As the seasons change from summer to fall, you may find yourself planning drives to see the colorful leaves, making pumpkin art, building a bonfire or watching your favorite sports. It also means the holidays and the New Year aren’t far off, which makes it a great time to reinforce your financial fitness and get in shape for whatever the next year has in store. If you’re looking for some motivation to ensure you’re financially fit ahead of the New Year, here are some fall tips to help.

Plan Ahead for Holidays and Unexpected Expenses

One lesson from nature—storing extra for the winter can help see you through—is a good example to follow. For us, that means setting aside some money for unexpected expenses. By putting funds in a designated savings account, you’ll not only grow your money by earning dividends, but you also might be more likely to stick to a holiday budget. And, if something unexpected crops up like a car or home repair or a medical bill, you’ll be ready to face it confidently. Learn five steps to building an emergency fund.

Explore Your Credit Score

If you’re thinking of financing a major expense like a car, a house, a renovation or tuition, having a good credit score means you’ll be more likely to qualify for a better rate. But, what factors affect a credit score, and is there anything you can do to improve it?

Much like finding your way through a corn maze, your credit score is based on moves you’ve made in the past. While there are several credit scoring formulas, they’re generally calculated based on your payment history, the amount you still owe, the types of credit accounts you have and more. If you have no credit history or your score is lower than you’d like, it’s not the end of the world. There are things you can do to improve your picture. Learn more about credit scores and how to improve yours.

Use Credit Cards Wisely

It’s tempting to pull out your credit card for that daily pumpkin-spiced latte or take-out meal, and it’s even more tempting to spend just a little more for a special gift. But, even small charges can add up quickly. Make sure you don’t spend more than you can afford to repay. A good rule of thumb is not to exceed 30 percent of your credit limit. If possible, pay off the entire balance each month so you can avoid paying interest charges. If that’s not possible, pay more than the minimum payment, so you’ll pay less interest and reduce your debt sooner.

Consider Investing for a Financial Touchdown

Take a page from your favorite football team’s playbook—planning long-term strategies is the best way to achieve a win. For us, finding ways to grow our money over time is a sure way to increase our financial health. One strategy many of our members use to grow their money is to invest in stocks, bonds and Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs).

We’ve learned that even if the market fluctuates, historical trends show it ultimately bounces back. So, if you review and tweak your plan as needed, you’re more likely, though not guaranteed, to see more growth over the long term.

Visit MakingCents for tools and tips on investing. If you have questions or need help deciding how best to navigate today’s markets, you can also schedule a free phone meeting with a Navy Federal Financial Group advisor.

Carve Out a Plan for the Future

If you have multiple goals for the future, making sure you have money for your retirement years should be one of your top priorities. The sooner you start, the more you’ll be able to build and the more time you’ll have to build it. If your employer offers a retirement contribution match, sign up. If you don’t, it’s like leaving free money on the table. Even if your employer only offers a small match, you’ll be better off if you enroll.

Don’t have an employer-sponsored plan or think you can’t spare money for big contributions? Open your own retirement account and start small, then build up as you can afford more. The important thing is to get in the habit of putting aside money. If you treat retirement like any other bill, you’ll be less likely to miss the money. And, there’s one more benefit to retirement accounts—most types have tax benefits to help make saving for the future easier. Learn more about IRA options.

Decide That Budgeting Is a Big Benefit

It’s an old idea, but it still holds true. One of the best ways to enhance your financial fitness is to commit to spending less than you earn. Make a list to compare your financial obligations (e.g., housing, bills, student loans) to your earnings and then decide where you can cut back. For example, can you “cut the cable,” reduce the frequency of takeout meals or take a break from subscriptions you aren’t using? You’ll be surprised at how making even small changes can make a big difference. It takes practice, but each time you make a smart choice, you’ll be that much closer to your goals.

Level Up Your Financial Fitness

Interested in more ideas for financial fitness? To help members like you, we offer a number of must-know ideas on what you need to succeed. Visit our financial fitness hub to get started.

This article is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.