Don’t Worry, There’s Still Time to Undo the Money Mistakes You Made This Year


Three-quarters of the way into 2017, our New Year’s resolutions are probably a distant memory. Even with the best intentions to stick to that budget this year (or even just start one), pay down debt and save more, it’s easy to get sidetracked by the daily demands of, you know, life.

But it’s not too late to finish the year strong and set yourself up for 2018. Start by checking these off your list.

1. Start budgeting, and buying, for the holidays now.

A 2016 TD Bank survey found nearly 80 percent of us overspend on holiday purchases, which can easily lead to higher debt payments and empty pockets in January. Avoid overdoing it and you can start 2018 ahead of the game.

Start by calculating how much you really need to spend on holiday gifts, food, decorations and other expenses, then set up automatic savings transfers now to begin building up a reserve. By starting on your shopping now, you can also spread out the spending—and take advantage of fall sales and other deals when you see them.

Related: The Answer to Your ‘I Don’t Have Money for the Holidays’ Problem

2. Strategically spend your health care spending accounts.

If you have access to a flexible spending account (FSA) for health care expenses, make sure to spend the funds before December 31. Or you’ll lose them. You can use the money for more than basic medical expenses—everything from Lasik surgery and glasses to dental work, suggests financial advisor Justin Halverson of Great Waters Financial. (See all eligible health care FSA expenses here.)

On the other hand, if you have a health savings account (HSA), money you’ve contributed carries over indefinitely, so don’t worry about rushing to spend it now. Then you can use it toward your deductible next year, points out Joe Heider, a Chartered Financial Consultant and president of Cirrus Wealth Management.

3. Boost your retirement contributions.

If you get a year-end bonus, consider putting at least some of it into an investment account or an IRA.

And if you expect a cost-of-living increase and have an employer-sponsored plan like a 401(k), consider upping your regular contribution rate a percent or two for 2018. You won’t feel any difference in your lifestyle, but the extra money you add could make a big difference in how much you have saved for retirement. Contributing more can also lower your taxable income and tax burden, Halverson points out. Win-win.

4. Make a plan for charitable donations.

Before you’re bombarded with charitable donation requests during the holidays, decide now how much you want to give and where. Then it’ll be easier to turn down unsolicited requests and be sure you’re giving to causes that matter most to you.

The fall is also a good time to clean out closets and give away clothing or household items you no longer need or want. Then you can start off the new year with a clean slate and score another tax deduction. Just don’t forget to hang onto receipts and related documentation.

Related: You May Be Paying More in Taxes Than You Actually Owe