. Check Your Credit Score
It's that time again: Review your credit score at Credit Karma, paying special attention to any fraudulent charges, so you can report it to your credit card company immediately.
2. Look Into Your Employer's Open Enrollment Period
Each fall, employees have a brief window of time when they can make changes to their insurance policies or set up and adjust contributions to health savings accounts (HSAs) and flexible spending accounts (FSAs). So review your current benefits situation, check out any new options that are available and decide whether you should make any switches. And don’t forget to consider disability insurance and life insurance, if your employer offers them.
RELATED: Your Open Enrollment To-Do List
3. Start Saving for College
The start of a new school season is just around the corner, and even if your kid isn't close to heading off for college yet, it's never too early to begin investing for the university years. A good first step? Set up a college savings account for your child, like a 529 plan. Already have one? Consider asking family to contribute to that account in lieu of gifts for your kid's next birthday or holiday.
1. Pay Your Tax Bill if You're Self-Employed, Own a Small Business or Freelance
Q3 estimated tax payments are due September 15.
2. Start Planning for Year-End Taxes
It’s never too early to get a head start on your taxes. Reach out to your CPA or another tax professional to make sure that you’ve been withholding enough, and whether there are any other steps you can take now to lower your tax bill for 2015.
3. Confirm Your Thanksgiving Travel Plans
It may be two months away, but for the best deals on flights, book your tickets on the Tuesday after Labor Day.
4. Review Your Credit Report
For the second time this year, download a copy of your credit report from Annualcreditreport.com. Just remember that each of the bureaus will only give you one free copy a year, so if you received a copy from Equifax in May, pull your report from either TransUnion or Experian now.
5. Update Your Roth IRA
If you converted to a Roth IRA in 2013, and it subsequently lost a lot of money, you can “recharacterize” until October 15. This means that you can revert back to a traditional IRA or move the money into your 401(k) and get back the taxes you paid on the higher amount, before changing it once again to a Roth IRA. Unsure of whether this is a good move for you? You may want to speak with a LearnVest Planning Services Certified Financial Planner™.
RELATED: Top Retirement Mistakes to Avoid
1. Organize Your Estate Planning Documents
Now that the weather is getting cooler, it's time to buckle down and focus on some serious stuff. Although it isn’t fun, estate planning is necessary if you want to save your loved ones a lot of time, money and stress in the event of a debilitating illness or death. Everyone should have a living will (also called a health care directive), which provides instructions for your care if you’re unable to make decisions yourself.
It's also a good time to review the beneficiary forms on your retirement accounts, and if you have kids, set up an appointment with an attorney to draft a will and name a guardian for your children. Once you take care of these tasks, you won’t have to do them again unless there’s a change in your family setup.
RELATED: The 6 Financial Documents You Need
2. Book December Holiday Travel
Consult that travel budget that you set up in January, and lock in your holiday plans now. Just like with Thanksgiving flights, the best time to buy airline tickets is on a Tuesday.
3. Submit Your Taxes if You’ve Filed for an Extension
October 15 is the last day that you can submit your 2013 taxes if you’ve filed for an extension.
1. Review Your Credit Score
You’ve done it three times this year, so you should be a pro by now: Check your credit score at Credit Karma, honing in on any surprising changes.
2. Budget for the Holidays
Well before those twinkling lights and yards of tinsel go up, prep your budget ahead of time to cover all of those seasonal costs: gifts, decor and entertaining. Set a budget for each category of your spending—and stick to it! You can start with these low-cost, creative ideas for decorating your home, throwing the perfect holiday party and even recipes for a gift everyone will love: festive holiday cookies.
1. Review Your Retirement and Brokerage Accounts
We're nearing the end of 2014, so now is prime-time to go through your investing accounts with a fine-tooth comb, and rebalance as needed. An accountant can help you determine if you should take any capital gains or losses in non-retirement accounts before the year officially comes to a close.
2. Don’t Blow Your Holiday Bonus!
Aside from a year-end bonus that’s based on your performance, some generous companies also give employees an additional holiday payout. Since you’ve already set aside money for holiday gifts, treat this bonus the same way you would a tax return and year-end bonus: Put 10% toward some fun spending, and allocate 90% for financial goals.
3. Revisit the Financial Highs and Lows of 2014
Take the time to review your spending and saving habits over the past year. Did you achieve your money goals? Did you successfully stick to a budget? Congratulate yourself for making progress on your money—and then focus on how you’re going to make even greater strides in 2015!