You: You’re watching pre-season basketball?

No.  Honestly, I might even watch golf first.

You: What’s wrong with watching golf?

I find it more boring than the prospect of playing it.

You: Wow.  So what’s with the “fourth quarter” reference then?

I’m talking about the fourth quarter of the year, which begins today.  For better or worse, many companies – especially those which are publicly traded – tend to focus on a time period of three months.

You: Why is that?

Typically, corporate earnings must be reported on that basis.  While much has been written  about how quarterly reporting leads to short-term thinking at the expense a of proper long-term outlook, such criticisms typically don’t provide an alternative frequency for managing goals.  While I agree that three months is often way too short to judge an entire company’s progress, Beyond Paycheck to Paycheck is a personal finance blog (and book).  When it comes to personal finances, three months IS long enough to assess your progress towards your goals.

New Year’s Day is exactly three months away.  You have an entire quarter of 2009 remaining.  That’s enough time to make a sizable difference in what your financial situation looks like when you once again make those resolutions.  Here are some suggestions for what you can easily accomplish between now and then (if you’ve already done some of these things, congrats – less to do!):

  • Q4 Task  # 1: Start saving. If you’ve already started saving, try to save some more.   Either way, remember: Save early, save often.
  • Q4 Task # 3: Decrease your income tax refund. If you consistently receive a sizable income tax refund, stop the madness. A refund does not represent the government giving you money. Instead, a refund is the government giving you your money back because you allowed them to take too much all year long.  A tax refund is not a savings program.
  • Q4 Task # 4: Take advantage of your match. I’ve yet to meet a more compelling retirement planning opportunity than the 401(k) match.  The only reason you might not be taking advantage of the match is because you lack a fundamental understanding of how it works. Change that, first by reading An employer-match is not a corporate dating service. Then do something about it.

Just five little things to do to really begin to get your personal finances in order.  None of them will take very long nor require much money.  Just a small investment of both and you’re on your way.  It doesn’t have to be today or tomorrow, but give yourself a deadline.  There’s a quarter of this year left – plenty of time to take the lead in life’s “game” of personal finance.

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