DECEMBER 2017

Your Monthly Financial Checklist for 2019

Do you wait until the last minute to pack for your vacation or shop for back-to-school clothes for the kids? Do you find it difficult to start projects -- and then to finish them? Are you chronically late for appointments? If so, then chances are you are a procrastinator.

When it comes to managing your finances, procrastination can keep you from reaching your goals. But by breaking your spending and saving priorities down into monthly increments, you may find it easier to stay on track.

Try some of these tips all year long.

January -- Start an emergency savings fund with the goal of accumulating three to six months of living expenses. By setting aside just $25 a week, you could save $1,300 after just one year. It's important to have a backup plan -- and financial cushion -- when the unexpected happens.

February -- Make sure you are making the most of your tax-deferred retirement savings opportunities. If you have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k), are you contributing the maximum allowed? Generally, you may contribute up to $19,000 to qualified retirement plans in 2019, and those 50 and older may contribute an additional $6,000. (Additional plan limits may apply.) What about an IRA? The good news is you have until April 15, 2019, to contribute up to $6,000 (or $7,000 for those 50 and older) to an IRA for tax year 2018.

March -- Start organizing your tax documents -- Form W-2s from your employer(s), property tax receipts, mortgage interest, charitable donation receipts, etc. -- so you're ready to meet with your tax advisor and get the biggest refund you are entitled to.

April -- If you are one of the roughly 75% of Americans who do get a refund, consider directing it toward your emergency fund or credit card debt, or put the extra money toward your retirement. Every little bit can add up.

May -- Spring is in the air -- and for many Americans, the weather is warming up. Lowering the temperature on your hot water heater during summer months may help to cut costs. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that water heating accounts for about 18% of energy consumed in the average home. The agency recommends turning the heater setting on your water heater to warm (120F degrees) to save on energy costs. Visit the DOE website for more energy saving tips.

June -- Have a green thumb? Vegetables fresh from the garden are less expensive than canned or frozen foods -- and they taste better, too! If you are not an experienced gardener, start small -- try a few tomato plants. And don't forget to water and fertilize regularly.

July -- Are you signing the kids up for sports teams? If so, consider buying the needed equipment at used sporting goods stores. From catcher's mitts to hockey skates, these stores sell their wares at a fraction of the original cost.

August -- Look for everyday learning experiences to teach your children about money. Have young children write down the price of similar items at the grocery store. Assist older kids in learning about managing money by allowing them to buy school supplies with a planned budget. Help children of all ages to set up a savings account at the local bank and decide how much they will plan to save each month for wishlist purchases.

September -- In August and September many auto dealers try to clear their lots to make room for next year's new models. If you don't mind haggling, you may be able to shave money off a car's sticker price.

October -- Plan for year-end tax-saving moves. For instance, holding on to investments in taxable accounts for more than one year will generally qualify you for a lower tax rate on any capital gains -- 15% for most taxpayers and 20% for higher-income taxpayers. Also, keep in mind that realized capital losses can be used to offset realized capital gains for federal tax purposes. Any excess losses up to $3,000 ($1,500 for married individuals filing separate returns) can be deducted against ordinary income. A loss greater than that amount can be carried over to future tax years, subject to the same limits.

November -- Many charities begin active fundraising at this time of year. Generally, charitable contributions to qualified charitable organizations are deductible. Also, before sending a donation to your favorite charity, you may want to obtain more information about the organization by checking various online resources, such as BBB Wise Giving Alliance or Charity Navigator, to find out if the charity meets your giving criteria.

December -- Consider giving yourself an early holiday gift -- the gift of travel. Did you know that the first two weeks of December (after the Thanksgiving rush) is one of the slowest travel periods -- offering some of the best travel deals to destinations in the United States and other locales? If you want to take advantage of the December travel "dead zone," start shopping for flights a month or more in advance.

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