5 Smart Financial Moves to Make This Fall

5 Smart Financial Moves to Make this Fall

Fall is my favorite time of the year. It’s almost beautiful everywhere, and it’s a little lull before the chaotic (and expensive) holiday season. We look at the pretty fall foliage instead of staring at store racks, trying to find gifts for everyone. It’s also a time where people put away their vacation mementos and become a bit more action-oriented, especially on their finances.

5 Money To-Do’s This Fall

The end of the year will be here before you know it and this is your chance to make sure you ring in 2015 on a happy, financial note.

1. Review Progress Against Your Goals

Whether you choose to review your goals monthly or quarterly is up to you, just make sure you do it consistently. Too often I see people go through the work of creating goals, to only ignore their progress. Goal achievement doesn’t happen without you paying attention in most situations. You need to evaluate your progress regularly and make adjustments as needed. Are you still on track to hit year-end goals? How about your long-term goals, such as retirement?

If you’re not on track, what happened? I don’t ask to put you down or make you feel bad but so you can assess where you went off track.

There is nothing more motivating than achieving your goals and nothing more defeating than not. Figure out what you need to do to end this year on a positive note and ready to repeat your goal success in 2015.

2. Maximize Your Employee Benefits

Fall is commonly open enrollment in most businesses. It’s easy to get in the habit of automatically re-enrolling in our various benefits plans, but I encourage you to slow down and make sure they make sense for you. Some businesses offer multiple options for health and dental plans and make sure you’re not over or under paying for the services you use.

Review and Use Your Health Savings Plans

Many flexible savings plans require you use it or lose it before year-end, so take the time to see how much money you have left in your account and start making appointments. Don’t wait until the end-of-the-year to do it either. It may be hard to squeeze in the appointments during all your holiday festivities, and you’ll be competing for limited spots with everyone else who waited until the last minute.

Plan for 2015. Did you save too much or not enough? Are you expecting an increased or decreased need for next year? Adjust accordingly. And if you plan to decrease the amount you save, please consider diverting the money to your savings and/or investment accounts automatically, rather than put the extra money back in your pocketbook. You’ll bump up your savings without even noticing it.

Review and Balance Your 401k Plan

Take out your 401k statements and chart your growth. Are your funds doing well or is their performance lacking? Be reasonable with your expectations and make appropriate choices that reflect your risk tolerance, time horizon and goals. The markets are doing well at this moment, which can lead people to invest beyond their risk tolerance, chasing bigger growth. If you’re not already contributing the maximum amount ($17,500 or $23,000 for those 50+), can you increase your contribution amount another percent or two?

Bonus Tip: Don’t forget to update your beneficiary forms. We may joke about benefits going towards exes or Moms, but it happens more frequently than you think. Take a minute and make sure they are correct. Beneficiary designations override wills.

3. Prepare for Your Year-End Performance Review

Now this may seem initially out of place, but think about it for a minute: What is the outcome of a good performance review? Hopefully a good raise and maybe even a bonus. I’ve given plenty of performance reviews during my career. Those who are able to demonstrate the value they add to an organization succinctly are often the ones who receive promotions, raises and bonuses. Make it easy for your leader to advocate on your behalf (and in turn make them look good, which only helps their own performance review).

What to Do with Your Pay Raise and/or Bonus

Businesses vary on how quickly pay raises go into effect and bonuses are paid out, but let’s plan for them now. You won’t know the exact number, but you may be able to do a conservative guess-estimate from previous years. What really matters, however, isn’t the amount you receive (okay, it matters a little bit! 🙂 ) but what you do with the increase. I’m not opposed to some mindful lifestyle inflation, but any pay increase/bonus should first go towards debt, retirement savings (if you are below where you should be), emergency fund (to establish or replenish, if needed) and other high-priority goals, such as a kids college education, new home fund, etc.

4. Create Your Holiday Budget

The stores are already starting to set-up their holiday displays, which seems a bit early to me. But it’s definitely not too early to plan for the holidays and put your budget into place, so that you can enjoy the festivities without creating debt. Debt is the last gift you want to give yourself this holiday season.

How Much Will You Spend on Gifts?

Just like Santa does, make a list of who you plan to buy gifts for this year and how much you plan to spend on them. Don’t get caught up in “playing keep up” either. Spend what you can afford and don’t feel bad if it’s less than what they spend on you or your children. It is not a competition. A great gift is a heart-felt one, which does not mean it needs to break the piggy bank or max out your credit card. Most importantly, be sure to stick to your gift-giving budget. It’s a slippery slope once you start spending more than you intended.

How Much Will You Spend on Travel?

There is a lot of hustle and bustle during the holidays. People forget to boost their gas budget (and overall travel budget) for the holidays. Think ahead this year. Beyond your normal schedule, where else will you be traveling to? Set aside an appropriate amount for gas, food and lodging (and don’t forget about taxis, rental cars or parking garage fees if traveling by air) so going to Grandma’s house doesn’t break your budget.

How Much Will You Spend on Food?

Our grocery bills tend to also skyrocket during November and December as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are very food-based holidays. Even if you’re not hosting events, you will still likely bring a dish to share, a bottle of wine or make/buy holiday cookies and treats. If possible, spread out some of the cost and stock up on items that will keep or can be frozen. Look for coupons and sales to take advantage of now, although many of the more traditional items (such as turkeys and hams) are priced better closer to the holidays.

Bonus Tip: I recommending adding a bit of a cushion to your holiday budget. It always seems like that I forget a gift or two. Or other miscellaneous items like stamps for holiday cards.

5. Plan for 2015

It is still a few months away but doing a little planning now, can help you jumpstart 2015.

Look for Ways to Lower Your Taxes

No one likes paying taxes but they are a fact of life. However, it doesn’t mean there aren’t ways you may be able to reduce what you owe come April 15. Do you have some poor performing stocks in your investment portfolio? Perhaps it makes sense to sell them at a loss. Or increase your pre-tax retirement savings by maxing out your 401k contributions. Or increasing your charitable donations. Be strategic and you may be able to lower your tax bill. Have a discussion now with your financial advisor, accountant and/or tax attorney to discuss ways you can lower your taxes.

Plan Next Year’s Vacation(s)

Sit down with your spouse and chart out next year’s vacation(s). Now when the calendar rolls over to 2015, you can lock-in those dates on your employer’s calendar and ensure you have those days off. Plus, it will give you plenty of time to save for your vacations and give you a good answer when your kids get the “I wants”.

Identify Some Preliminary Goals

I know, I know. You haven’t even completed your 2014 goals, but it’s never to early to at least start thinking ahead. Don’t get carried away and forget about this year’s goals, but spend a little time thinking about what you want to achieve next year. What you will do differently? It will make it more exciting when the clock strikes midnight on December 31 if you have an idea of what 2015 will bring to you and your family.

What financial moves are you planning to make this Fall?


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September 8, 2014  •  46 Comments  •  Finance

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  1. Monday, September 8th, 2014
    After the expenses I had in August, I am very determined this month to save more because Christmas season is coming! I really need to know how much I will spend and where I can buy gifts for family and friends. Sadly, I'll settle myself with no international travel until Christmas or until the first quarter of next year. So excited for Christmas!
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, September 8th, 2014
      Christmas will be here before you know it! I love the holiday season too and having the money saved to celebrate Christmas without creating debt always make it an even better holiday season.
    • Wednesday, September 10th, 2014
      I agree. It will surely be a meaningful Christmas for both of us. By the way, we normally start celebrating it as early as September. Merry Christmas Shannon!
    • Shannon Ryan
      Thursday, September 11th, 2014
      Wow! Now that's getting a head start on Christmas. Well, Merry Christmas to you too. :)
  2. Monday, September 8th, 2014
    Number 4 is my favorite! I have already budgeted for the holidays. I refuse to let it be a financially stressful time for me. Christmas comes at the same time every year :)
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, September 8th, 2014
      Good for you, Natalie. The holidays can be stressful enough and you don't need to add worrying about how to pay for everything to it. It's funny how we all know it's coming and so few of us save for it! :)
  3. Monday, September 8th, 2014
    Ah I can't believe how close year-end reviews are! I started a new job a couple months ago so this my review will be interesting this year as I haven't really had time to dig into my new goals. It's also hard to think about 2015 goals, but I agree that now would be a good time to brainstorm a few.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, September 8th, 2014
      The first review at new job is always interesting, DC! I'm sure you'll do great. It's definitely a good time to start brainstorming some potential 2015 goals and think about what worked and what didn't this year too.
  4. Monday, September 8th, 2014
    Awesome tips, and I couldn't agree more about starting to plan for 2015 NOW. I think if we wait until January, we make rash/panicky goals based on the often erratic emotions of the holiday season.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, September 8th, 2014
      Absolutely, Laurie. Our emotions, while wonderful, can also cause us to make some bad decisions/goals too, especially if we feel panicked or behind. Or we might procrastinate at even setting goals and suddenly lose a month or two. But if we start planning now, when 2015 rolls around, we will be ready to go!
  5. Monday, September 8th, 2014
    Reviewing employee benefits is definitely on my list of things to daughter needs braces and it's time we seriously look at utilizing an HSA through my employer.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, September 8th, 2014
      Sounds like a good plan, Travis. HSAs can be really helpful and braces are, unfortunately, spend!
  6. Monday, September 8th, 2014
    Great point about planning for holiday spending!!! I try to encourage my clients to plan all year for this, since most of them will spent significant money over the holidays, but in case they didn't start, they still have time to start putting money away. And so funny you mention about the performance reviews. It's one of the MANY things I don't miss about my corporate banking job. I used to spend hours pulling together all of the information I needed to make sure my company paid me fairly, and yet every year it always seemed like they used a black box to figure out compensation.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, September 8th, 2014
      I think most people don't calculate how much they spend at the holidays and would be surprised by the grand total. I definitely don't miss having to prepare my own review. And yes, sometimes it was hard to figure out their logic when it came to ratings and compensation! :) I still have to give performance reviews to my employees, but that can actually be fun.
  7. Monday, September 8th, 2014
    These are pretty good. I usually take a look at my finances every quarter to make sure everything is going according to plan and to make adjustments where needed. I rebalance my portfolio at the beginning of the year, but it is a good reminder for people to make sure they at least check their allocation is how they want it to be.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, September 8th, 2014
      It's good that you consistently review your goals and adjust as needed. Rebalancing is something that many people miss but it's important to do.
  8. Monday, September 8th, 2014
    As always, I love your tips, Shannon! The Holiday budget is a super important one in my opinion, Christmas is supposed to be a happy time spent with friends and family, not stressing over money which is unfortunately done by many people. Planning for 2015?! Never to early to get a head start! :)
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, September 8th, 2014
      Thanks, Stephanie! I appreciate your kind words. I agree - too many stress over the holidays because they haven't planned for the expense. And it doesn't need to be that way.
  9. Monday, September 8th, 2014
    Love this post! I can't believe how quickly 2014 has flown by. I am super excited to plan for 2015. Does that make me a huge nerd? :)
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, September 8th, 2014
      Thanks, Michelle! No, it definitely does NOT make you a huge nerd, unless I'm one too. :)
  10. Monday, September 8th, 2014
    I definitely plan on reviewing our health insurance plans when the enrollment period opens up on Nov 15th for 2015. It's great that you mentioned the holidays as we plan to take our long overdue honeymoon before year end so we need to figure out our plans and the cost!
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, September 8th, 2014
      Sounds like you have a good plan and some fun things to plan, Kassandra. :)
  11. Monday, September 8th, 2014
    Create a holiday budget is a good one, Shannon! I need to get on this because it's already September...where is the time going? :)
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, September 8th, 2014
      Thanks, Mackenzie! I can't believe it's already September either. December will be here before we know it!
  12. Monday, September 8th, 2014
    I like this post. I think one should plan as much as possible although I know how life likes to change things around for you all the time. That is why I only plan so much. I do try and have a well funded E-fund so that I am prepared for things no matter what--as much as anyone can be.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, September 8th, 2014
      Yes, you can't be too rigid with your planning because life does change on a dime. I like how you have a well-funded e-fund because they can definitely be a lifesaver.
  13. Monday, September 8th, 2014
    Most to these can't apply to me at the moment, but I do plan to review where I'm going for the rest of this coming year. I also have some skills/free classes I'm learning/taking.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, September 8th, 2014
      It's always good to expand our skills and it's great you found some free classes to take, Tonya.
  14. Monday, September 8th, 2014
    It is hard to believe that the next year, 2015, is just around the corner. It seems like we just started this year. Your suggestions are all well received and right on the money! Thank you.
  15. Monday, September 8th, 2014
    We always have people who try to get eye appointments the last week of the year to use their flex plan, and we can't get them all in. We can take a payment and give them a receipt. This creates a credit that can be used later and they can still get flex credit. I don't think it would work with every service and some providers won't do it, but you can always ask if it's a fixed price service like and eye exam or dental cleaning.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, September 9th, 2014
      Great information, Kim. Thank you for sharing with us. It's at least an option for people to try if they wait until the last minute. :) And I imagine you get plenty of phone calls from clients begging to fit you in.
  16. Monday, September 8th, 2014
    These are great reminders. We definitely need to work on our Christmas budget as well as plan for 2015. We would really like to finish paying off our student loans by next December. That will take some serious planning and effort.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, September 9th, 2014
      Sounds like you have a big goal to plan for next year, Liz! I know how hard you've been working towards paying those off and it will certainly feel good to eliminate that debt and free up that money.
  17. Tuesday, September 9th, 2014
    Wow, what a great list. Basically just be proactive instead of reactive in life and things are going to work out. Better to have a plan in place than to hope things will work out.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, September 9th, 2014
      Thanks, Lance! Absolutely, being proactive puts you in control (hopefully) and helps avoid panicked decisions later. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate it!
  18. Tuesday, September 9th, 2014
    Great tips, Shannon! I'm currently trying to decide how much to spend on Christmas- not quite prepared for that yet!
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, September 9th, 2014
      Thanks, Holly! I hear you - it's amazing how fast it will be here. :)
  19. Tuesday, September 9th, 2014
    These are some great tips Shannon! I am working on planning out my budgets for the rest of the year and adding in some extra "fun" money for holiday parties, etc. I know they will break my budget if I don't plan for them, so I'm planning for them :) I can't wait to do a year-end review of my progress this year. I haven't hit all my goals (and I'm not sure I will), but it's still been a successful year overall. I LOVE fall!!
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, September 9th, 2014
      You've done a great job with goals this year, Kayla. You should feel very proud! And it's smart to set aside some "fun" money for your holiday parties. That way you can have fun without feeling guilty lately.
  20. Wednesday, September 10th, 2014
    Oh I love the fall! And, you're right, it is absolutely the time to make sure you're on track for year-end goals. I can't believe 2014 is almost coming to a close! I've definitely started to map out Christmas gifts and how much we'll allocate--you are right, so smart to plan ahead!
    • Shannon Ryan
      Thursday, September 11th, 2014
      It's a great time to carve out a couple of hours and plow through your year-end finances. Having a Christmas budget/plan, make it so much easier. A lot of people just spend then panic when those credit card bills start to arrive. This lets you have fun and enjoy the season without regret settling in later.
  21. Thursday, September 11th, 2014
    We've already begun to look into next summer's big vacation. We've thought about going out West, perhaps another, longer cruise or a DC to NYC trip. Don't know yet. Once I get through paying for FinCon we will begin to save money each month for next summer. Plus, I need to get back on track with some specific goals for 2015. I let that slide this year, mostly because I really didn't know where I was headed once I quit my job.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Thursday, September 11th, 2014
      All those vacation ideas sound fun, Brian! I think being able to quit your job was probably the big goal/achievement of 2014. Now you've had a little time being a stay-at-home dad and a better idea of what you can comfortably add to your schedule. I love all the possibilities goal-setting brings to light.
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    "As a Certified Financial Planner, it is my passion to help individuals and families build a healthy relationship with money. I look forward to helping you raise financially confident kids.” - Shannon Ryan