Brian Allen, CFP®
Financial Experts Weigh In On 4 Smart Money Moves to Make Before the End of the Year – CNBC Feature
I recently spoke with CNBC and shared some of my tips to re-evaluating and improving your financial security going into 2021. This article was originally published on cnbc.com on December 9, 2020 and can be viewed here.
Financial experts weigh in on prepping your finances to feel more secure heading into 2021.
Like most people, you’re probably ready to say goodbye to 2020.
As you look forward to envisioning what your next year will look like, however, it’s important to pinpoint what you do and don’t want in your life. Perhaps you want to make 2021 the year you move into a new place, have a career switch, start building your family or finally pay off your credit card debt.
No matter what your goals are, it’s likely that your finances will play a big part in achieving them. As you prepare to ring in a new year, experts agree that it’s worth taking some time to reassess your financial situation.
“Especially after the year we just had, it is probably more important now to evaluate where your financial house stands,” says Albert Lalonde, founder of Kaizen Financial Group.
End-of-year organization, such as updating your existing budget and retirement savings, can help set you up for financial success in the months ahead, especially in an unstable economy. While January calls for making resolutions, December calls for prepping your finances so you know how far you are from meeting those goals.
Below, financial experts weigh in on four smart money moves people should make before year’s end.
1. Review your existing budget
Your first step of getting your finances in order for the new year is to understand where you are today financially.
“Make sure you know all your numbers,” Lalonde says. This means looking at your budget, at both your monthly expenses and income, and seeing how that’s changed over the pandemic.
For instance, if there are virtual fitness memberships you signed up for during the onset of the pandemic and haven’t used lately, consider closing those accounts. See how you can curb your spending on basics, such as food. If you spent a lot on takeout and delivery this year, you can focus on cutting those expenses in 2021 and make a plan to buy groceries and cook at home. (Check out CNBC Select’s ranking of the best credit cards for grocery shopping.)
In addition to helping you save, going through your budget can help you set goals and plan for the future.
“A new year is always a great time to assess your spending and expenses for opportunities to save more or accelerate your debt pay off,” says Bola Sokunbi, a certified financial education instructor and author of “Clever Girl Finance.”
And if you’re married, Lalonde suggests talking through these numbers and your objectives together with your partner so you’re on the same page.
2. Prep for job uncertainty
Due to the ongoing economic fallout from the pandemic, you should keep in mind the unstable job environment.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) 2020 Employment Outlook, unemployment will remain high going into the new year with a jobs recovery not expected until after 2021.
“As we enter 2021, the economy is still reeling from the impact of Covid-19 and we are likely to continue to see economic impact until the virus is under control,” Sokunbi says. “And, so as a result, it’s important that individuals make plans to create financial security for themselves despite the economic uncertainty.”
Reviewing your budget will help you see where you stand, but then it’s time to prep for the worst-case scenario. Sokunbi suggests starting to think about ways to create multiple streams of income in the event of a job loss.
“This could be getting a part-time job, starting a side hustle or even downsizing something you own,” she says.
3. Build up your emergency fund, if you can
“Many of us have had a hard year,” says Brian Allen, a certified financial planner at Pension Consultants and author of “Rewarding Retirement.” “Financially, we may need to rebuild.”
Expanding your emergency fund is a good place to start if you have any extra cash to set aside as 2020 comes to an end. The goal is to save at least enough to cover your core basic living expenses, such as housing, utilities, food, transportation and medicines.
However, it’s likely you may not have that much money right now to put toward your emergency savings, and that’s OK. In this case, try saving in a cyclical manner. This means that your savings ebbs and flows with your income stream if your cash inflow is inconsistent. For example, if you are making 25% less this month than you were last month, save 25% less than what you would. Making small goals for yourself, whether it’s saving a specific dollar amount or a certain percentage relative to your current income, can help your savings stay consistent.
You can start with a small deposit into a high-yield savings account and then set up automated transfers from your checking into that account every month as 2021 begins. This way, you kick off the new year saving without having to think twice about it, and it will add up over time.
4. Evaluate your retirement contributions
The end of the year is always a good time to evaluate how much you are putting away for retirement — no matter how far away it seems.
“Understandably this year, many of us have had to prioritize short-term financial needs above longer-term goals,” Allen says. “Next to our home, our 401(k) plan is often our largest asset. How we manage it will determine whether we will have financial independence after our working years or struggle to pay the bills.”
If you have some time off over the holidays, look over your retirement strategy, especially your contribution amount. To really benefit, you should be putting away enough in your 401(k) to meet your employer’s contribution match if they offer one. And if you can afford it, consider making 2021 the year you max out your contributions.
If diverting money out of your paycheck leaves you with too little afterward, you may not yet be ready to up your contributions, but it’s something to aim for as your income changes throughout next year. The general rule of thumb is to have at least 20% of your income go towards savings.
During this time, you may also want to re-visit your retirement goals, such as what age you want to retire at and what kind of lifestyle you want to have in retirement. To see how you stack up at your age against conventional savings guidelines, check out how much money you should have saved at every age.