Your post-holiday guide to cleaning up your finances

Photo Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Getty Images

Forget January; September is the best time of year to make new resolutions. It has the same crisp feel of the new year but without the depressing, sober vibe of midwinter. It is full of promise, clarity and drive; It’s time to pull yourself together. In France, where you usually spend the whole of August and holidaysis mentioned in early September la rentree: a re-entry point where you take stock and get organized for the year ahead.

Of course, September and January share one negative element – ​​the boring hangover that comes from spending the previous month pretending to have an indestructible liver and a bank account. Late summer is a free space for everyone, a place to escape from rules, constraints and emails. There are trips to take, sales to shop, lobster rolls to eat and martinis to drink. I hope you did all this and enjoyed it! But nothing kills relaxation quite like knowing you’ll have to pay for it later.

Luckily, September is the perfect opportunity for a fresh start. I’ve spoken to several financial experts about what they do each fall and how to get out of the post-holiday money doldrums.

1. Take stock of the next three months – including the people you want to spend time with.

“In the summer I always know that I will be more relaxed with my means,” he says Jasmine Ramirez, a financial therapist based in New Jersey. “In September I’m like, ‘Okay, how can I get my life back on track after spending this extra money so I can finish the year stronger and pay my bills?'”

This includes planning for the holidays. “I know it may sound ridiculous, but if you think ahead, you can avoid the same cycle of guilt and debt repeating itself in December,” she says. “Then you won’t start January feeling exhausted and needing to work out all over again. And that will put you in a much better position for the whole of next year.”

For this, Ramirez not only looks at her calendar for the next few months; She also considers individuals in her life. “Write down all the loved ones you’ll be visiting during the holiday, celebrating with, or shopping for gifts for, and then budget each of them for what you’re spending,” she says. “That way you can see how much money you have to put aside and don’t feel overwhelmed.”

This list exercise will not only help you plan ahead; It also gives you something to look at when you need a reminder of the relationships you value and want to focus on. It’s much easier to cut down on the little non-essentials when you have a clear view of the expenses that matter most to you.

2. Wait until you buy something new.

Sure, it’s September and there’s a lot of cute fall stuff to buy! But today it’s 94 degrees and I’m wearing running shorts. This is the weirdest time of year to dress for – shops offer soft sweaters and cozy coats, but in reality you won’t need these things for a while. “I don’t usually buy anything for myself or my kids in September,” says Farnoosh Torabi, moderator of the So money Podcast and author of upcoming book A healthy state of panic. “I’ve learned that we can continue to wear summer clothes well into October, and by then all fall models will be on sale.” It also gives you enough time to realize that you don’t actually need a third puffy coat.

3. Imagine you have $5,000 more. what would you do with it

Instead of setting goals that require cuts, think about what you’re willing to spend more money on it. “This is a good thought experiment to try with a friend or loved one,” he says Megan McCoy, Professor of Personal Financial Planning at Kansas State University. “Imagine you got a little stroke of luck. Not a life-changing lottery win, but more like an extra $5,000. What debt would you pay off, what trip would you plan, what pleasure would you indulge in?”

When you’ve talked about it, think about how your life would be different if the money was gone. “Maybe you would be less stressed or tired. Perhaps you would have more memories with a loved one. Or maybe things would be about the same,” says McCoy. The exercise can help you identify your priorities more clearly. If the money really relieved your stress, it might motivate you to make a saving plan. Or, if you realized you’d spend it on something like travel, you could think of cheaper ways to meet new places or people. “Even if you realize that $5,000 more wouldn’t actually change your life that much, it can still give you gratitude for where you are,” says McCoy.

4. Break your goals into bite-sized chunks.

Anyone can get carried away with goal setting and imagine a shiny, frugal, and debt-free version of themselves. But before you do that, think about the difference between a goal and an aspiration, McCoy says. The latter is big, sublime, and often requires sheer motivation and self-control—which almost no one can match. To actually achieve a goal, you have to break it down into small, simple steps.

“You should be able to implement these steps immediately,” adds McCoy. They should also be repeatable. “Examples could be opening a savings account and automating a regular transfer into it, downloading an expense tracker, checking your accounts every day, or committing to not eating out on Tuesdays,” she says. “Fall is a great time to reflect on both your bigger goals and the small behaviors that can get you there.”

5. Assemble a team.

Most people have the best of intentions with their finances, but find it difficult to put their plans into action. “When it comes to making an important financial decision or preparing dinner, most people will go ahead and prepare dinner,” he says Elana Feinsmith, a certified financial planner and financial therapist based in California. “The reality is that most people are very excited when it comes to money.”

To overcome this, choose a few people to call. This doesn’t mean you have to hire an accountant or financial advisor (although you could if you think you need one); Rather, start by dealing with a few trusted friends, loved ones, or family members who know at least little more about money than you do and can act as responsible partners and financial mentors. These are the people you can call when you need someone to walk you through a health bill, taxes, a 401(K) plan, or just how much airline tickets currently cost.

6. When a financial decision or conversation becomes overwhelming, walk away for 20 minutes.

In my personal experience, financial decisions can also be confusing. Most banking and investment websites are difficult to navigate and full of jargon. Dealing with paperwork and accounting records causes my eyeballs to dry out and fall out. It’s hard to stick with it when there are so many other things that need to be done.

It might sound counterintuitive, but the trick to slogging through the tiresome, uncomfortable parts of financial planning is knowing when to leave — and when to come back. “Whether you’re triggered by someone or even your own frustration, it takes at least 20 minutes for that stress response to wear off,” says Feinsmith. “Rather than give up altogether, put the uncomfortable task or conversation on hold for an hour and then come back to it. Get a cup of tea, trim your toenails, watch a YouTube video, whatever. And then, when the hour is up and you’ve calmed down, you’ll be better equipped to tackle the problem again.”

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