With half the year already gone, if you don't have much savings to show for the financial goals and resolutions you set earlier this year, it's time for a quick financial checkup.
There are still plenty of ways you can save money and strategies you can use that will greatly improve your economic situation for the rest of 2011 and beyond. But getting ahead financially may involve tweaking your budget and taking a close look at some of your spending and saving habits.Here's a month-by-month checklist to help you save money and keep your finances in tiptop shape for the rest of 2011:
July: Downsize your electric bill
Save money on utilities this summer – and through the rest of the year – by making a conscious effort to conserve energy. Make sure you turn off the lights when you leave a room. Only use the air conditioner when it's absolutely necessary. Turn the water heater temperature down a few degrees. Switch to energy-efficient light bulbs. And consider purchasing "green" and energy-saving appliances when renovating or updating your home this summer.
Also, take a look at these 12 household appliances you should unplug to save even more money.
August: Save for the holidays
Summer is a great time to set up a savings plan for your holiday spending. Calculate how much you want to spend this year, and get a head start on budgeting for the holiday season. Set up an automatic deduction plan from your savings account or your payroll check, and commit to saving a certain amount each month going forward until it's time to start shopping.
September: Review your life and auto insurance policy
Make sure you have adequate life insurance coverage, and consider the benefits of various types of insurance policies so you're not underinsured. Don't be afraid to shop around to find the best rates to save money on insurance, especially car insurance. Checking the rates for a number of insurers will help you score the best deals.
Websites such as www.insure.com can help you "shop" multiple insurance providers at once. Just submit a request for a quote, and you'll hear from several insurers such as Esurance.com, Allstate and Nationwide, just to name a few. At the very least, consider whether you can stand to raise your auto insurance deductible. That single move could shave 20% or so off your car insurance rates.
October: Re-evaluate your budget
Are you working with a realistic budget, or do you still end up spending more than you'd planned? Take some time to determine whether your budget is really working for you, and create a more realistic spending plan if you need to.
Be as honest and accurate as possible when tallying your income and expenses so you can set and achieve some financial goals this month -- and through the rest of the year. A good budget helps with monthly cash flow, and also lets you see where you can cut back on expenses to save money, too. If you've tried and failed at budgeting, read these six secrets to create a budget you can stick with.
November: Examine your employee benefits
Make sure you're enrolled in a 401(k) plan through your employer, and determine what other financial benefits you may be eligible for as part of your benefits package. For instance, many employers offer financial educational programs for employees, free of charge.
These programs and classes can increase your financial literacy, teach you how to save money, and help you make better financial decisions now and in the future. For more tips, read this article about five job benefits you should be using but aren't.
December: Choose a charity for year-end donations
Remember that you can write off many types of donations to registered charities – you just need to do so before December 31. Take some time now to choose one or a few charities that could benefit from things you have to contribute (think appliances, electronics and household goods). Then set aside a box or storage space to stockpile items for a donation.
Summer and fall are both great times to "clean house" and clear up some of your storage space and closets. So gather such items as gently used clothing and accessories, furniture and even kids' toys, and pack everything up for a drop-off at your nearest donation collection center. Many non-profit agencies will even come and pick up donated items from your doorstep. Just be sure to get a receipt for your donations. That way, you'll get an IRS tax deduction, in order to save money on your personal income tax bill.
Even if you've gotten off track with your finances in the first half of the year, there's no reason you can't utilize smart financial strategies to save money in the second half of 2011. Start by completing each item on the financial checklist above, and you'll be well on your way to ending the year on solid financial footing.