You may not have been in school for decades, but whether or not you have kids, the long days, laid back attitudes, and fun weekend plans of summer can make it easy to loosen your grip on to-do lists while you enjoy the moments as they come. And while you deserve the break, these simple financial to-do’s can be done on a summer Friday — poolside, even — and can help keep you in good financial shape, both for this fall and the far-off future.
We’ve compiled a list of easy to accomplish money tasks that you can check off your list on a summer Friday or easily within a month. You’ll have your finances humming along before you know it.
Remember those goals you set on New Year’s Day? The ones you swore you’d get around to this year? The summer is a great time to check in on and refine them. No need to worry if you’re a little behind.
Don’t have financial goals? Now’s a great time to clarify what yours are, whether to save in a college-savings fund, pay off debt, build an emergency fund, or save up a down payment for a home. If you want to buy a house or get married in the next year, your budget should reflect those goals.
Financial goals don’t necessarily need to be tied to a life event. All goals — both short-term and long-term — help you keep your finances pointed in the direction that you want to go.
- Write it down. Create a list of short-term (less than 12 months) and long-term (12 months+) goals. Include the total cost for each goal, when you want to achieve it, and your action plan for getting there.
- Update your goals. Goals can change from month to month so revisit your monthly budget to make sure it reflects those changes. For a motivational boost, give yourself at least one easy goal that you can reach each month alongside the harder goals that can take you a while to accomplish.
- Track your progress. Find a system that works for you to track your financial goals. For some people, a sticky note on the fridge or bathroom mirror is motivation enough. Others may use a financial app or regular check-ins with an accountability partner (a partner, friend, or financial professional). If you don’t regularly engage with your goal, it’s easy to forget about it.
No matter your credit score, ignoring it, or assuming everything’s fine, is a common error. Since you’re the one whose financial goals are at stake, it’s in your best interests to avoid falling into complacency. I’m a big advocate of checking your credit often through one of the mobile credit apps like Credit Sesame or Credit Karma that are free to use and keep you in touch with what’s going on with your credit score.
Here’s a real person story. A client of mine believed she had stellar credit. She went to buy a new couch and decided to put it on their store credit card. Unfortunately, her application was denied.
This confused her. It wasn’t until she looked at her credit report that she realized she had been a victim of fraud and someone used her social security number to open credit cards, make purchases, and then not pay the bills.
Credit scores range from 300-850, and my client’s score had sunk to around 600, which is considered poor credit. Fixing her credit took months.
Check your credit score and your credit report at least two times a year.
Cheatsheet: Simple credit score cleanup strategies
- Get your credit reports. You’re legally entitled to one free copy every 12 months from each of the major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). com is the only website authorized to provide your free annual credit reports. You might want to request one credit report every four months in order to keep an eye on your credit throughout the year. The credit reporting agencies are not obligated to provide free credit scores.
- Clean up errors on your credit reports. Errors can lower your score. If you find something wrong, start by disputing it online while you’re viewing your report.
- Bookmark sites where you can check your credit score for free. Some to try: Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, CreditWise, Discover, Mint and NerdWallet. You can check your credit score as often as you want to without impacting your score.
- If you arrive at a payment page for your credit report or credit score, start over. You do not have to provide a credit card number to get free credit reports or free credit scores.
- Is your credit score lower than you want? To improve it, commit to paying your bills on time (if you haven’t signed up for autopay, now’s a great time to do so) and reduce your revolving debt. Your credit card balances should be as low as possible, and not more than 30% of the credit limits (on each card and overall). These two factors make up 65% of your credit score.
Summer is a great time to check in on your 401(k).
- Understand the distribution of your portfolio
- See if you’re contributing enough to take full advantage of any employer match
- Check on fees and make sure your account is meeting your needs at a price you’re comfortable with
Your 401(k) is likely the first place you started investing, and it can be overlooked during the year — or maybe from the day you set up your portfolio. One of the most compelling reasons to contribute to your 401(k) is a company match. If your company offers a match, it means they will contribute additional funds to your 401(k).
Let’s say they match 50% up to the first 6% of contribution. In English, that means they will contribute 3% if you contribute 6% of your salary each month in your 401(k).
The 6% that you contribute comes out of your money. The 3% they contribute comes out of their money. Yes, their money.
You don’t want to leave money on the table. There are some pretty good combinations in life like peanut butter and jelly, but the 401(k) and match combination tops that.
You’re not alone if you have no idea what funds to select for your 401(k) but don’t let that stop you from taking full advantage of this benefit if it is offered to you.
Cheatsheet: Consider these strategies as you examine your 401(k)
- It’s a good idea to check whether your risk tolerance has changed over time. Risk tolerance is a combination of personal preference and time to retirement. Take an online quiz to find out yours.
- Consider a robo advisor service like Blooom if you want help managing your 401(k). Betterment and Wealthfront are also popular options. It’s also possible to open an IRA or ROTH IRA through companies like Betterment, Wealthfront, Fidelity and others.
- Anticipating a raise, or got a raise in the past year? Challenge yourself to raise your contribution. When it comes to how much you should save, there is no maximum.
Negotiate a bill
Negotiation might seem like an unusual item to add to your summer money to-do list. However, negotiating can be a powerful strategy to put more money back into your bank account and make you more aware of bills that may have the potential to be lowered or eliminated.
We’re not talking about the kind of negotiating that will bring sweat beads to your forehead. Instead, think of negotiating as asking questions of your service providers to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible. The worst they can say is no.
Here are a few easy negotiations you might start with:
- Ask for an interest rate reduction on your credit card
- Ask your cell phone carrier if you’re on the best plan given your usage trends
- Ask to have the annual fee on your credit card waived or reduced
- Ask your cable and internet providers if you’re on the best plan at the lowest price
I’ve been successfully negotiating for interest rate reductions and annual fee reductions on my credit cards for years. I make a calendar event every summer to revisit where I’m currently at and then call the credit card companies right away.
I start with, “I’ve been a long-term customer of your credit card, and I’m interested in seeing if I can get an interest rate reduction.” Fill in the blanks with whatever request you have, but it can really be that easy. Credit card companies may compete for your business because they know you can use another bank’s card.
Cheatsheet: 4 negotiating strategies to keep in mind
- Always be nice and polite
- If you don’t get the answer you want, feel free to call back or ask to speak with a supervisor
- Credit card negotiation works best if you’re a good paying customer (even better if you’ve been a long-term customer)
- It’s easy to find yourself in an outdated internet, cell phone, or cable plan. Make a calendar event to negotiate and investigate these bills at least once a year.
Get life insurance (and update any beneficiary info)
If you haven’t yet gotten around to purchasing life insurance, it’s a great thing to add to your to-do list.
Already have life insurance? Great! But it’s worth your time to pull up your policy and make sure that the beneficiaries you’ve designated are still accurate. It’s also a good time to review any other insurance policies you have, like homeowner’s insurance, or research policies you may be curious about, such as disability insurance, and also make sure that the policies are up to date, any contact info is current, and the coverage matches your expectations of what you should have.
A slow summer Friday can be an excellent day to review policies and paperwork. In addition to life insurance, consider making sure a few other documents are current, too. Take a look at the list below. You’ll want to review coverage levels, beneficiaries, allocations, and other details, depending on the document.
Cheatsheet: Consider reviewing these documents
- Life insurance policies (if you don’t have life insurance you can easily apply for life insurance online)
- Estate planning documents like your will and living trust (if you don’t have a will or living trust, you can set those documents up with companies like Trust & Will)
- “Payable on death” (POD) bank and savings accounts
- 401(k), IRA, ROTH IRA, or other retirement accounts
Remember, small moves can go a long way
These money to-do’s shouldn’t be taxing or make you want to run and hide. The checklist is made up of small, yet important, tasks that can be accomplished in 10 minutes here or half an hour there, and before you know it, you could have the whole list completed. It’s all about finding a rhythm that works for you and one that will keep you motivated to move through the checklist with ease.