Personal Finance

4 steps to ace a fall financial checkup

Key Points
  • Now's the time to check in on your 2017 financial plan.
  • Here are four steps to take and save money before the end of the year.
Fall financial cleanup
Fall financial cleanup

If kids can get organized for the start of school, adults should be able to do something similar with their finances.

The beginning of fall is the perfect time to revisit your financial wellness and make some changes before the end of the year, experts say.

These days, families have less slack in their budgets than before, according to research by The Pew Charitable Trusts. Household spending has risen 25 percent or more in the past two decades, even adjusting for inflation — yet incomes have not kept pace, the study said.

In addition, previous Pew research found that one in three American families have no savings.

All the planning is meaningless if we don't follow through.
Mark Avallone
president of Potomac Wealth Advisors and author of "Countdown to Financial Freedom"

1.) Budget

To that end, this is a crucial time to revisit your 2017 cash flow and see how it is shaping up.

"There's no sense in setting a 2018 budget if you're not going to adhere to it," said Mark Avallone, president of Potomac Wealth Advisors and author of "Countdown to Financial Freedom."

Avallone added that "all the planning is meaningless if we don't follow through. It's very important to track your revenue and expenses and automatically save any discretionary cash that's left over," he said.

"Traditionally people say 10 percent, but in reality they may need to save well over that target."

2.) Save

"Redirecting $10 a day towards saving is $300 a month," according to David Bach, author of "The Automatic Millionaire." It's worth noting that investing $300 a month at 4 percent interest would amount to $110,000 in savings in 20 years.

"That amount of money in a retirement account is more than the average American saves," he said. "It can change your whole life, financially."

Meanwhile, look to see how much you've contributed year to date to a retirement plan, and set a strategy for the remainder of the year to maximize those assets.

If your company has a match, you should contribute enough to take full advantage. Nearly three-quarters of all plan sponsors offer a match, according to Transamerica, and not participating fully is like leaving money on the table.

An added bonus: traditional 401(k) plans can help lower your annual tax bill because you make contributions with pretax dollars.

3.) Give

Another great way to minimize your tax expense and contribute to a worthwhile cause is charitable giving. Charitable donations to qualified nonprofit groups generally are tax-deductible if you itemize your return instead of taking the standard deduction, so keep your receipts.

And there's no better time than the present. For those affected by the catastrophic flooding in southeast Texas, the generosity of the rest of the nation will help make a difference in their ability to recover and rebuild.

"Take advantage of one of the few benefits in the tax code while doing a good thing," Avallone said.

4.) Plan

Things you shouldn't shortchange for your own well-being include health-care coverage, homeowner's or renter's insurance, flood, auto and life insurance — particularly if you have a mortgage or dependents. (Only about 20 percent of Hurricane Harvey victims had flood insurance.)

While you are at it, check costs and rates on your home or renters insurance, mortgage and auto loan. While interest rates remain low, there may be opportunities to refinance and cut those monthly expenses.

Alternatively, weigh whether you can absorb a higher deductible to lower the cost of your coverage across the board, said Tom Harris, an executive vice president at Penn Mutual Life Insurance.

Also, consider bundling those policies together. If you buy more than one policy from the same insurer, you could get a break of 5 percent to 10 percent, Harris said.

"On the Money" airs on CNBC Saturdays at 5:30 a.m. ET, or check listings for air times in local markets.