We all know that even the best financial plans can be tough to stick to during the holiday season. Even if you’ve been tight with your money all year, it’s tempting to splurge on some of the things that make us happiest: good times with friends and family, travel, entertaining, and generous gift-giving to BFFs, loved ones, and favorite charities.
From Thanksgiving feasts through New Years Eve toasts, there are so many ways to “go off plan” for everything from baubles, to brisket, to trips to the Bahamas.
How can you end 2015 with a financial flourish, instead of regrets and frustration?
This end-of-year checklist is not only a good way to make sure you’re still on target with goals and strategy, it will also help you keep important goals in mind when you’re tempted to go over budget during the holidays.
Be a Bit of a Scrooge
1. Review your budget! See what you can save during this holiday season so you have more to spend on holiday fun. Bring lunch to work and spend the savings on holiday treats. Skip bottled water or sodas and use that cash for holiday toasts. Take public transportation and use the money you save for travel.
Watch It’s a Wonderful Life and other holiday classics on TV or online (instead of going to all the new movies) and use the savings for your favorite charities. Seeing where you can cut spending may give you some ideas about how to live more frugally in 2016 so you can pay down debt faster or increase your savings significantly.
It’s Good to Receive Too
2. Max out your 401K. Before the end of the year, take full advantage of your company’s matching program. Your employer’s matching funds are the gift that keeps giving through the power of compound interest to grow your investments.
3. Take a look at this year’s tax refund, then decide if it makes sense to reduce how much is withheld from each paycheck. By reducing your withholding you’ll have more money in 2016 for investments, savings, and next year’s holiday spending, instead of lending it, interest-free, to Uncle Sam.
4. Use your Flexible Spending Account. For things like healthcare, transportation, or dependent care, try to use your yearly allowance before the end of the year. Cash in on that new pair of glasses you’ve been wanting. If you didn’t use it all – or if you’d already spent it all by May – rethink what you should set aside next year.
Don’t Hesitate to Exchange it if it Doesn’t Fit
5. Talk to your financial advisor. Whether having a conversation about converting from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA or what to declare next year on your W9, the end of the year is the right time to make new financial decisions. Based on the information you now have about your taxable income, you can choose an amount to convert that doesn’t move you into a higher income tax bracket. You’ll pay taxes on the conversion, but you’ll be able to withdraw tax-free from the Roth when you retire.
6. Set new financial goals. Work with your financial advisor to determine if you have assets that are either above or below your target allocation. If you’re selling at a loss, you can take advantage of a tax write-off!
Light Those Candles but Safety First
7. Review your insurance policies. Has anything changed this year? Make sure you have the right amount of coverage for all contingencies. At the same time, make sure you’re not over-paying for coverage you no longer need.
Be a Money Elf
8. Give to your family. You can give up to $14,000 each to family members with no gift tax or reporting requirements, and the lucky recipient doesn’t pay any tax either.
9. Giving money to charity. Before the end of the year, charitable donations are not only a great way to express your values, they are a good way to increase your itemized deductions. You can deduct many kinds of contributions, from cash to the cost of the food you donate to a soup kitchen. And if you donate shares of appreciated stocks, mutual funds or ETFs you get credit for the market value the date of the donation, without having to pay capital gains tax.
10. Save for the kids. Consider giving children or grandchildren an investment in their future and a first lesson in financial smarts by contributing money to a 529 College Saving Plan! They can use the extra dollars tax-free for college tuition, room and board, and you get a state income tax deduction for your contribution.
Start celebrating 2016 early!
While it’s better to give than receive, don’t leave any free money or tax advantages on the table! Review your budget (see tips #1 and #3) and see if you can already start allocating a realistic amount for next year’s holidays so that December 2016 will be the happiest and most stress-free holiday season ever.
“Brad Sherman is an Investment Advisor Representative with Sherman Wealth Management, LLC, a Registered Investment Adviser. This content is solely for informational and educational purposes.”