Financial Goals (Month by Month)
There is no wrong time to create or refresh your financial plan. Start with these monthly milestones or mix-and-match to correspond with your personal goals. Whether you’re just starting out or heading toward retirement, the journey toward a better financial future begins with a single step.
Check Your Credit
If you do only one financial planning thing this year, make it a point to check your credit report at www.AnnualCreditReport.com. This is the only site authorized by the U.S. government to give you free copies of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax). You could request all three reports at the same time once a year or request a report from a different agency every four months. Take action to dispute errors on your credit report right away.
January: Update Your Budget — Request Your Credit Report from Agency No. 1
Is it time to try a new app or budgeting tool? Budgets are not meant to be a starvation diet. Just as with other New Year’s resolutions, if your budget is too strict, you're less likely to stick with it. Get started with SAM’s Budget Wizard. Create a free account to save your budget, then set aside time at the end of each month to compare your spending plan against your bank and credit card statements.
February: Do a Tax Check-Up
Plan for your refund or for taxes that you will owe. By the end of January, you should receive your annual W-2 form(s) from your employer or 1099(s) from your clients if you’re an independent contractor.
Compile other forms such as paperwork related to your student loans, investments, property or business. These might not be available right away, but just keep an eye out for them. File your taxes as soon as you have all the documents you need. Filing early helps prevent against identity theft, where someone else files a return in your name.
This also is a good time to review the tax withholding on your W-4. Should you increase or decrease your withholding allowances? More allowances means less taxes out of your paycheck throughout the year, while fewer allowances means a higher tax refund.
March: Review Your Retirement
How much could your money grow if you increased your contributions to your workplace retirement account? Use this 401(k) contributions calculator to find out.
April: Plan for Summer
When spring is in the air, it’s a reminder that the long, hot days of summer are just around the corner. Whether that means the kids are out of school or you will be heading out on vacation, find some time between spring cleaning to budget for summer spending, including child care, weddings and travel. You can create and manage this as a separate budget in the SAM Budget Wizard.
May: Review Auto Insurance — Request Your Credit Report from Agency No. 2
Financial experts recommend shopping for new car insurance once a year. Don’t forget to ask about special programs, such as good student discounts for teen drivers. You also might adjust your deductible or decrease collision and comprehensive coverage as your vehicle ages. SAM’s Auto Insurance worksheet (PDF) helps break down the components of your policy.
June: Do a Home Inventory
Escape the summer heat—and include the kids or grandkids in the process—as you create or update your home inventory (PDF). Go from room to room and write down makes, models, serial numbers and descriptions of all your valuables. Take pictures and video to keep with your records.
July: Check Home Utilities Prices
Shop around for better deals on your cable, internet, phone and streaming services. Research special programs and payment plans on water, gas and electricity bills. Could you get a discount for buying energy-efficient appliances? Maybe your city will subsidize your water bill if you make the switch to xeriscape landscaping. Shift any money that you save into your savings. You won’t miss the money in your budget since you already were spending it elsewhere. This is a great way to start an emergency fund.
August: Make a Family Emergency Kit
Put together a home emergency kit as well as one to grab on the go if you ever need to evacuate. Clear out some room to store at least three days’ worth and up to three weeks’ worth of water, food and medications in case you had to stay in place for an extended period of time. Your household’s strategy can include choosing a family meeting place and memorizing phone numbers of relatives and friends. The more you plan ahead, the easier it will be if something does happen.
September: Plan Your Holiday Budget — Request Your Credit Report from Agency No. 3
Create a holiday gift planning budget in the SAM Budget Wizard. Don’t forget about hidden costs for things like gift-wrapping, shipping, parties and holiday travel. The sooner you start saving for these costs ahead of time, the less stressful it will be as the holidays grow closer. And you might as well start buying gifts as early as possible. Spreading out purchases over several months can cut down on last-minute credit card charges.
October: Do a Debt Check-In
Debt slows financial progress. Take SAM’s free Credit and Debt Money Basics course to get a grip on how to build good credit and what to do when debt starts dragging you down.
November: Review Your Health Plan
Often the end of the year is when you can make changes to your workplace insurance plan. Find out when your open-enrollment period is and dig around in the company’s plan options to find out if you could get a better deal on health insurance. You also should be thinking about spending down any funds that don’t roll over, such as any flexible spending accounts (FSAs).
December: Do a Big Dreams Check-In
Where are you in terms of working toward your big dreams, such as pursuing higher education, buying a home or a car, or planning for retirement? Use this time at the end of the year to reflect on your savings and investments. Learn about long-term investing to set a course for your future well-being.
Then get ready to start the cycle all over again. Integrate these financial milestones into your yearly routine and customize it with your own personal goals to build on your successes from one year to the next.
[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by the National Endowment for Financial Education.]