As the year draws to a close it's easy to procrastinate about important things, as you get swept away either in holiday cheer or depression. But here are five suggestions for things to get done so you can start the New Year with a clean slate, fewer regrets, and an upbeat attitude.
1. Get the free money! While this is the season of the year when people spend money, don't forget about collecting the easy money. That's the company match in your 401(k) plan. If you haven't contributed enough to get the full match, ask the HR department how much extra you can contribute to the plan from your last paycheck this year. Once that matching opportunity is gone for the year, it's "free money" down the drain. And while you're talking with HR, be sure to increase your contribution for 2016, so you don't miss out on this great deal next year.
2. Give stuff away! Two images burn in my mind as we reach year-end. The first is of American shoppers racing into the stores on Black Friday and loading up their shopping carts. The second is of refugees with only the clothes on their back, huddled together as winter descends on Eastern Europe. There's a big lesson in those two scenes.
If you get a lot of new "stuff," consider giving an equal amount of old things away. Clothes that are slightly out of fashion, jeans that are a bit too tight, and shoes that are scuffed are all gathering dust in your closet. But the churches, religious organizations, and Salvation Army know how to get those things to struggling Americans, as well as the refugees who reach our shores. Be part of the chain of giving. And if you get a tax deduction, so much the better.
3. Help a child learn to give. Many parents and grandparents worry about "spoiling" their children. And in some cases, it's a valid concern. So teach your children how to help other children. Collect new and gently used items to deliver with them to social service agencies and local schools. In many parts of the country winter clothing is in high demand. The time is now. Laziness and procrastination are the enemies of good deeds. Or as a wiser person once said (and my mother often repeated): "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions!"
4. Prepay your property taxes. They're due in a few months anyway, and you can probably save a few dollars by making the payment in December. And that will get you a write-off on your 2015 tax return, when you're desperate for deductions next April. It may mean contacting your local tax collector to make sure you get the bill -and make payment by certified mail - to substantiate the 2015 deduction.
5. Make just one resolution. It could be the same resolution you made last year, but failed to keep. Remember the old saying: "If at first you don't succeed . . . ." It's never easy - but it is possible to change your habits, from money to health. Whether it's about losing weight, or saving more money, or paying down debt, take these last days of the year to think about your goals, why you missed out on keeping resolutions last year - and what you will be doing differently this year so you can succeed.
Everyone except the saints among us would like to feel better about themselves, their lives, and their relationships. By making smart financial decisions at year-end, and by recognizing that your own financial issues pale in comparison to others' problems, you can set yourself up for a satisfying year ahead.
And that's The Savage Truth.