Monthly Action Items
These are important measures to take on a regular basis, as they can help ensure you're not spending money unnecessarily from week to week. This checklist should be completed at least once a month:
1. Review all statements and transactions for your accounts. Log into your online accounts and review the month's transactions. Check for signs of fraud or errors, such as being charged twice for the same purchase. Also, look for any subscriptions, memberships or other recurring transactions that aren't being fully taken advantage of. Opting out of those expenses can allow you to put more toward your savings goals.
2. Reinvest monthly dividends and capital gains. Make sure all the money in your retirement and brokerage account portfolios is working hard for you; don't let gains or dividends become "lazy" money. (Bonus tip: Do this action once instead of monthly by choosing to automatically have your custodian reinvest dividends and gains for you.)
3. Set a "money date" or meeting with your partner. If you share household finances with a spouse or loved one, schedule a meeting to openly and honestly discuss spending and savings plans, goals, action items that you are each responsible for and questions you may have.
Quarterly Action Items
While these financial actions don't need to be performed as often, completing this checklist every three months can help ensure you're managing your money wisely and it's working as hard as possible:
1. Evaluate your debt. Review any balances you may have, and ensure you have a repayment plan in place for each (and prioritize repayment of high-interest rate balances first). You might also want to periodically check rates for opportunities to refinance or consolidate existing debt. It's possible to leverage a tool like a balance transfer to move existing balances from high-interest rate credit cards to a lower rate HELOC.
2. Review automated transfers and contributions. Do you need to make updates to the amounts that you send to savings or investments? Is money still going to the right accounts? Make updates if necessary.
3. Check in with your equity compensation. If you earn stock options or restricted stock units in addition to a regular paycheck, make sure you're managing that appropriately in accordance with your investment strategy. You may need to sell shares that have vested, for example, or exercise options before they expire.
Annual Action Items
Toward the end of the calendar year, or whenever you typically have a period of free time, it's a good idea to review your accounts from an elevated position. Performing these actions at least once a year can help make certain you're still on track in pursuit of your financial goals:
1. Check your credit report. You can request a free copy of your report once per year at FreeCreditReport.com. Order yours and review it carefully to make sure there are no mistakes or errors. File a dispute if you see information you feel is inaccurate so that it doesn't negatively impact your credit.
2. Research interest rates for bank accounts. You want to confirm your current rate is providing you with a competitive return. Interest rates that banks offer are often tied to the Fed's rate, so these can — and do — change. You don't want to hop around from bank to bank, as that can cause more hassle than it's worth (especially if you end up getting taken in by promotional or teaser rates), but you do want to make sure you're taking advantage of high-yield accounts.
3. Do an account audit. Make a list of all of your financial accounts, which could include bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement plans, credit cards and loans. This will allow you to see the big picture, and catch anything that might be out of place or not as efficient as it could be. For example, perhaps you have an old 401(k) that should be rolled over into a new IRA, or maybe you have an investment account on a separate platform that should be transferred to your current financial institution so it's easier to manage moving forward.
4. Maximize your long-term investments. Make sure you max out your retirement plans ahead of any tax filing deadlines. And don't forget other accounts like IRAs and HSAs. If applicable, rebalance or do any tax-loss harvesting as well.
Schedule this regular maintenance into your calendar throughout the year (simply copy and paste the information above into your calendar notes) and use these checklists to help you get organized. By taking these manageable steps, you'll be firmly in control of your financial future.