A Meaningful Resolution

For most of us, the start of a new year is the signal of a new beginning and an opportunity to start fresh in different areas of our lives.  I heard someone on NPR say that it is not just the new year, but also at the start of a new month, a new week and even on days off that we take the opportunity to reflect on our lives and set goals for the future.   My resolution has been the same for the past few years: to slow down and remember to appreciate every day.  We really have no idea what the future holds, so it is important to find that balance between preparing for the future and living for today.  Here are some cases I saw in 2015 which re-inforce this:

I met a woman in her 60's.  She told me how her mother said there was no need to save when she was younger because she planned on leaving her a sizable inheritance.  The mother is now in her 90's and has paid an astronomical amount on end of life care (medical needs, home aids, etc).  There is no inheritance to speak of and the daughter is not able to retire anytime soon.  

An otherwise healthy person in their 60's died of a heart attack.  She was a meticulous planner and saver and expected to have another 30 years ahead of her.

A man in his 50's was laid off and unable to find a job, essentially pushing him into early retirement which his portfolio cannot sustain.  He is working to develop new skills and / or to start a business that can help offset some of his expenses.  It is not where he planned to be, but he is having fun with the new challenge.

One couple tried for baby #3 and ended up with twins!  They are very thankful and feel blessed, but they are now dealing with the reality of how 4 children is different financially than 3.  Priorities are shifting and they are taking one day at a time.  

A young woman developed symptoms of a chronic condition that will be putting her on disability.  Thankfully, she has insurance, but her income obviously won't be as much as her full-time salary.   

Year-End Checklist

December is too hectic a month to survive without a checklist. Here is a personal finance-themed year-end checklist: ☐ Spend down your flex spending account (FSA) if you have one with a balance.

☐ Donate old or rarely used clothing, toys or other items you have around the house. It will make room for holiday decorations and give you a tax deduction if you itemize and meet the IRS requirements.

☐ Check that you are on track with your retirement account contributions.

☐ Review your year-to-date spending. Pay particular attention to monthly subscriptions that are on auto-renewal. Consider any lifestyle changes that will save you money (for example, we dropped cable last year around this time).

☐ Review your financial affairs with a spouse or loved one. Create a digital inventory if you don't have one to make for easy updating next year.

☐ Google yourself and family members. I am starting to do this for clients at their Annual Review. The point is to see if there is any info out there on the web that you do not want publicly available (ex. your home address).

☐ Clean out the paper filing cabinet, if you still have one. Scan and organize files that can be moved to cloud storage.

Making the Most of your Holiday Budget

Holiday spending tends to be a budget buster. It is just like our tendency to overdo the dessert table, knowing we have the New Year around the corner to start over with a “blank slate”! Here are some tips to keep costs in check. Set a holiday budget for the year – This should include gifts, decorations, and extra babysitting time for the holiday parties. You do not want to rack up credit card debt. The goal is to spend within your means while not feeling deprived.

Break it down - List everyone you have to buy for and decide on gifts and amounts for each. Remember, it is not about the amount. I have a few friends who give $5 Starbucks cards for special occasions. It is perfect! I can treat myself to a cup of coffee and biscotti on them.

Save the list – Keep the list of gifts given so you don’t repeat gifts. Nobody wants to be the Aunt or Uncle who gives a scarf every year!

Go creative with wrapping – Use repurposed gift-wrapping or boxes. My husband is a pilot and has a lot of leftover aeronautical charts. We use them as wrapping paper. It sounds strange but it looks great and people love it! The dollar stores also have some great holiday boxes in different shapes and sizes.

Encourage wish lists – My family does this through Amazon but you can do it through many retailers. It is the same concept as a registry. It gives the gift giver the opportunity to choose something within his or her budget that the recipient would actually like.

Join in on big-ticket items – Dinners out, golf lessons and zoo or museum memberships for the family are all things people can chip in for and give as a group.

Bonus tip: I asked some of the best gift-givers I know how they always come up with such a thoughtful gift. Their response – they write down ideas throughout the year as they come to them! Try it. It is sure to make holiday shopping easier and more enjoyable.