(BPT) - By Mary Hines Droesch, Head of Consumer and Small Business Products at Bank of America
With summer coming to a close — and a busy holiday season not too far off — fall can be a good time to take a step back and look at your finances. For instance, do you need to recalibrate after splurging on a vacation? Have you started to plan a realistic holiday spending budget? How are you tracking on your financial goals, and can you make any changes to end the year on a high note?
If you are planning to set (or reset) your financial strategy for the rest of the year, here are five things to consider:
- Evaluate your goals. Many people make financial resolutions in January and then quickly forget about them. The good news is, it’s never too late to stop and revisit your short-, medium- and long-term goals. Are each still relevant? How much do they cost? Are you on track to meet them? Some long-term goals, such as planning for retirement, may not change substantially year to year. Short-term goals, such as paying off a credit card bill, and medium-term goals, including saving for a house, may change more frequently. By pausing to take stock of your progress and your priorities, you might decide to reevaluate your goals based on where you are currently and what’s realistic to achieve.
- Review your budget. Check in on your spending to make sure you are staying on track. Do you need to reel in expenditures before the holiday season? Have you updated your budget to account for increased costs on things like gas and groceries? Did you save more than you anticipated or receive a raise that is giving you more flexibility than expected? In that case, you may feel better about some bigger purchases — or even treating yourself — in the next few months. Or, you might realize that you can start setting aside more money to save on a regular basis.
- Check your credit report. Your credit report contains important information about the status of your loans, credit cards and payment history. All of this information determines your credit score, which can affect many areas of your financial life — whether it’s getting approved for a credit card, determining the interest rate on a mortgage or buying a car. Get in the habit of checking your report at least once a year to make sure it is up to date and error free. You’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus. You can access these reports by visiting annualcreditreport.com.
- Assess your wallet. Do you have credit cards floating around in your wallet or desk drawer that haven’t been used for years? It might be a good time to find a card that fits in with your current spending habits. If you don’t want to juggle multiple cards, one option is the Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards credit card, which allows you to earn cash back on every purchase. This includes 3% cash back in a category of your choice — gas, online shopping, dining, drug stores or home improvement/furnishings and 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases each quarter). And, 1% cash back on all other purchases. You also have the ability to change your 3% category each month to align with your future spending needs, which means you can maximize your cash back by choosing how you earn.
- Take advantage of opportunities to earn cash back to offset everyday spending. When used responsibly, credit cards can be a great way to earn cash back and offset increased costs on routine purchases you are likely to be making anyway. You can also try layering your rewards to stretch your dollar even further. For example, enroll in rewards programs at your favorite retailers — everything from gas stations to grocery stores. And if your bank offers a no-fee banking loyalty program, such as Bank of America’s Preferred Rewards, that is another great way to reap extra rewards.
It can be hard to find time to really dig into your finances amidst all of life’s other responsibilities. But if you can do it now, you’re more likely to end the year in better financial shape than you started it.