As each year winds down, we naturally find ourselves reflecting on the year past and planning for what lies ahead.
And whether or not you believe in making New Year’s resolutions, the end of the year is a perfect time for planning and thinking about your future.
But sometimes it can be hard to know where to start.
That’s why in this guide we have created a checklist for some things that you might consider checking in on to ensure your financial affairs stay on track.
It’s not comprehensive – and not all steps will be suitable for all people – but our aim is to get you thinking about where you are on the road to achieving your financial goals.
Some people have a very clear idea of what they want from life – a mortgage-free home, a comfortable retirement, quality education for the children. Others are not so sure.
And for most of us, our goals change over time.
The end of the year is a good time to check in with your own goals.
Do you know what you want, and where you are going? Have your goals changed in any way due to the events of the year?
One way to look at goals is to think about what you want to achieve in the short, medium and long term.
In the short term, goals might include budgeting or savings. In the medium term, goals might include saving for a home deposit. Long term goals could be having enough to enjoy retirement.
Reflect on your goals and discuss them with your loved ones as their insights could offer a fresh perspective. Solidify your goals by writing them down.
The foundation of successful investing is saving2. And while it may be comparatively easy to make a plan, sticking to it can be difficult, especially when many of us are facing constraints from the rising cost of living.
Now is the time to review how you went saving this year and whether you were able to set aside money on a regular basis.
If your saving habits are not where you want them, a strategy that can help is called ‘pay yourself first’ – rather than aiming to save whatever is left over after spending each month, try setting aside a fixed amount as soon as you get paid. This can be set up through an automated online funds transfer with your bank.
It’s also a good time to assess your debt.3 For many, getting control of expensive credit card debt is an important step to financial security. Start by looking at whether you can pay extra to reduce the debt. Arranging a balance transfer can also help you get on top of credit card debt – so long as the balance is then paid off within the interest free period.
If you have a mortgage, spending some time reviewing the loan is also worthwhile. Many of us do not regularly check whether we are on the best possible rate. Shifting to a better rate could save thousands over time, and you may not even have to change banks to get some savings.
Your super is more than just a compulsory savings scheme – it can help set you up for a comfortable retirement. The better you manage it now, the more rewarding your retirement years could be. This end-of-year period is an ideal time to give your super the attention it deserves.
According to SuperGuide, retirement income comes from three sources : 10% from money you saved during your working years, 30% from investment returns before you retire and 60% from investment returns during your retirement.4
So, it’s never too late to keep a careful eye on your fund.
To kick off your super check-up, start by reviewing your latest super statement. These are typically sent out by super funds and you can usually access this information any time via your fund’s online portal. Take note of your current balance and compare it against your long-term retirement goals. Ask yourself whether your super balance is on track to provide the kind of retirement lifestyle you envision. For self-managed super funds on a platform, you can log into the online dashboard to track your portfolio’s performance.5
Assess your super’s performance by comparing its returns against industry benchmarks or other similar funds. An online search should give you these figures.
If you’re employed, an important item to tick off is verifying your employer’s contributions by checking contributions in your super account.6
If you’re dissatisfied with anything about your super fund, the new year is a good time to start making the necessary enquiries for change.
Making voluntary concessional contributions can be a tax-effective way to grow your wealth because contributions are taxed at a concessional rate that is usually lower than your marginal tax rate. Now is a good time to think about how much you set aside over the next six months for additional voluntary concessional contributions.
As you check you super, make sure your beneficiaries are up to date.
Investments are an important driver of your future financial health.7 Whatever your financial goals, your investment choices play a major role in achieving them by helping you achieve a better return than saving.
The end-of-year review is an excellent opportunity to ensure your investments are still on track.
First and foremost, it’s worthwhile scrutinising your asset allocation.
Asset allocation is the process of dividing funds between different asset classes including cash, bonds, property and shares. Spreading resources across different asset classes can help diversify a portfolio’s holdings, which is an important way to manage risk.8 In a balanced asset allocation strategy, a mix of different asset classes produces growth and income for the fund. In a growth asset allocation strategy, portfolios are likely to have higher exposure to riskier assets such as shares and property, which also offer the potential to generate higher returns over time.
Your portfolio needs to evolve as you do — a change in career, nearing retirement, or another significant life event could justify a change in your asset allocation. The question to ask is whether your current asset allocation is still appropriate to your current needs.
Remember that market movements can shift your asset allocation, leaving you either too exposed or too conservative in certain asset classes. The end of the year can be an opportunity to review your portfolio to ensure the asset allocation is in line with your long-term strategy.
It’s a long time to 30 June, but the new year is a good time to think about putting in place a plan for tax time – and get control over all those tasks that there’s often not time to do come end of financial year.
Deductions are among the most confusing and contentious area of tax returns9 and getting your head around expenses now can save headaches later.
Spend a few moments listing the deductions that might apply to you from work-related and home office expenses to self-education and professional development, vehicle and travel expenses and accountant or tax agent fees.
Having records of what you’re spending will make life easier in six months’ time.
Super is top of the list – personal super contributions, co-contributions for low- or middle-income earners, salary sacrifice arrangements and spouse contributions can all save tax and boost super savings.10
Collecting records for an investment property is also worthwhile, as is arranging a depreciation schedule.11
Protecting yourself and your loved ones comes in a number of forms. As part of your end of year checklist, take a quick check in on each of these:
Estate planning: Do you have an up to date will? Most people don’t.12 But a will and related estate planning like a power of attorney are important components of a solid financial plan. Effective estate planning sets out how your assets will be organised and managed in the lead-up to and after you pass. Done right, it can take the pressure off your loved ones at what will be a difficult time.
Insurance: Taking the time for a quick check in on your insurance is an important step. Life changes like getting married, having children or changing jobs could mean your policies are no longer appropriate to your needs. Over time, the value of your assets may have changed, leaving you underinsured. Some insurers auto-renew policies at a higher rate that may no longer be competitive. Some policies to check may include home and contents, cars, health, pets and life insurance.
Emergency fund: Emergency funds are another critical part of financial protection. Your needs will be unique to you but think about what might happen if you lost your income or faced an unforeseen cost like a car repair. A rule of thumb is to try to set aside three months of living expenses.13 If your emergency fund is looking a bit thin, consider setting up a regular direct deposit into a high-interest savings account.
Finally, as you go through this checklist, keep in mind that you don’t have to do it alone.
A financial adviser can work with you to help you better understand your goals and challenges and develop a plan to get you where you want to go.
Financial advisers can help you navigate the complexity of the financial world and equip you with the knowledge to make the best choices for you.
Financial advice comes in a wide range of options, from bite-sized advice on particular aspects of your financial situation to more holistic advice that looks at your complete financial situation.14
Useful tips for preparing for retirement as you head into your 50s. Read the preparing for retirement article.
A roadmap for those navigating the path to buying a home. Read the home ownership article.
An easy-to-understand guide to payouts, what they are and how investors can use them. Read the dividends article.