Ready, Set, Go!

A month-to-month financial game plan.

If improving your personal finances is among your promises for 2008, the North Carolina Association of Certified Public Accountants recommends breaking down the goal into manageable tasks.

Just as resolving to lose 25 pounds doesn’t mean you drop all the weight in January, achieving financial fitness requires a month-by-month plan, such as the following:

January — Pay down debt

If you have big credit-card bills or other loans, your first move should focus on reducing debt. Review the interest rate and terms on outstanding loans and credit cards to identify opportunities to restructure debt at more favorable terms.

Work out a realistic repayment plan and stick to it.

February — Think long term

Whether establishing a college fund for your children or planning the vacation of a lifetime, concrete objectives form a solid foundation for achieving aims.

Prioritize your list of aspirations and assign the top ones a dollar value and a target date. Use an online calculator to determine how much you need to save each month to achieve your goals.

March — Prepare for taxes

To avoid last-minute panic, begin gathering tax-related receipts and documents now. Make an appointment with your CPA or tax adviser to help minimize liability.

April — Fund retirement

April is a great time to think about the tax benefits of retirement plans. Make a contribution. Or, if your company has a retirement-savings plan and you’re not a participant, sign up now so you can start to benefit from tax-deferred savings.

May — Automate savings

Now that you’ve taken care of Uncle Sam, it’s time to pay yourself...in savings. When you sign up with an automatic savings plan through the payroll department at work, a dollar amount you choose is deducted from your paycheck and sent to the mutual fund or other investment destination of your choice. If your employer doesn’t offer this service, you can usually arrange for your bank to make automatic deposits to your investment account.

June — Learn about money

June is a great month to sit in the sun and peruse books and magazines about personal finance. As long as you stick to reputable sources, you also can find excellent advice on the Internet.

July — Review investments

It’s mid-year and an opportune time to check your asset allocation. Changes in the performance of your investments could mean you need to rebalance them to line up with your goals and tolerance for risk.

August — Check insurance coverage

Examine your home, health, car, life and disability policies to determine whether there are any gaps in coverage.

Talk to your agent and see if you may be able to obtain more effective coverage by increasing or reducing deductible amounts on your policy.

Also inquire about any discounts available for taking special safety precautions, such as adding an alarm system to your home or car.

September — Organize

Fall is an excellent time to organize important financial papers and legal documents. If you haven’t already, consider getting financial software that can help you keep track of money and monitor your budgeting progress.

October — Strengthen estate plan

Include a will, a durable power of attorney, a living will and any living or irrevocable trusts. You should review how your property is titled and find out what measures you can take to minimize estate taxes and probate costs.

November — Consider year-end tax strategies

Plan now to delay income and accelerate deductions. Give charitable contributions, and consider whether it makes sense to offset capital gains with capital losses.

Check on your flexible spending accounts at work and plan to disburse unused funds.

December — Calculate net worth

Add up all your assets (what you own) and subtract the total of your liabilities (what you owe) to determine your net worth. By doing this each year, you can chart your long-term progress and watch assets grow.