As 2023 comes to an end, it is an ideal time to take stock of how finances have held up over the year.
Markets have roared back after 2022’s retreat, with the S&P 500 up a stunning almost 20 percent year-to-date. The U.S. economy is also ticking along strongly, growing a massive 5 percent annually in the third quarter.
These statistics aren’t comforting to most Americans, though. Many are losing sleep over economic insecurity. A recent survey from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) showed that from a sample of 2,000 U.S. adults, 69 percent reported losing sleep over worries about job security, and three-quarters are tossing and turning over fears the country is on the brink of a recession.
People are also taking on more debt than ever. Total household debt rose 1.3% to reach $17.29 trillion in the July-September period, according to the Federal Reserve. Now, with the holiday season upon us, there’s even more chance to break the budgets further.
With persistent fears lingering about a prolonged economic downturn in 2024, now is a time to tap into some timeless frugality and make some extra earnings before the new year begins. Prudent money moves may make all the difference, and there are countless ways to save.
It never hurts to take stock of one’s financial health at the end of the year and plan ahead for 2024.
The Saving Season?
Instead of whipping out the credit card straightaway, take a beat. There are a few frugally-minded ways to start the holiday season.
Doing a “spending fast” could keep your budget in shape for this peak spending season. Fasting has come in vogue in recent years, be it for dieting, abstaining from alcohol, or unplugging from social media through a digital detox.
For the uninitiated, spending fasts follows the same logic: hitting pause on spending on anything in the “wants” category and only forking out for necessities like food, transport, etc. That may sound impossible in the lead-up to Christmas, but if timed right, it can help offset the splurging that often accompanies this time of year.
That may sound impossible in the lead-up to Christmas, but if timed well in the early weeks of December, a two-week mini-fast could balance your spending ahead of the Christmas splurge.
This can also be an ideal time to reassess subscriptions and cut out those that aren’t delivering consistent value. This could include cutting the cord and canceling cable TV plans, nixing that pricey gym membership, or pruning off a couple of digital content subscriptions, such as newsletters or premium podcasts.
Back to the Books
Another way to take a knife to the flab in your finances is to review your accounting books and do a thorough audit of everything.
Get back to budgeting basics. Now is the time to review all those unexpected expenses that hit throughout the year — why did they occur? How were those costs covered? Do an honest review and a realistic forecast (factoring in current inflation rates) of what spending will look like for the new year. Then, set savings targets for 2024.
A full audit of credit card accounts is also prudent. While credit should be monitored on a regular basis, the end of the year is the ideal time for a deep dive. This is a time to shine a light on long-forgotten cards or one-off loans lurking in one’s credit mix. There are many credit score sites, such as Credit Karma and others, that can help users get a credit report within minutes, giving borrowers a clearer overview of where they stand with lenders.
Apart from your fiscal prepping for the new year, look ahead to tax season, which comes at the end of the first quarter of each new year. The tax burden is weighing heavily on the minds across the nation. A Gallup poll earlier this year showed that 60 percent of Americans feel they pay too much federal income tax – the highest level of dissatisfaction in over two decades. Now is an ideal time to get tax ducks lined up in a row, though, because change is coming.
According to the Congressional Budget Office website, rates will rise on taxable ordinary income for most, but not all – of the seven tax brackets. Beginning in 2026, the rates will shift from the current rates (ordered lowest to highest) of 10, 12, 22, 24, 32, 35, and 37 percent to become 10, 15, 25, 28, 33, 35, and 39.6 percent, respectively.
Getting across rates now will help when it comes time to file and strategize tax brackets in April.
Although this may not be cost-cutting per se, there are other ways to make some small seasonal earnings just by taking some small actions.
For instance, some apps, such as Plink and Webull, offer sign-up bonuses. Many are personal finance or investing platforms that, depending on the guidance they provide, may help users get closer to their financial goals. Yet even if they are just installed to access bonus, that can deliver an extra bump in money.
There are other ways to get free money, such as employer 401(k) contributions match, shopping loyalty memberships, bank account sign-up bonuses, or cash-back rewards programs.
For investors who have a share portfolio, there are several companies that offer free stocks online through their services and apps, including Fidelity and Robinhood.
There are various ways to try to cut back on savings at this time of year. By taking stock of one’s financial situation, amending budgets, and tightening the belt when most are loosening theirs, ordinary Americans can come out ahead and put their best foot forward for the year ahead.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.