Summer is my favorite time of the year. Weekends at the lake, time outdoors with my kids, BBQs … there’s nothing about this season I don’t love. For many of us, summer means a definite relaxation of our routines. Bedtimes get pushed back a little later, diets get set aside for an extra cheeseburger off the grill and our budgets are relaxed to allow for Cedar Point visits and family vacations. Don’t look now, but the beginning of the school year is not that far off! Back-to-school time means getting back on track for a lot of households, with routines becoming our friends again once September hits. During the upcoming transition from summer party time to the more orderly feel of autumn, I suggest taking a look at your finances as well — the beginning of the school year is the perfect time to set goals and create a plan for the rest of the year, especially when it comes to your financial situation. Here are some ideas to help you get prepped for a new, fall financial routine. No. 1: Look at your current financial routines To get started, take a look at your current financial routines. How do you go about paying your bills and balancing your accounts? Do you typically pay for your purchases with cash or with a credit card? How often do you check on any investments you might have? When was the last time you created or evaluated your budget or spending plan? Be sure you’re looking at all your current routines without self-criticism or judgment. This exercise is simply to help you consider your current financial routines and determine whether they are working in your and your family’s best interests or if they’re routines that could use an adjustment this fall. No. 2: Create new and improved routines Once you’ve taken a closer look at your current financial routines, see if there are any issues you want to address and determine which routines could be updated to help with this. For example, let’s say your current routines aren’t supporting your goal of saving up money. Once it’s time to get back on track after your summer spending, it’s helpful to begin by identifying your savings goals. For what reasons do you want to save money, and how much money do you ultimately want to save up? When developing a savings routine, I find it’s easiest to start small and use a consistent approach. Set up a savings account designated for a specific purpose, such as an emergency fund or a child’s savings account, and then establish an automatic transfer that deposits a set amount of money to this special account on the same day every month or on each payday. A great initial goal is to start with an automatic transfer of as little as 1 percent of your paycheck or $25-$50 every month. Once you get used to this new, automated routine, it will become easier and easier to manage your other spending without tapping into that extra 1 percent or $50 that’s being automatically transferred to your savings. No. 3: Don’t give up! Making changes and forming new routines that last can be challenging, but don’t give up! Start small with a few simple and clear financial goals for the fall, and know these are positive changes you can maintain. Remember that a key part of establishing a routine is sticking with your routine until it becomes a habit. Give yourself time to get adjusted to any changes you make, and don’t hesitate to seek professional assistance if you’re feeling overwhelmed or aren’t sure where to begin. Be sure to take advantage of all the free and inexpensive resources available online, consider setting up an appointment with a financial advisor to review your goals, or contact your financial institution for additional advice.
Christina Minnis is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Michigan State University Federal Credit Union (MSUFCU), the world's largest university-based credit union, where she loves finding innovative ways to help members achieve their financial goals and dreams.