As the weather turns chillier and pumpkins occupy front steps, it's also time to start thinking about money moves to make before the end of the year. After all, we have just a few short months left to take advantage of open enrollment season, use up certain types of flex-spending dollars, and make contributions to some types of tax-deductible accounts.
We surveyed top financial experts, as well as the Twitter community, to get their advice on financial steps you should be taking now, before the mercury plummets any further. Here's what they said:
Give yourself a financial check-up. Liz Pulliam Weston, author of the new ebook There Are No Dumb Questions About Money, says fall is the perfect time for a tune-up, since there's still time to take action before the end of the year. "I'd start by figuring out just where your money has gone in recent months. Mint.com makes that easy, or you can review a few months' worth of bank and credit card statements and add things up with a calculator," she says.
Weston suggests looking for areas of overspending, as well as opportunities to change healthcare plans during fall's open enrollment period. "If you're not spending much, you could consider a higher-deductible plan. If you're spending a lot, perhaps an HMO plan might be a better fit if you can stay in the network," she says.
Get on top of flex-spending accounts. Open enrollment time also gives employees an opportunity to revisit their flex-spending plans and other optional benefits, says Manisha Thakor, chief executive of MoneyZen Wealth Management in Santa Fe, New Mexico. If you underestimated your 2012 healthcare costs, you might want to consider putting more into the flex account for next year. Just be sure to spend down the money that's set aside to avoid losing it.
Check up on your life and disability insurance coverage, too. "Unfortunately, insurance is for those 'what-if' moments that we don't like to think about and it doesn't exactly make for exciting, motivating conversation, but think of it more as protecting those who love and depend on you. When is the last time you looked at your disability coverage? Do you have any? What about even a term life plan outside of your employer's plan?" says Carmen Wong Ulrich, president and co-founder of ALTA Wealth Management. Since employer-provided coverage doesn't stick with you if you move or lose your job, it's important to double-check that you have enough outside coverage, too, she adds.
Prep for performance reviews. Many employees get a review at the end of the year, so now is the time to start considering what accomplishments you can emphasize to your supervisor, says Laura Vanderkam, author of All the Money in the World. "As you're thinking of that, start asking yourself what you'd like to say in next year's review—what you've done in 2013. What are your big professional goals? How can you make those happen?" she adds. Coming up with a specific plan you can work toward will increase the chances of landing a raise or promotion next year, she says.
Get ready for the holidays. Writer and stay-at-home mom Emily Harris says, "Do all your holiday shopping now to avoid last-minute panic, which almost always leads to spending more than planned." Spreading out purchases also makes it easier to pay off any credit card debt each month, instead of waiting for a massive December bill.
Thakor suggests setting a specific dollar amount now that you plan to spend on the holidays. "I recommend going narrow and deep, with great gifts for a few close loved ones, or wide and shallow, with less pricey gifts for more folks in your life," she says. Too many people make the classic mistake of going both deep and wide—spending a lot on many people. "By setting your overarching strategy and a total dollar amount before the holiday season kicks in, you'll be in a better position to make informed, rational decisions for your household," she says.
Prepare for taxmageddon. Unless Congress acts soon, a handful of tax cuts will expire at the end of the year, which means almost all Americans will experience tax increases. The average increase per household is expected to be $3,800. That means anyone with the flexibility to bring more income into 2012 instead of leaving it for 2013 could benefit from doing so.
Moneylicious.org author and blogger Ornella Grosz recommends that taxpayers with investment losses realize those losses this year (by selling their losing equities before the end of the year). Up to $3,000 in losses can be claimed as a tax deduction.
Thakor adds that you can also "harvest" losses by selling securities that have lost money and then buying them back 31 days later. That way, you still hold the same securities, but you can lock in the loss to help reduce your tax bill.
For those who face unique tax situations, such as small-business owners, the wealthy, or anyone with hefty investment assets, talking to a tax professional should also be on the fall to-do list, says Weston, especially since so many tax breaks are set to expire at the end of the year.
Funnel more money into retirement accounts. "Regardless of what else is happening in your financial world, you need to be putting money into those retirement accounts," says Weston. You can contribute up to $17,000 to your 401(k) in 2012; for those 50 or older, the limit is $22,500. (You can contribute up to the 2012 limit until April 15, 2013.)
Get busy in the kitchen. Consumer-savings expert with SurfMyAds.com (and self-described "amateur foodie") Sarah Platte suggests making the most of summer produce, especially any that came from your own garden, by canning tomatoes and berries. (Just be sure to avoid botulism by practicing proper canning procedures.)
Do you have any other fall money tips to share?