July 24, 2023
Remember when you resolved back in January to spend less and save more in 2023? Summer can be a good time to revisit those goals, financial advisers say. Think of it as “New Year’s in July.”
A quick financial review now makes sense because there’s still time to make adjustments if you’re falling behind on your goal — whether it’s building an emergency fund, slashing credit card debt or resuming student loan payments, now that the pandemic pause is finally (really!) ending.
Many events that lead to spending, like back-to-school time (supplies and clothing), Halloween (costumes and candy), Thanksgiving (food) and the winter holidays (gifts), are coming up.
“So it’s a really good time to prepare for spending later in the year,” said Yanely Espinal, author of the book “Mind Your Money.”
Nate Hoskin, a certified financial planner in Denver who focuses on young adults, recommends a personal “audit.” If that sounds too much like something the Internal Revenue Service would do, think of it instead as a financial health “checkup.”
Hoskin, who has a substantial TikTok following, urged a hard-nosed assessment of the goals you set at the start of the year. Say you aimed to save $500 a month but have saved only $200 a month.
“Be really critical and ask yourself, ‘Why did I not reach this goal?’” he said.
Did you estimate that you would earn more money than you did? (Maybe a side hustle wasn’t as lucrative as anticipated.) Or did you go out to dinner too often? Inflation may have added to your costs, but it’s now cooling.
Hoskin recommends printing out bank and credit card statements, and using a highlighter to mark “frivolous” items, representing money you didn’t need to spend.
To get back on track, build up to your goal gradually. If you have been able to save $200 a month, Hoskin said, that’s great. Try to save $250 next month, then aim for $300.
“Try to reach $500 a month by the end of the year,” he said.
If your plan was vaguely to save any money left over at the end of the month — but there never seemed to be any extra — try a “save first” strategy. Divert 15% of your paycheck to a savings account automatically (your bank, your employer or various money apps can help arrange this), and then make a spending plan for the remaining funds.
“Switching it up may help you a lot,” Hoskin said.
Espinal said you might try making saving more of a habit and transferring money toward your goal weekly, or even daily.
Jesse Mecham, founder of the You Need a Budget app, advised that you — and your partner, if you’re part of a couple — first make a list of what you want your money to do. Pay for an overseas vacation? Create an emergency fund?
Then, he suggested, turn to your account statements and scroll through the past few months of transactions, taking perhaps 20 minutes at most. Many banks and credit cards automatically categorize purchases, which can offer a rough idea of where your money is going. Note any spending that advanced your priorities, but don’t beat yourself up for purchases that didn’t.
Paying down credit card debt is especially timely this summer since both card balances and average card interest rates are high. The free, online debt payoff tool at calculator.net can help you see how much extra you can afford to pay and how long it will take to eliminate the balance, Espinal said.
Don’t get bogged down in the debate over whether to use the “avalanche” method — giving priority to paying off debt with the highest interest rate — or the “snowball” method, which focuses on paying off the smallest balance first to build a feeling of success.
“Most people should use a hybrid approach,” Espinal said. Start by paying off a small balance to gain confidence. Then switch to paying down high-interest-rate cards (put funds toward the highest rate and make minimum payments on the others until the first card is paid off) to save the most money.
Here are some questions and answers about how to do a summer financial checkup:
How can I tell if my paycheck withholdings are accurate?
Summer is a good time to review withholdings — the amount of tax withheld from your paycheck — especially if you got a raise or have had a big change in your life, like getting married or having a baby. If you have too little withheld, you may have an unexpectedly large tax bill next April.
The IRS offers an online estimator where you can answer a few questions to see if you should tweak your withholdings. To make changes, file an updated form W-4 with your employer.
How do I view my credit report?
Checking your credit report, which catalogs your borrowing history, is a smart step and can usually be done relatively quickly online. The three major credit reporting bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — are offering free reports weekly at least until the end of this year at www.annualcreditreport.com.
If you note any errors, contact both the credit bureau and the lender that provided the incorrect information, the Federal Trade Commission says.
Are there any special opportunities to save money while shopping this summer?
Many states offer summer sales tax “holidays” — days or weeks when state sales taxes are waived for the purchase of certain goods, like clothing or back-to-school supplies.
New Jersey, for instance, which has scheduled its event from Aug. 26 through Sept. 4, includes a waiver of tax on computers priced at less than $3,000. Some tax experts dismiss the events as political gimmicks, but they remain popular with shoppers.
The Federation of Tax Administrators offers a state-by-state list on its website, axadmin.org/sales-tax-holidays/.
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