By Taylor Schulte
Call it a financial checkpoint or a mid-year review, the summer is a great time to slow down and take a look at your to-date financial progress—especially after the recent turmoil on Wall Street. Are you tracking against the goals you set in early January? How is your portfolio doing? Is there an opportunity to save more money, contribute to a cause, and/or minimize your 2015 tax obligation?
Surprisingly, this mid-year financial checkup is often overlooked. Yet, reviewing the past six months’ worth of activity can do wonders for achieving your financial goals by year-end.
If unsure what to look for, start by examining the financial goals set earlier in the year, and focusing on each major aspect of your financial plan. Below are a few tips to help streamline the process and ensure all bases are covered:
• Review To-date 401(k) Contributions. As you may recall from your initial financial planning, the 2015 401(k) contributions ceiling increased to $18,000 this year ($24,000 for those over 50). Take a look at your to-date numbers to ensure you are on track to maximize those contributions. In addition to helping increase your account balance, maxing out those contributions can also reduce your taxable income. That’s a win/win.
• Boost Your Savings. With less than six months to go, it’s a good idea to review your current savings and consider boosting your recurring contribution, even if it’s a small amount. And, while summer can be a drain on your finances—trips, kids out of school, additional entertainment—challenge yourself to spend less and save more. It could be as simple as one less cup of coffee per day, or opting for a home-cooked meal instead of an expensive dinner out.
• Cut More Fees. You may have examined all of the pesky credit card and banks fees earlier in the year. Note that banks are often changing their rules and you might be surprised to learn you are now paying a fee for something you previously received for free. And every fee you pay means less money in your pocket. See how many fees you can reduce or remove before the end of the year. Consider re-investing the dollars saved into a savings or retirement account to really maximize those returns.
• Taxes Already? Yes, we aren’t quite ready to talk about taxes yet. But just because we’re not talking about them, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be putting yourself in the best position for when the time comes. If you aren’t already doing so, get in touch with your accountant and discuss your tax estimate. There’s still plenty of time left in the year to mitigate tax consequences, enabling you to have a healthier bottom line in 2016.
• Charitable Contributions. And speaking of taxes, a great way to minimize your tax expense and contribute to your favorite cause is charitable giving. In fact, the largest source of charitable giving came from individuals in 2014, with Americans giving a total of $358 billion to charity in the year, up 7.1 percent from 2013 according to National Philanthropic Trust. You may even consider checking with your company about a matching program.
• Get to Know Your Investments Again. While I am a big proponent of letting investments be, now may be a good time to take a close look at your investment portfolio, especially after the recent stock correction. Many financial advisors encourage clients to assess their risk tolerance before making changes to their investments. While this is an important factor, I would challenge you to determine your capacity for risk. In other words, find out how much risk you NEED to take to reach your financial goals. You might find out that although you can tolerate a high amount of risk, you don’t need to take it.
And remember—even if you’re not 100 percent on track today, there’s still plenty of time to focus your energy on accomplishing those financial goals. Start now, and you may be just be surprised at how smaller actions can lead to greater rewards.
Taylor Schulte, a Certified Financial Planner, is the founder and CEO of Define Financial in downtown San Diego. He specializes in helping individuals, families and small businesses achieve their financial goals.
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