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How do you build time into your life to take care of important financial tasks? I know some people work well with to-do lists. Others use sticky notes posted in obvious spots or highlighted events on their calendar. I'm always open to new ways to manage time and tasks effectively.

At times, I get overwhelmed by too-long to-do lists, and then very little happens! It works better for me to ask myself, "What's my high-priority financial task?" for each month. Then I can divide this task into small, actionable steps that I can accomplish in a short amount of time — because I'm not likely to find that "day" to get it all done.

What is your high-priority financial task right now? If you're not sure, which one is stressing you the most and making your tummy hurt? That might be a good one to tackle.

Let's look at a few examples of financial tasks that you may need to do.

Complete the FAFSA

Are you (or someone in your family) planning to attend college or career school in 2019-20? Then now is the time to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid online. Completing the FAFSA is necessary to apply for federal student aid, as well as other aid and scholarships.

Complete the FAFSA as soon as you can to be sure that you receive full consideration for financial aid. Some funds are available first come, first served. To get started, visit to create your ID and find out what information you need for the FAFSA.

That's Steps 1 and 2 of your action plan. You're on the way.

For information, watch our archived webinar, "Navigating Financial Aid," to learn about the different types of financial aid and ways to pay for school at

Freeze your credit report

A new federal law protects you from some types of identity theft. Now, you can freeze your credit reports at no cost. You can also lift the freeze for free.

A credit freeze prevents scammers from accessing your credit report, but it also locks out lenders, so if you decide you want to apply for a loan or a different insurance policy, you'll need to lift the freeze first. If you request a lift of the freeze by phone or online, it should be lifted within one hour. If you request it by mail, it may take three days.

Does that sound like something you might want to do? Here's an action plan to get you started. First, read the FTC's blog post, "Free Credit Freezes are Here," at Decide if a credit freeze is right for you, and if so, contact each of the three national credit agencies to place them.

Create a holiday plan

Before the holiday season is fully upon us, plan your spending. Each of us has different holidays to consider (the average Halloween buyer is predicted to spend $86.79 in 2018), and (if you're like me) you may need to plan for birthday spending, too.

Creating an action plan for your holiday spending is essentially three steps:

— List all the expense categories that are relevant to you, such as gifts and travel.

— Estimate how much you'll spend for each category. Total your estimated expenses. Are you comfortable with the total? If not, now is good time to consider alternatives.

— Track your expenses and compare them to your estimates. Did you spend more or less than planned? What does this tell you that may be helpful the next time you create a holiday budget?

Often, the step for estimating expenses is difficult. It's easy to forget categories. Don't forget holiday meals, pet boarding, decorations, new outfits or costumes, gifts and wrapping paper.

Financial tasks are not fun but very necessary. Create an action plan with short, small steps to make accomplishing the task more manageable. What's first for you?

Kathy Sweedler is a consumer economics educator at the University of Illinois Extension. Contact her at 217-333-7672 or