As the weather turns chillier and pumpkins decorate porch steps, it's time to start thinking about money moves to make before the end of the year. After all, there's just a few months left to take advantage of open enrollment season, use up certain types of flex-spending dollars and make contributions to some tax-deductible accounts.
U.S. News surveyed top financial experts 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 checkup. Liz Pulliam Weston, author of the e-book "There Are No Dumb Questions About Money," says fall is the perfect time for a tuneup, since there's still time to take action before the end of the year. Using a free online budgeting and money management tool like Mint.com can make it easy, she says, or you can also just sit down with recent bank and credit card statements and review them.
Weston suggests looking for areas of overspending as well as opportunities to change health care 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 flexible spending accounts. Open enrollment time also gives employees an opportunity to revisit their flex spending plans and other optional benefits, says Manisha Thakor, CEO of MoneyZen Wealth Management in Santa Fe, N.M. If you underestimated your 2012 health care costs, you might want to consider putting more into the flex account for next year. Just make sure to spend down the money that's set aside to avoid losing it.
Check up on your life and disability insurance coverage. "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," says personal finance expert Carmen Wong Ulrich. 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, 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 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.
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," Weston says. You can contribute up to $17,500 to your 401(k) in 2013; for those age 50 or older, the limit is $23,000. (You can contribute up to the 2013 limit until April 15, 2014.)
[Read: How to Trim Your Food Budget.]
Get busy in the kitchen. Sarah Platte, consumer-savings expert with SurfMyAds.com (and self-described "amateur foodie"), suggests making the most of summer produce, especially any that came from your own garden, by canning tomatoes and berries. Just make sure to avoid botulism by practicing proper canning procedures.