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A Year in the Life of a Financial Plan

Well, I guess summer is over. Albeit, not according to the seasonal calendar, but rather the calendar in my head as a parent. School began on Monday and my responsibilities have shifted from vacations and camp planning to school supplies and after school activities.

It's interesting how your mental picture of a calendar year changes depending on your stage in life. Since becoming a parent my wife and I have used key dates involving our children to dictate our own task list. We now use the first day of school, winter break, spring break and summer break as our deadlines to meet family goal benchmarks. Before children I based my yearly plan on the tax and business year, with a mindset that growing my career and making money was the key variable in my life. In my 20s I used major sporting events and holidays as my guideline for meeting my responsibilities (not that I ever did meet my responsibilities in my 20s).

For this month's submission I wanted to create a universal calendar to pinpoint key dates that anyone can use to track their financial goal progress over the course of a year (however you define a year). Obviously there are set dates, like deadlines for filing taxes and making contributions into retirement accounts, but this calendar focus on when to do the little things that don't have a due date set in stone. So here is my interpretation of what tasks people should check off as the year progresses.

New Years Day: It's a bit of a no-brainer that this is the time of year which everyone is thinking about their finances (it's the second most common new year's resolution to getting in shape). But I'll narrow this task down to one simple chore, review your budget for the year. Specifically, what big ticket items do you plan on purchasing and what lump sum bonuses/salary do you plan on receiving. Get a firm grasp on the inflow and outflows of your money that are not consistent from month to month. This will prevent 'sticker shock' when a mid-year expense comes due. Also, spend the New Year to make sure your cash reserve is at a healthy level.

Valentine's Day: Talk to your significant other about each of your life goals. What has changed in a year? What financial issues are you no longer in agreement? What seemed awesome last year may now seem bland. Making sure that you both are on the same page is healthy for your finances and your relationship. Obviously it's a good time to talk about new goals as well.

Spring Break/St. Patrick's Day: Check your credit score. Leprechauns aren't the only things that are mischievous, and it's free through the U.S. government.

Your Birthday: Check in with your own goals. You had the conversation with your significant other (or if you are single), now its time to be selfish about your goals? There's nothing wrong with the opinion that current goals have soured or need a recharge and checking in with yourself about your life goals, financial or otherwise, is as important as checking in with your health.

As a present to you, try one new hobby that you have always considered 'but didn't have time or resources'.

Easter: By now you should have your taxes complete (unless you are filing an extension, in which case you should revisit this task later in the year). I have always pressed the issue that your amount owed or rebated should be no more than $2,000. If you are above this amount, see how can adjust your W-2 or utilize employer plans to alter this number, for the better, next year.

4th of July: We're halfway through the calendar year. Are you feeling comfortable with your cash flow and your savings? If so then turn the volume up a bit. Increase your savings into various accounts by a small amount, maybe 1 or 2%. Just like the concept of compound interest, your savings will increase exponentially over time if you do this every year while your wallet won't notice the small annual increases.

Labor Day: Do you like your job? Be honest with yourself. You had the inner monologue about your life goals on your birthday, now have one about your career. Reassess your career path, education path or business plan to make sure that it is still something that you feel is rewarding and satisfying. After all, a paycheck is nice, but not at the cost of feeling unfulfilled.

Check you credit report again.

Halloween (and probably a few weeks earlier): Review your insurances and your life protection needs. This is the time of year most companies have open enrollment. What has changed in your life that requires extra life, disability and health care coverage? Also, if needed, you might as well get those underwriting health exams out of the way before the holidays ruin your waistline.

This is also the time of year to consider your use of HSA and FSAs for the following year.

Thanksgiving: Make sure you are on track to fully fund all relevant employer retirement savings accounts.

This is also the time to review potential Roth IRA conversion strategies and capital gains harvesting strategies for the tax year.

New Year's Day: As you set your budget for the upcoming year, review the previous year's cash flow to see how you kept to your budget and what changes you need to make.

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