As the year draws to a close, it's an opportune time to take stock of your financial health and prepare for the year ahead. A year-end financial review can help you assess your current financial situation, celebrate your progress, and identify areas for improvement. Here's a comprehensive checklist to guide you through this process, ensuring you step into the New Year ready for financial success.
Start by revisiting your budget. Has your income or spending changed significantly this year? Compare your actual spending against your planned budget to see where you stood firm and where you veered off course. This exercise isn't about self-reproof but about gathering insights and adjusting your budget to better fit your lifestyle and goals for the upcoming year.
Begin your budget review by getting a clear picture of all your income sources. This includes your primary job, any side hustles, passive income, investment returns, and any other irregular income streams. Have there been any changes in these areas throughout the year? Maybe you got a raise, a new job, or started a side project. Accurate knowledge of your total income is crucial for effective budgeting.
Next, categorize your expenses. Typical categories include housing, utilities, groceries, transportation, healthcare, entertainment, and personal spending. Use your bank statements, receipts, and financial tracking apps to compile the data. Don't forget annual or semi-annual expenses like insurance premiums or car maintenance. Once you have everything categorized, you can see exactly where your money is going.
With your income and expenses laid out, analyze your spending habits. Look for trends or areas where your spending has deviated from your planned budget. Perhaps you've spent more on dining out than you intended or saved less than you'd hoped. Identify any problem areas where you consistently overspent.
Distinguish between essential expenses and non-essential ones. Essentials are non-negotiables like rent, utilities, and groceries, while non-essentials could include subscription services, gym memberships, or frequent takeout meals. This will help you understand where you can make adjustments if needed.
Your budget should reflect your current lifestyle, which can change over time. A new family member, a move to a different city, or a change in work circumstances are all significant factors that should prompt a budget review. Ensure your budget is updated to accommodate these changes.
Based on your review, set realistic spending targets for the upcoming year. If you've received a raise, decide how you want to allocate the extra income—perhaps more towards savings or debt repayment. If your expenses have increased, figure out where you can cut back.
Consider using budgeting tools or apps that can help you track your spending in real time. Many apps can categorize your expenses automatically and alert you when you're nearing your budget limit in a particular category.
An emergency fund is crucial for financial stability, acting as a buffer against unexpected expenses like medical emergencies, car repairs, or sudden job loss. Ideally, this fund should cover 3-6 months of living expenses. If you've dipped into this fund over the year, calculate how much you need to replenish it. If you haven't started an emergency fund, now is the time to prioritize it. Begin by setting a modest goal, such as saving R1,000, and gradually increase your target as you become more financially stable.
Reflect on the savings goals you set at the beginning of the year. Whether it's for a down payment on a home, a dream vacation, or furthering your education, it's important to check your progress. If you're behind, don't get discouraged. Instead, reassess your timelines or the amount you're able to save each month. Life circumstances can change, and your savings plan needs to be flexible enough to accommodate these shifts.
Automation is a powerful tool to ensure you stay on track with your savings goals. If you haven't set up automatic transfers to your savings accounts, consider doing so. This removes the temptation to spend what you should be saving and helps build your reserves consistently. You can automate transfers to coincide with your payday, making saving a seamless part of your financial routine.
Your investment portfolio requires regular check-ups to ensure it aligns with your risk tolerance and time horizon, especially as these may shift over time. Review the performance of your investments and consider rebalancing if certain assets have significantly outperformed or underperformed. Consult with one of our financial advisors if you're unsure about making changes.
Life changes, and so should your insurance. Whether it's health, life, auto, or home insurance, make sure your coverage meets your current needs. If you've had a major life event, like a marriage, the birth of a child, or the purchase of a house, your insurance requirements may have changed.
An often-overlooked aspect of financial planning is estate planning. Review your will, trusts, and other estate planning documents to ensure they're up to date. Check your beneficiary designations on retirement accounts and insurance policies, as these supersede instructions in your will.
Tax planning shouldn't be left until the last minute. Review your income and deductions for the year and make any last-minute adjustments to minimize your tax liability. Consider contributing more to your retirement fund, or if you're self-employed, making necessary purchases for your business before the year ends.
Reflect on the financial goals you set at the beginning of the year. Celebrate those you've achieved and analyze why others were not accomplished. Use these insights to set realistic and achievable financial goals for the New Year. Write them down and create a plan of action.
Finally, consider scheduling a meeting with a financial planner. A professional can offer personalized advice and help you navigate complex financial decisions. They can also provide accountability, ensuring you stay on track to meet your financial goals.
Remember, the end of the year is not just a time for reflection but also for forward-thinking. By taking these steps, you're not only closing out the current year on a strong note but also laying the groundwork for financial success in the year to come.
At Olemera, we're dedicated to helping you achieve your financial aspirations. Let's work together to make the New Year your most prosperous yet.
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