Money Questions To Ask Yourself in January

Whether it’s paying off your loans, getting more sleep, or really making it to the gym three days a week, the New Year is a great time to take stock of your situation — your health, your finances — and make concrete plans to help you achieve your goals next year. Here are six questions that can help set you up for success in the New Year.

Have I revisited my yearly budget?

Having a budget can help you set and reach financial goals, and it’s a good idea to review yours every year. Maybe things have changed in your life since last year — you had another child, got a salary bump or you’re paying more rent. 

Before you set your budget, track your spending for a few weeks to see where your money is going and look at how your expenses shake out in terms of what’s essential and what could be trimmed or eliminated.

Then, think about your financial goals. It might be saving for a vacation or finding extra money to contribute to a retirement account. If you’re looking for things to cut back on, some categories to look at may include eating out, clothing and gadgets.

Did I file all of my flexible spending claims?

If you contribute to a Flexible Spending Account, or FSA, you may need to file a claim to get reimbursed for eligible expenses that you pay for out of pocket. Please reach out to your insurance provider for more information.

There are different FSAs: 

  • Health FSAs allow you to use pre-tax money for eligible medical expenses not covered by insurance. 
  • Dependent Care FSA is an FSA that lets you use pre-tax money for care-provider expenses for children (such as day care, nanny, or after school programs). Eligible expenses may vary, so check yours to see what’s covered.

Even if the plan year has ended, you may be able to file claims for the year that just ended – check your account for filing deadlines and to see if there’s a grace period that will give you more time.

Have I started to plan for tax season?

If you have an accountant, set a date to talk tax strategy. If you don’t have an accountant, you may want to consider whether hiring one makes sense.

Accountants can be helpful when taxes get complicated. For example, if you own property, it can be tricky to figure out what kind of deductions you might be entitled to. Or you may have a small business or a side hustle and could be entitled to write-offs you’re unaware of.

If you’re worried about cost, a 2017 survey from the National Society of Accountants showed the average fee for an accountant to prepare an itemized federal return and state return is around $273, but since accountants can help get you the most from your tax return it might be worth it.

If you’re wondering how common it is to work with a pro, a recent study by GoBankingRates showed that 37 percent of Americans have a professional file their taxes.

As for tax filing pointers: keep in mind that there have been a lot of changes to the law. The standard deduction, for example, increased for 2018 to $12,000 for single tax filers (up from $6,350 in 2017) and rose to $24,000 for married couples filing jointly (up from $12,700 in 2017). 

However, deductions like state and local taxes and mortgage interest were capped at $10,000. And that could hurt if you live in a state with high property or income tax.

Have I planned out my vacation days?

If you work for a company, your vacation days are part of your compensation, and if you don’t take them, you’re wasting them. So plan ahead for how you’re going to use your time off in 2019.

Two good reasons to make plans for your 2019 vacation days now:

  • According to one study, the average U.S. employee with paid vacation only took about half their days in a 12-month period.
  • Studies show that overworking does not increase output, and the stress that ensues can lead to all kinds of health problems. Research has shown that taking more time off can lower stress and result in more success at work.

These same principles apply if you’re self-employed. It may be trickier to take time off because it’s easy for work to bleed into personal time. If you plan your vacation , you may be more likely to take time off and get that healthy recharge.

Do I need to draft a will?

You want to make sure your property — your house, your investments — is distributed as you’d like after you’ve passed away.

A will, for example, which in addition to divvying up property can also specify who should care for any minor children you’ve left behind, is one option.

A living trust, which does not have to go through probate, may be an additional option. An attorney can help you see which is right for you as well as how often they should be updated. 

Have I unsubscribed from unnecessary email lists?

Unsubscribing from all unnecessary email lists allows you to head into the New Year with less clutter. How many junk emails are you deleting every day? Probably too many, since it has been reported that more than 50 percent of all emails are spam. If the thought of manually unsubscribing from dozens of emails makes you cringe, you may want to consider using an email unsubscription service like Unroll.Me or Unlistr.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. Articles on this site were commissioned and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, but may not reflect the institutional opinions of Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Goldman Sachs Bank USA or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions.