October has just begun, marking the beginning of the last quarter of 2016. This is the perfect time to check up on your money management progress.
Are you where you wanted to be when the year started ? And are you financially prepared to take on a new year in 2017?
If you were hoping to do more with your money this year, there’s still time. During the upcoming months, you can get your money goals back on track and make sure you end the year financially strong.
Here are five ideas on how to get started.
1. Budget for seasonal expenses
One of the biggest obstacles to ending the year strong is seasonal spending. Between gifts, travel and all the trappings of the holidays, expenses outside of your typical budget will quickly add up.
Without a plan to cover them, these extra costs will hold you back as you try to get ahead in the New Year. Consumers who use debt for holiday spending borrow $986 on average, according to a 2015 Magnify Money survey.
Even among those who set a budget, more than a third report spending more than they’d planned, a survey from CouponCabin found last year. You can fight the holiday budget creep by planning and saving for expenses immediately.
Look over your savings and leftover income to get a realistic idea of what you can actually afford to spend during the holidays. From there, you can start listing out and prioritizing holiday expenses like gifts for loved ones, airfare home, or replacing years-old holiday decor.
2. Start searching for deals
Once you have your holiday budget and a list of expenses, you can stretch it further by looking for holiday deals.
Buying airfare early (as in, now) will help you get lower prices and avoid the worst of holiday premiums. You should still plan to pay more than you would in other months, however.
Start keeping an eye out for deals on gifts for everyone on your shopping list. You don’t have to wait for Black Friday to find a good deal. There will be plenty of discounts to be claimed from now through the end of the year.
If you start shopping now, you can afford to wait for a truly good deal and make the most of your holiday budget.
3. Trim recurring expenses
In addition to looking for discretionary spending that can be cut, you should also review your monthly expenses. Taking a closer look at the costs you face every month might result in surprising savings.
For necessary expenses like insurance and utilities, try negotiating a lower price. Call up your service provider and ask for a better deal. If they won’t budge, shop around for a lower price from a competitor.
Be especially ruthless when reviewing non-necessities, like entertainment or fitness costs.
If you have a gym membership that you’re not using, it’s time to cancel or find a better deal. If you have multiple entertainment subscriptions like Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify, try trimming down to the one or two you use most.
You can also check for overlap between subscription services. For instance, as an Amazon Prime member, I realized I get access to music streaming on Amazon Music and decided to cancel my Spotify subscription.
The best part? This money move is the gift that keeps on giving. Watch as you continue to reap the savings each coming month.
4. Set a money challenge
You don’t have to wait until New Year’s resolutions to set a money goal. Figure out a top financial priority through the end of the year. Then set a money challenge to match that you can work on in the next few months.
As you work towards this financial challenge you’ll strengthen good money habits and get yourself that much closer to your goals.
A challenge almost anyone can work on is cutting down on discretionary spending. You can challenge yourself to skip your usual “extras” like eating out or grabbing a daily coffee.
You can use the savings you earn to kickstart your holiday fund. Or alternatively, you could apply the money you save towards paying down your debts.
Want to challenge yourself even further? Start up a seasonal side job and use your extra earnings to pay down a loan too.
5. Make an extra debt payment
Hopefully, by doing some of the above, you’ve created some extra wiggle room in your budget.
If you want those savings to work overtime for you, try making an extra payment towards a debt. Not only will you knock down more of your balance, you’ll also accrue that much less in interest.
If you have high-interest debts like a credit card balance, target those first. These are the debts that will cost you the most if they stick around. It’s also immensely satisfying to make an extra student loan payment and know freedom is that much closer.
For bonus points, follow up with your loan servicer to ensure your extra loan payments are being applied to maximize interest savings.
Even if you make the effort to do just one of these things before the end of the year, you’ll see a big improvement in your finances. And by being proactive now, you’ll create positive money momentum to carry you towards a healthier financial start in 2017.
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