As 2016 winds down, reminders are probably starting to appear in your inbox about last-minute financial to-dos such as making charitable donations, maxing out retirement contributions, using up money in a flexible spending account, making 529 contributions for grandchildren, and so on.
These reminders are helpful for many, and if you’re in that group, check out some of the financial planning checklists online that can help you get all these tasks done:
- 6 financial tasks you need to complete before the end of the year (US News/Money)
- 4 money musts for your to do list before year end (CNBC)
- Last-minute financial planning checklist (TIME)
- Financial advisors’ tips for year-end planning (CNBC)
From my perspective, however, focusing solely on these particular year-end tasks is a big missed opportunity. These are important steps, no question – but they fail to address the needs of the many among us who may not have the luxury of being able to contribute to their grandchildren’s college funds this year, who are not in a position right now to max out their retirement contributions, or who are not fortunate enough to have flexible spending accounts provided by an employer in the first place.
The truth is, the end of the year is a good time to hit the reset button in general. This includes taking stock of your financial picture, regardless of where you stand at the moment. And, in fact, if you’re feeling uncertain or worried about your financial picture, this step becomes even more important. Think of year-end as a time to step back, reflect, and reassess where you are financially – to take in the bigger picture – so you can make thoughtful, confident decisions about how to move forward in the coming year.
Here are three steps everyone should before December 31, to help put you on course financially in 2017:
- Update your financial plan. If you don’t have one yet, create one. (A good financial adviser can help.) The simple exercise of creating a comprehensive financial plan will give you a clear sense of your financial situation. It will also give you an idea of how decisions you made (or didn’t make) throughout the year have affected your bottom line. Armed with this information, you’ll be in a stronger position to make adjustments in 2017.
- Determine your most important, immediate next steps when it comes to your money, and commit to tackling them in the New Year. Think of this as the year-end financial equivalent of clearing your desk and writing your next day’s to-dos before heading home at the end of the workday. When you return the next morning to a clean desk and a focused plan of attack, you have a much easier time getting started, right? It’s similar with financial planning. Reviewing your financial picture and identifying just a few next steps will give you a head start on dealing with your money in the coming year.
- Ask yourself: Are there aspects of your life you could or should downsize? As you look back on 2016, you may identify ways to “right size” your expenses. For some of us, this could mean making a big change, such as finally moving to a smaller home (with a smaller mortgage). Or it could be smaller changes to your lifestyle, like purchasing a smaller car or cutting back on overall entertainment expenses. Imagine yourself feeling more secure and comfortable in 2017 when it comes to your finances. Making the right changes to your spending has the power make that happen. You can change the trajectory of your financial journey, and you can make the change starting now.