You're not alone if you feel like your wallet opens this time of year and doesn't close until the spring. Luckily there are plenty of ways to help make the most of your money at the end of one year and beginning of another. Start here.
Plan your PTO
If you plot out certain days you want to take off work in the year ahead, you might be more likely to use all your time off. Plus, if your manager allows you to put in requests early, you might get first dibs on popular days off (hello, Labor Day weekend).
Set a savings goal
If you can swing it, make a plan to max out contributions to your retirement accounts this year. First, check contribution limits for 2024. Then consider setting up automatic payroll deductions, so you don't have to think twice about saving when your paycheck hits.
Not in a position to max out your accounts? If you can, consider contributing at least enough to your 401(k) to get any match your company might offer, so you don't leave money on the table. And try to inch up your contributions by 1% whenever you get a raise, bonus, or other windfall until you reach Fidelity's guideline of stashing 15% per year in retirement savings.
Automate money transfers
Consider a New Year's resolution to save and invest. Taking the decision-making out of it through auto transfers could help ensure you do both regularly. Yeah, you'll have to decide how much to stash and where that first time, but after that, you can forget about it for a while—and be sure your money's working for you. Saving and investing any amount could help kickstart a good savings habit. Here are 8 other ways to snowball your savings.
Pay quarterly taxes
If you don't have an employer withholding taxes on your behalf (because you're a freelancer, side-gigger, self-employed, or have substantial investment income) the quarterly deadline to pay taxes is January 16, 2024, for the September 1 to December 31, 2023, income period. You might need to make these quarterly estimated payments if you expect to owe more than $1,000 when you file your tax return or if you owed taxes last year.
Make a plan for your bonus (or tax refund)
If you're expecting some extra green, consider how to use it to get closer to your money goals. Maybe that's paying off high-interest debt, adding to a rainy-day fund, or putting more toward long-term savings. Whichever you decide, plan to enjoy some of it too. Celebrating small milestones, such as with a fancy dinner out or a weekend away, could help reinforce your good habits and motivate you to keep making wise money decisions over time. Here are some options for your windfall.
Game out your gift card
Received one for the holidays? Pretend you're on a game show when you go to use it: Choose items that get you closest to the gift amount without going over. Why? Redeeming gift cards might make you overspend. In a British study, 74% of shoppers who used gift cards said they surpassed the card amount by the equivalent of $54.1
Rethink your habits
If you're working toward a big money goal, think about new habits you could form to replace “bad” ones. For example, instead of automatically buying clothes you like when you see them, consider making it a rule to look for coupons or sales before checking out. You'll still get the reward of new clothes, but you'll spend less when you find discounts. The more you repeat an action linked to something you enjoy, the more effortless your new habit will become. Need goal-tracking help? Try Fidelity Goal Booster for short-term goals.
If you're serious about getting your savings on track, try the 52-week money challenge. You save a specific amount based on which week it is. So start with $1 in week 1. In week 2, save $2. In week 3, save $3, and so on through week 52. By then, you'll have a total of $1,378. Consider celebrating by exploring your options for where to stash savings.
Some tax preparers offer deals early in the tax season when they have more time. Filing ASAP might also help you avoid filing late, which could come with penalties if you owe taxes. Even if you don't file early, now's a good time to gather receipts for expenses/donations you plan to itemize. And whether you go solo or with a tax pro, the IRS says you'll get a refund faster (if you're owed one) by filing electronically and including your direct deposit info. Just watch out for these 8 tax pitfalls.
Dish out dining savings
If you're taking your significant other out for a romantic dinner, see if there are any local restaurants that allow you to bring your own bottle. BYOB can help you avoid hefty restaurant markups, giving you that drinks-out experience without the financial hangover. Not every area permits BYOB, though. And keep in mind that restaurants that do might charge a “corking fee” to open a bottle. Try these 9 other tips to save money on dining out. And speaking of Valentine's Day...
Extend the life of pricey flowers
Flower prices have blossomed over the last year. Here's how to protect the sweet investment: Place them in a dark vase to stop sunlight from damaging stems. Add a few drops of bleach to keep bacteria at bay. And change the water and trim stems daily (so fresh and so clean, clean).
Buy next year's coat
Is your winter coat busting at the seams? You might get a good deal on a new one now as retailers clear out inventory to make room for spring gear. Have items you're no longer wearing in your closet? Consider selling them and using the money to fund your wardrobe updates. Here's how to get started with selling your stuff.
Heat your home for less
You might be able to save with these simple tips:
- Change your furnace filters every 90 days.
- Spin ceiling fans clockwise to push hot air down.
- Close vents in rooms you're not using.
- See if your utility company offers a discount for switching to paperless billing.
Get more ways to save on utilities.
Do a credit check
You now get 1 free credit report per week from each of the 3 credit agencies (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) at Annualcreditreport.com. Consider checking your report a few times a year to keep regular tabs on your credit. Review and note any errors, such as misspellings; incorrect addresses; on-time payments reported as late; and credit cards, credit checks, and loans in your name that you don't recognize. Dispute any errors with the credit-reporting agency. If you're wondering how to boost your credit score, try these 8 tips.
Price your prescriptions
Spring is right around the corner ... and so are spring allergies. Let this be a reminder to check your prescription costs (allergies or not), especially if you picked up a new health insurer for 2024. See if your health plan offers an app or online calculator that estimates prescription costs. Some also compare prices at a brick-and-mortar store vs. mail-order pharmacy. This could be handy at the doctor's office. If they prescribe a med the app says is expensive, you might be able to request a cheaper alternative right then and there. Here are more ways to save on prescriptions.
Simmer spring travel fees
Since some spring breaks are technically in winter, now's the time to plan on avoiding "foreign transaction fees" if you're heading overseas. These are extra charges from your credit card—typically 1% to 4%—on top of the prices of souvenirs, meals, and more when you swipe from outside of the US. Check your card's terms and conditions to find out whether these fees apply to you. To avoid them, consider exchanging money before your trip, or using a debit card to withdraw cash from an ATM at your destination (after confirming that your bank doesn't charge overseas ATM fees). The Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature® Credit Card doesn't charge you foreign transaction fees and earns you travel perks.
Save on tax prep
Tax Day is right around the corner on April 15, 2024. Here are some hacks to get ready:
- Consider using the IRS Free File if your adjusted gross income for 2023 is $73,000 or less. The guided software does the hard work for free for federal returns; some state prep and filing might be free too. Also check into Direct File, an IRS pilot program that will launch for 2023 tax returns in 13 states for eligible taxpayers.
- Refer friends. A thankful tax preparer might give you cash back or a lower prep fee for new clients you send their way. Just ask them.
- Find discounts online. Many tax-prep companies run promotions during tax season. In fact, Fidelity customers can get up to $20 off TurboTax®.