Your Post-Vacation Guide to Cleaning Up Your Finances
September is the best time of year to make new resolutions. It has the same clean-slate feeling of the new year but without the depressing, sober quality of midwinter. It’s full of promise and clarity and action; it’s time to get your shit together. In France, where it’s normal to spend all of August en vacances, the beginning of September is known as la rentrée: a point of reentry where you take stock and organize yourself for the year ahead.
Of course, September and January do share one negative element — the dull hangover that comes from spending the previous month like you have an indestructible liver and bank account. Late summer is a free-for-all, a space to float away from rules and pressures and emails. There are trips to take, sales to shop, lobster rolls to eat and martinis to drink. I hope you did all of that and enjoyed it! But nothing negates relaxation quite like knowing you’ll have to pay for it later.
Luckily, September is the perfect opportunity for a fresh start. I spoke to several financial experts about what they do every fall, and how to dig out of a post-vacation money slump.
1. Do an inventory of the next three months — including the people you want to spend time with.
“During the summer, I always know I’m going to be more loose with my funds,” says Jasmine Ramirez, a financial therapist based in New Jersey. “Come September, I ask myself, ‘Okay, how can I get my life back in order after spending this extra money, so that I can finish the year strong and hit my bills?’”
This involves planning for the holidays now. “I know it might sound ridiculous, but if you think ahead, you can avoid repeating the same cycle of guilt or debt in December,” she says. “Then, you won’t start January feeling depleted, digging yourself out yet again. And that will put you in a much better position for all of next year.”
To do so, Ramirez doesn’t just look at her calendar for the next few months; she also considers individual people in her life. “Write down all of the loved ones that you want to visit, celebrate with, or get gifts for during the holidays, and then decide your spending range for each of them,” she says. “That way, you can see how much money you’ll need to set aside and you won’t feel overwhelmed.”
This list exercise not only helps you plan ahead; it also gives you something to look at when you need a reminder of the relationships that you value and want to focus on. It’s a lot easier to cut back on smaller nonessentials when you have a clear view of the expenses that are most important to you.
2. Wait to buy anything new.
Sure, it’s September and there are lots of cute fall things to buy! But it’s also 94 degrees today and I’m wearing running shorts. This is the weirdest season to dress for — stores are pushing soft sweaters and snuggly coats, but in reality, you won’t need that stuff for a while. “I usually don’t buy anything for myself or my kids in September,” says Farnoosh Torabi, host of the So Money podcast and author of the forthcoming book A Healthy State of Panic. “I’ve learned that we can continue to wear summer clothes well into October and by then, all the fall styles are on sale.” It also gives you enough time to realize that you do not, in fact, need a third puffy coat.
3. Imagine you had an extra $5,000. What would you do with it?
Instead of making goals that require cutting back, think about what you wish you could spend more money on. “This is a good thought experiment to try with a friend or a loved one,” says Megan McCoy, a professor of personal financial planning at Kansas State University. “Pretend you got a small windfall. Not a life-changing, lottery-winning amount, but more like an extra $5,000. What debt would you pay off, what trip would you plan, what treat would you spoil yourself with?”
Then, once you’ve talked it through, reflect on how your life would look different after that money was gone. “Maybe you would be less stressed or tired. Maybe 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 that money would really alleviate your stress, then this could motivate you to make a plan to save it up. Or, if you realize that you’d spend it on something like travel, you could brainstorm more affordable ways to see new places or people.
- September is a great time for a fresh start with finances.
- Planning ahead for the holidays can prevent guilt or debt in December.
- Waiting to buy fall items can save you money as they go on sale.
- Imagining how you would use extra money can help identify your financial priorities.
September is a perfect time to reassess your financial situation after summer spending. By planning ahead for the next few months, waiting to make unnecessary purchases, and imagining how you would use extra money, you can set yourself up for a successful and stress-free year ahead.
September may mark the end of summer vacation, but it also presents an opportunity for a fresh start with your finances. By taking stock of your upcoming expenses, waiting to make unnecessary purchases, and identifying your financial priorities, you can clean up your post-vacation money slump and set yourself up for a successful year ahead. So, grab a notebook and start organizing your financial goals now!