Ho, ho, holy cow it’s December. It’s time to be jolly, deck the halls, and wait in return lines that snake out the front door. It’s peak holiday shopping season and it’s easy to focus more on that last-minute gift than your finances. But December, like every other month of the year, is a great time to improve your finances. Here are a few things you can do in the final month of 2019.
1. TAKE A VACATION!
Americans completely forfeited 236 million days of earned, paid time off in 2018, according to research from the U.S. Travel Association. Don’t be one of them. Most employers allow workers to roll over some unused vacation days but double-check your employer’s policy to see if some of your surplus will simply vanish. That’s kind of like turning down a paycheck. If you have vacation time that won’t roll over, use it, don’t lose it! You’ve earned that time off and leisure time is key to good health and performing your best at work.
If you’re looking for a little inspiration, we have a fount of vacation ideas, From the most memorable overseas trips for families to planning an awesome staycation, we’ve got some ideas to enjoy your leisure. You’ve worked hard for you’re your vacation days, and you’ll be able to perform better at work if you take some time off.
2. AVOID STORE CREDIT CARDS
There’s a good chance a retailer or two will entice you to sign up for their store credit card by dangling instant 15 percent savings or more on your purchase. It might be tempting, especially if you have a particularly large haul, but be careful here. Retailers offer these instant savings incentives because they hope you’ll spend even more once you realize your bill will be a little cheaper.
Keep in mind, applying for the card will impact your credit score and, although signing up locks in savings at checkout, store cards tend to charge higher interest rates on purchases than a standard credit card. Those interest fees are a big reason a retailer wants you to sign up: they boost their profit margins. So, unless you plan to pay that entire balance immediately, you’ll probably want to politely decline.
3. CONSIDER DISCOUNTED GIFT CARDS
OK, so you picked the only person in the office you’ve never spoken to for the annual Secret Santa gift exchange at work. Now what? Instead of dread, turn this into a win for your finances. How does paying less than $20 for a $20 gift card sound? Gift cards aren’t the most personal gift, but they get the job done. And there are a variety of popular, reliable sites that allow you to pick up gift cards at a discount. Cardpool, Raise, Costco and Cardcash are a few of the more popular and reputable sellers.
4. DEVISE A PLAN FOR THAT BONUS CHECK
If you’re fortunate to work for a company that offers annual holiday bonuses, put that extra dough to work for you. Take half of that bonus and do something fun with it. You crushed it at work in 2019, and you should celebrate that with a guilt-free purchase, a fancy dinner or any other personal luxury. But that mini-windfall is also a great opportunity to inject a little stimulus into your financial plan. Take the other half and apply it to your top financial goal, whether it’s paying down debt, building an emergency fund or saving for a long-term goal like retirement.
5. INVEST IN FUTURE HOLIDAYS AND SHRINK YOUR TAX BILL
Speaking of financial goals, the end of the year is a great time to check in on your retirement contributions. If you have the means, push yourself a little further and max out your contributions to your tax-advantaged retirement accounts. The annual contribution limit for an IRA is $6,000, or $7,000 if you are 50 or older. A 401(k) plan is $19,000, or an additional $6,000 if you’re over 50.
Also, you can give yourself a big leg up into the new year by sneaking in a little tax planning between ugly sweater parties. Here’s a quick checklist to help you lower your overall tax bill.