Top 5 financial moves for the fall

Now that the kids are back in school, you have more time for yourself. Why not take a few minutes to look at your family finances and tidy things up a bit?

Here are some simple moves you can make to save money as we round out the year and gear up for 2017:

Max out 401(k)

“Do your future self a favor and ramp up this year’s retirement contributions,” says Greg McBride, Greg McBride, CFA, senior vice president and chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com.

After all, while you have until tax filing day next April to max out your individual retirement account, you only have until Dec. 31 for your 401(k).

“Once the door on this year’s contributions slams shut, you’ll never get to go back and make those contributions,” McBride says.

Workers can contribute up to $18,000 to their 401(k) plans this year. Those age 50 and older can contribute an additional $6,000 for a total contribution of $24,000.

Plan your holiday spending

Sure, you saved money at the pump this year. The average household has pocketed a few hundred dollars, according to estimates by Patrick DeHaan, a senior analyst with GasBuddy.com.

If you took advantage of historically low mortgage rates and refinanced your home, you likely saved thousands of dollars. However, you may still be struggling, especially since wages have remained essentially flat and everyday costs are continuing to rise.

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So how are you going to save anything for the holidays?

By coming up with a strategy and adhering to it, starting now, says Andrea Woroch, a consumer and money-saving expert.

“Start by creating a budget, then review your spending categories — gifts, decor, travel, entertaining — and look for opportunities to cut back on any discretionary spending and live lean.”

To avoid “budget burnout,” Woroch suggests you additionally try earning more.

“Not only are retailers hiring seasonal workers by the hundreds of thousands, with some opportunities extending to work-at-home gigs, but you can also get paid to write, design or develop through sites like UpWork.com, or fulfill such tasks as dog sitting or babysitting through sites like Rover.com and Care.com.”

Book holiday travel

The reality is that the longer you wait, the more expensive it will be to fly home for the holidays, says Patrick Surry, chief data scientist at Hopper, the airfare prediction app.

Book Thanksgiving travel by Halloween and book Christmas travel, which you should start researching and tracking now, by Thanksgiving, Surry says.

“After that, prices rise about $1.50 per day on average and spike up to $6 per day in the final 10 days before the holiday,” he says.

There are nonmonetary benefits to booking early. You get to choose the airline, which airport to fly from, flight times and seats, Surry says.

Winterize your home

Are your windows drafty? Cover them with bubble wrap.

Are you away most of the day? Get a programmable thermostat. How about just having your ceiling fans move in a clockwise direction to push the warm air down or replacing filters in your central air conditioning and heating system?

Simple moves like these keep the cold out and the heat in, thus saving you a bundle on your energy bills.

Use up your flex spending dollars

With many plans, which allow you to use pretax dollars to pay for dental and medical expenses, any money not spent by Dec. 31 is forfeited. Use it or lose it!

Don’t need anything specific? Stock up your medicine cabinet. Or schedule any doctor, dental or vision appointments you have been putting off. Here’s a list of eligible products and services.

Vera Gibbons is a financial journalist and Senior Consumer Analyst with Gasbuddy.com. A former analyst with MSNBC who appeared regularly on the “Today Show,” Gibbons was previously a Financial Contributor with CBS News. Prior to CBS, she worked as a Correspondent for CNBC’s “High Net Worth”. Gibbons has written for Inc., SmartMoney, Kiplinger’s, Real Simple, The New York Times, Fortune.com, CNN Money and CNBC.com. Today, she writes for FoxBusiness.com, Bankrate.com, and Time.com. She appears regularly on Fox News and Fox Business News.