Your Personal Finance Calendar for 2018

Resolved: 2018 is the year you’ll get financially organized, day by day

You know the drill this time of year. In the coming weeks, lots of print and even more hot air will get spent on the virtues of making New Year’s resolutions. But the fact is, few of us actually make them, and the few who do won’t stick with them past Super Bowl Sunday.

Old habits are hard to break, but 2018 is going to be different. We resolve to create a 2018 financial calendar that is an outline for financial success.

After all, certain events always happen in certain months like Mardi Gras (February) and the Indianapolis 500 (May). Same thing happens with financial obligations/responsibilities. December 31, for example, almost certainly marks the end of your personal fiscal year. With rare exception, income taxes have to be paid and returns filed by April 15.

Then there are homeowner association fees; car payments; mortgage payments; insurance; credit cards and utility bills, just to name a few. Plainly, keeping all this in your head — while also trying to remember deadlines for work, Junior’s baseball schedule, your daughters’ recitals — is not the most efficient methodology.

An at-a-glance money calendar is what you need for your household budget. Happily, there are apps for that. Three of the highest-rated: PocketSmith, Calendar Budget and Rylstim Budget.

Apple users demonstrate a fondness for the DB Classic — Smart Personal Finance Calendar, and it has a clean, efficient, elegant look about it. But a year’s subscription will set you back $50.

There are plenty of other personal finance apps, of course, many of them with strong budgeting features: You Need a Budget (YNAB), Mvelopes, Quicken (of course) and Mint are all well-reviewed. But they are not financial calendars, and that’s what commands our attention here.

While plotting your course is a winning strategy, you still are almost certain to slam into surprises: a trip to the emergency room, a prolonged illness, a roof leak, a ruptured pipe, a car accident, the loss of a job. These and more are possibilities without a date certain.

But if you have effectively plotted your financial year, with goals set and met, you’ll be in a far better spot to survive unexpected hardship than those who careen haphazardly along the road of fiscal life.

Let’s get a move on.

January

No matter how the previous year went, come New Year’s Day, it’s all blue skies, optimism and limitless possibilities. Yes, of course you should have been working on this throughout 2017, but a fresh 2018 is the perfect time to review where you’ve been, then set financial goals and how you can best distribute your income to achieve them.

To get the best picture of where you stand, update your net-worth statement: Assess the value of your possessions (assets) vs. what you owe (debts).

Pondering a big-ticket item — a new car, down payment on a house, an indulgent vacation? Create a targeted savings plan. Got assorted priorities? You might need to set up several savings buckets.

Not where you need to be on saving an emergency fund (generally six months of income)? January is a great month to commit to squeezing out a chunk of extra dollars to fund a stormy day.

Early in January, schedule the first of your monthly appointments with yourself to review your financial statements from 2017, and look for patterns. Here, again, financial apps can help turn data in to revealing illustrations. Map out the moments that are sure to bite your budget: Annual, semiannual, or quarterly HOA assessments, for instance.

Keep a sharp eye out this month for end-of-the-year statements from your mortgage holder, banks, investment firms and other financial institutions.

Any time is a good time to increase what you automatically feed into a 401(k) or other tax-advantaged savings account, but January — when you’re feeling fresh and optimistic — is a better time than most.

If you work for yourself or otherwise have income that’s reported on a 1099 form, the deadline for making your estimated tax payment is January 16. Because the traditional January 15 deadline falls on the federal Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, you get a one-day reprieve in 2018.

February

January was busy, right? You get a little bit of a reprieve in February — possibly to make room for a grand Valentine’s Day gesture — but don’t waste it. The absence of critical deadlines will be a test of your commitment to your new financial calendar lifestyle.

Begin by keeping your regular monthly meeting with yourself. Make it really romantic by including your life partner. Anybody who claims love conquers all never was overdrawn with three days left to payday.

Also, assuming you haven’t been maintaining tidy files all along, gather and organize the documents you’ll need to prepare your state and/or federal income taxes. February is a good time to line up an appointment with a tax preparer or obtain and download tax-preparation software to tackle the job yourself.

On the latter score, know which sort of tax-prep program you’ll need. Do you have a small business, complicated investments, rental property, or income from a trust? Review the features to make sure you’re getting the right software.

You can check your credit report free once a year from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies. Space them out — one every four months. Begin in February by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com. Come back in June, and again in October.

Find out whether your company offers seminars or incentives to become more financially savvy. According to the Wall Street Journal, nearly 60% of employers have been offering perks ranging from “contests and cash incentives to offering apps for mobile devices” to help get their workers coached up on personal finance wellness.

March

As the weather begins to turn, so your thoughts also are likely to shift toward summer adventures. March is the time to begin shopping for vacation deals, weighing your options, investigating destinations and browsing travel articles for tips. While you’re dreaming and planning, consider a vacation-specific savings account that gets an automatic bite of your paycheck.

Are you within a year or two of retirement? Calculate how much you need to save for retirement. March also is a good time to review state and federal deadlines for applying for financial aid for students attending college in the fall.

If you’re devoted to spring cleaning, add time to inventory your household belongings, in the event of a burglary or natural disaster. Photograph and estimate the value of everything you’d want to replace if lost or damaged, then store the data on a flash driver and consider backing it up in a secure cloud location.

April

It’s not just poets who consider April the cruelest month. The heart of the month is the triple whammy of personal finance, the Super Bowl, World Series and Iron Chef finals of your fiscal calendar, all rolled into one.

First and most notably, April 15 is the deadline for settling up with the IRS over your 2017 earnings. Even if you choose to file for an automatic extension, your taxes must be paid in full.

If you haven’t met with your tax preparer yet, now you know why the financial calendar app you downloaded last December has been pinging you furiously. Get busy. Doing your own taxes? Download that software, and make sure you install the latest updates.

By the first of April, you ought to have gathered and organized the documents you need for filing. W2s, 1099s and other income statements should have arrived months ago. Make certain you can document all your potential deductions: mortgage (first and home equity loan) interest statements, property tax records, state income taxes, childcare receipts, medical expenses, unreimbursed business expenses and so on.

April 15 brings two other deadlines. It’s the last day contributions to a traditional IRA will reduce your 2017 earnings. And, if you make quarterly estimated tax payments, it’s time for your first installment of 2018.

April is also a good time to think about what to do with your income tax refund: invest, pay down debt, or splurge.

If your refund is substantial, late April is the ideal time to reconsider how much you’re having withheld from your paycheck. Rather than extend an interest-free loan to Washington, consider reducing your withholding and steering the amount freed up to your 401(k), or — if you love that jolt of refund cash each spring — to an interest-bearing savings account. Just make certain you have the discipline to leave it alone.

May

  1. Time for a breather. With tax season behind us, and our financial calendar keeping us on schedule, May is a good time for reflection and preparation. How’s your long-term financial plan looking?

Do you have the right coverage on your automobiles and real property? Not enough? Too much? It doesn’t hurt to shop those policies, even if they’re months away from renewal.

While you’re at it, take May to shop your mobile, Internet and cable or streaming plans. Competition for customers is fierce in the digital universe. Even if you’re happy, just calling your current provider(s) can result in lower payments even if you don’t change your package.

Take a peek ahead. Know the deadlines for payments coming up in the next several months. Summer brings lots of distractions, but if you are properly prepped, they shouldn’t result in late payments that ding your credit report.

If you’re concerned, consider establishing automatic payment schedules.

May is not too late to start looking into potential scholarships for your college-bound youngster(s). The College Board’s Scholarship Search is a treasure trove of information on more than 2,200 opportunities offering upwards of $6 billion in financial aid annually.

June

We’re approaching the year’s midpoint. If everything else on your financial calendar is on schedule, add a review of your fiscal health to that monthly appointment with yourself.

If you’re invested in the stock market, take a thorough look at how your portfolio is performing relative to the broader market since January. If you’ve taken on non-mortgage debt, review your strategy for keeping pace with the payments, or, better still, for paying them off.

Time again to request that free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com. Make certain there’s no unexplained activity going on in your name.

Depending on where you live, June could mark the opening season for farmer’s markets. Farther south, they’ll have opened month ago. Either way, look for deals on newly ripened produce. Got a green thumb? Put in a small garden.

Self-employed and 1099 workers have another IRS estimated tax payment (June 15).

June 30 traditionally is the deadline to apply for federal aid for college-bound or college-enrolled students.

Had a visit with your primary care physician in the last year? Get on it, then. Most insurance plans cover the full cost of annual physical exams. While you’re at it, ask if your employer or insurer reimburses gym fees, or offers discounted membership plans.

July

By now, you should have a strategy for carrying out a successful summer vacation — or staycation. Have you saved enough to cover the bulk of the expenses? If so, great, but don’t think you have to operate on a cash-only basis. Stick to your budget, but use credit cards that give you cash-back or some other reward.

This might seem obvious, but it bears pointing out: Now would be the time to cash in those frequent flyer miles if you’re going a long distance, and/or those hotel rewards points.

This is also your alert to check whether your state legislature has arranged a sales-tax holiday for school-related purchases; if so, know the limitations and plan your shopping accordingly.

Hang onto your day-camp expenses for children. These might — subject to the fate of income tax legislation — might be deductible.

August

Something to consider during those long, lazy dog days: Is there stuff you no longer use or need taking up space in the garage or — worse, because it’s expensive — a storage locker? Consider a garage sale, or offering items on a second-hand sales site.

It might be more efficient, though, to donate your unwanted stuff to charity. Get receipts for the things you donate. Also, be honest. The Salvation Army, Goodwill and your church don’t want your broken and/or shabby stuff any more than you do.

August is also as good a month as any to perform a credit reports checkup, not just to see how you’re doing, but also to seek out evidence of abnormalities that suggest fraud.

Canning and/or freezing fruits and vegetables from the market or your flourishing garden isn’t simply a family-bonding experience; it can stretch your food dollar in the coming months.

September

Third-quarter estimated federal tax payments are due September 15. That’s also the deadline for modifying a federal student financial-aid application.

September usually marks the end of the automotive model year, making it a good time to seize the best deal on a new car. Dealers are eager to move stock that’s about to become a year old.

Luckily, the days of having to schlep from one dealership to the next are over; you can do most of your investigating, shopping and negotiating online.

October

Did you file an extension to file your federal income tax return in April? Good move. Who wants to be cooped up with a Form 1040 during the Masters, right? The downside: Now you have to take time away from baseball’s postseason and the heart of college football to meet the October 15 deadline for extensions. Hey, it was a good six months.

Now that you’re not saving for summer vacation anymore, consider rerouting that money to a holiday savings account, accompanied by setting a deadline for deciding on your budget. Make a game of it: Investigate creative ways to save on holiday expenses.

October often brings open-enrollment season, both for employees and Medicare beneficiaries. Traditionally, the window for those eligible for Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage or Advantage Plan opens from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7.

Open enrollment for employees varies from company to company, but generally occurs in mid-to-late autumn. Scrutinize the available plans; understand the changes, if any. Be alert to your family’s changing needs; what you did last year might not be your best choice for the year ahead. If your employer offers a PSA or HSA, weigh the advantages and consequences.

October 1 is the starting date for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

It’s also time, again, to grab and review your free credit report.

November

Barring significant changes to the Affordable Care Act, federal and state exchanges will most likely begin 2019 enrollment. Visit healthcare.gov if you need individual coverage.

November is an excellent time to assess the balances remaining on various flexible-spending accounts. Accessing the money there is usually tax-free if used within federal regulations. Review the rules set by the government and your employer for how much — if any — you’re allowed to carry over into 2019.

Review your plan for holiday-season spending. In the weeks after Halloween, leading up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, retailers will be flooding every zone in an attempt to get you to bust your budget.

December

By now, you have a better handle in the gaps in your original financial calendar plan. But if you’ve stuck with it, you’ve filled in the missing parts, and you’ll be in better shape to predict and prepare for 2019. In that vein, review your 2018 expenses and income. Match financial statements against your own records. Track where spending didn’t meet your budgetary expectations, and apply that data to your 2019 financial plan.

December is also the last month to make decisions about your investment portfolio that could have an impact on your 2017 tax burden. Consult your financial adviser early in the month.

Older than 70 1/2? Arrange to take the required annual minimum distribution from your IRA and/or employer retirement accounts by New Year’s Eve.

December is the month of giving, especially because it’s the last month your charitable donations will qualify as a deduction on your 2018 tax return.

Your health providers will help you to remember this: If you’ve met your deductibles and copays, December is a good time to squeeze in needed medical procedures.

Getting, and sticking to, a schedule is the first step toward a sound financial future. The good thing is you’re taking action to throw a rope around your finances.

And when New Year’s Eve rolls over to New Year’s Day, congratulate yourself: You kept your resolution long enough that it’s become a welcome habit … and you’re ready to start all over again.

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Karen Carlson
kcarlson@incharge.org

Karen Carlson is a personal finance expert and writer. Her financial advice has been published in Time, US News & World Report and Fox Business News. Carlson is an Emmy Award-winning producer of educational television and recent nominee for NFCC Financial Educator of the Year.