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Financial Fitness, One Month at a Time

Apr 26, 2018 3 min read Ilana Polyak

Personal finance can be overwhelming. There's so much to keep track of: tax planning, investments, retirement savings and more. That's why it can be helpful to break the tasks down into bite-sized pieces throughout the year.

Here's your month-by-month to-do list to help you stay on track.




Just last month you likely pressed “send" on your 2017 taxes, but now it's time to start planning for your 2018 returns . To start, look at your withholdings. If you filled out a W-4 form when you first started your job, it could use a refresh, especially if you live in a high-tax state. With the cap on the state, local and property tax deduction in the recent tax overhaul, your withholdings may be too few for the amount of taxes you actually owe. Consult with your tax professional to decide if you should make a change.


Request a copy of your credit report. You are entitled to a free copy of your report each year at annualcreditreport.com Opens in new window. Check for errors and possible signs of identity theft, such as accounts you don't remember opening. You can dispute errors by following the guidelines on the credit reporting bureaus' websites, whether they're Equifax, Experian or TransUnion.


It's time to conduct a mid-year investment review. If any of your investment allocation targets have shifted by more than 10% from where you originally set them, consider rebalancing back to your targets. For example, if you allocated 70% to equities, but they now account for 85% of your portfolio due to the strong stock market, you may consider trimming the position and adding alternatives. 

Please consult your financial professional and tax advisor for advice pertaining to your personal circumstances.  


It's almost back-to-school time. On average, from elementary through high school, parents spend Opens in new window close to $700 each school year, between supplies, clothing, shoes and electronics, according to the National Retail Federation. Your dollars will go further if you start your shopping armed with a list and budget. Comparison shop, both in stores and online. And time your shopping with your state's tax holiday (if there is one), so you can avoid taxes on the essentials.


Summer is a busy time, and many financial to-dos can get lost in the shuffle, so turn your attention to items such as updating your will. This document may need a refresh if, for instance, there's been a marriage or divorce, named guardians have died, there's been a substantial increase or decrease in the value of your estate, or your children have reached the age of majority.


Employers generally start their open enrollment season in the fall. It runs a few weeks and allows you to make changes to your health insurance and sign up for other offered benefits. Even if you're happy with your insurance, remember that plans change each year, and you could be facing higher deductibles, co-pays and coinsurance, or less generous coverage for your prescriptions.
Compare all the options each year. If you are self-employed and buy your health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, your open enrollment period starts Nov 1 and lasts until Dec 15.


Getting ready for winter now can prevent your home from experiencing big — and potentially costly — problems later on. Consider using spray foam insulation to fill up big holes around your home, and caulking any cracks around windows to keep out the cold. A programmable thermostat, which costs around $200, can help you regulate your energy use.


There's never a bad time to make charitable donations but many people wait until the waning days of the year to open their wallets. In fact, according to Blackbaud Opens in new window, which compiles data on charitable giving, a quarter of donations arrive in November and December.

This year, consider getting the whole family involved in the endeavor. Allow everyone to choose one organization to give to. Bear in mind that with the increase of the standard deduction to $12,000 ($24,000 for married couples filing jointly), you may no longer need to itemize if you did before, and therefore may not get as much tax value for your donation.


Did you receive a raise for the New Year? Instead of upgrading your home or car, think about directing some or all of the extra coin toward retirement. Consider adjusting contributions to your 401(k) or IRA before you've had a chance to enjoy the fatter paycheck; then you'll never miss that extra cash.


Don't wait until the last minute to start working on tax filing. Even if you work with a tax professional, you need to spend some time gathering all your documents, including W-2s, if you work for an employer, and 1099s, if you are an independent contractor. In addition, don't forget to include documentation for charitable donations, investment transactions and home-office expenses.


April showers are just weeks away, and with them comes the possibility of flooding. Consider purchasing flood insurance to protect your home and your family's finances, even if you don't live in a flood-prone area. Homeowner and renter's insurance policies don't cover floods. According to the National Flood Insurance Program Opens in new window, recovering from just one inch of water in your home can cost as much as $27,000.


Be sure to file your taxes before the deadline, which is generally on April 15 or within a few days of that date (or at least file an extension). Then you can turn your attention to something more fun: planning your summer vacation.

With the average U.S. family of four spending $4,000 Opens in new window on a vacation, doing some early comparison shopping and seeking out the best deals can pay off. Consider flying during less desirable days of the week (think Tuesday instead of Saturday), staying in locations that aren't right in the center of the action, and renting an apartment or home so you can prepare your own meals.



Ilana Polyak is a freelance writer who specializes in personal finance and the financial advisory industry. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Barron's, Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Bloomberg BusinessWeek and CNBC.com.


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