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Reflect on This Year’s Finances Before The New Year Starts

CNBC.com offers “Last-minute money moves to make before you ring in the new year” and even if you don’t do these things before the year official ends, you can do still some of these things as the new year starts.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

You can “reflect on your spending.”

In the rush to see the end of 2020, you might be tempted to forget this past year and move on. But it might be helpful to look back on how you saved and spent. While your spending may have decreased on things like travel, you may have spent more on hobbies or ordering food. Some people will find that they were disciplined about saving. Others may find that they ordered a lot more online because they were in the house more often. Thinking about how you helped and hindered your financial goals will be useful as you plan for the year to come.

There is still time to “donate to charity.”

Financial experts give this advice each year as December 31 gets closer and if you haven’t donated anything, this is the time to do it, if you can. This is especial true as 2020 winds up because “…you can also get a tax break — even if you don’t itemize your taxes. The CARES Act allows those who take the standard deduction to claim up to $300 in charitable contribution deductions.”

You can “prepare for bills to restart.”

If you were able to take advantage of the parts of the CARES Act that allowed you to postpone a student loan or withdraw from a retirement account without penalty, plan for payments in the new year. You will need to start paying your student loan again. And look into your options for how you’ll repay money withdrawn from a retirement account. In some cases, you will have three years to pay the money back but you don’t want to forget that it is owed for three years.

The Value of Giving Gifts

Each year PNC Bank releases a Christmas Price Index that tabulates how much it would cost to give the gifts mentioned in the lyrics of the song “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Each year’s list looks at the prices with costs adjusted for the current economy and this year’s list did factor in the pandemic. 

MSN.com adds, “PNC also calculates how much it would cost if you bought each of the items every time they’re repeated in the song.

That would put you back $105,561.80!!!”

Photo by  Jan Romero on Unsplash

For a number of items, the cost has not changed this last year. The items on the 2020 list that have the same price as they did in 2019 include the partridge in the pear tree, four calling birds, and eights maids-a-milking, and seven swans-a-swimming. Although the swan price stayed the same and the price of six geese-a-laying went up by 35% and is now $570, the swans cost way more than the geese. At $13,125, the swans are the priciest gift on the list.

It is fun to imagine what it would cost to give “The 12 Days of Christmas” gifts in today’s dollars. It is sobering to think about how all of the music and performance-related gifts would be hard to give since entertainment venues are closed and you’re not likely to invite numerous strangers to perform in your home. In this very tough year, it is also useful to contemplate value. Cost is a price that is set for you but value can be your perspective on how much a gift means to you. Think about what you value and what you want to give. And, depending on what you get, you can try to see the value in it whether it suits your taste of not. Many people are facing financial difficulty this year so they will not be in a position to give.

We wish you happy, healthy, and safe holiday season this year.

Keep Financial Planning in the Family

Are you the financial planner for your family? If you have singlehandedly taken on the responsibility for your family finances, consider that you don’t have to go it alone. In fact, you may find that things are easier when you share the load. You can still play to your strengths and do the work that you do well but you don’t have to be the only one who works on financial planning for your family. You may be surprised at the helpful ideas your family member may have. It is also easier to get the rest of the family on board with cost-saving efforts if they were part of the decision-making process.

Include your partner. If your family is you and a partner, it would be better for the two to you to meet with a Fee-Only financial planner together. So many couples realize the imbalance in their financial planning when the one of them who handles most of the money becomes incapacitated somehow. You don’t want to leave yourselves open to something like that. At a minimum, both partners need to know how to access all of the financial accounts. Even better if you and your partner sit down to discuss financial goals. You both need to have a clear idea of what you want for your financial future even if you both aren’t constantly keeping up with investments and accounts. If one of you is still doing more of the day-to-day administration, you can still meet to discuss your finances.

Include your children. In “How to make a family finance plan,” onefamily.com mentions the importance of involving your whole family in financial planning: “Work out as a family what you think you could save money on, and what you are hoping to be able to pay for in the future.”  While adults do need to make major financial decisions, children can give their input.

Work Through Your Investment Worries

Are you worried about how your investments are faring this year? We can’t say there is absolutely no reason to worry but what we can say is that you are not left with no recourse. You can find ways to worry less and strategize about how to make the most of the earnings you do have.

In “This Investment Trend Will Deliver a Profit Bonanza in 2021,”  Forbes. com offers advice to investors who are preoccupied with the performance of their investment portfolios. People are justifiably concerned. Companies are going out of business. The economy has taken a hit from the pandemic that brought business as usual to a halt in some places. The writer imagines that people are thinking, “…our economy is still behind, so shouldn’t stocks be behind as well?” but reminds readers that “…stocks are forward looking—they’re not priced based on present earnings but future earnings growth.” The writer isn’t exactly saying there is nowhere to go but up since some stocks have not hit rock bottom; rather the idea is that there are industries that will rebound and others where value will increase as the world recovers from the effects of the pandemic.

The Motley Fool reminds readers who faced stock market losses this year that they can “…You can write off your losses to offset short-and long-term gains of the same type and then use the excess to reduce the other type of gains.” The article “Stock Market Loss in 2020? Don’t Worry—Losses Can Reduce Your Taxes” acknowledges that the frustration of these losses but suggested a “a smart way to profit from your pain.” 

A Fee-Only financial planner can help you figure out how to recoup from investing losses and refine your financial goals if necessary so you can start the upcoming year with confidence.

Avoid Panic with an Estate Plan

Photo by Melinda Gimpel on Unsplash

The Kiplinger.com article “Estate Planning During the Pandemic” includes a scenario many of us want to avoid: a widow approached a financial planner with screenshots of texts her husband had sent from the hospital with information about investments and instructions. The husband passed away from COVID-related complications but one spouse not knowing enough to manage financial accounts is a common occurrence whether there is a pandemic or not. The financial planner says she worked with this client and later helped the woman create her own estate plan.

According to Kiplinger.com, these are the must-have documents to include in an estate plan:

  • Last will and testament
  • Durable power of attorney
  • Health care proxy
  • Digital assets inventory

A legal expert interviewed for the article offered this framework for an estate plan: think of it the way you do New Year’s resolutions. If you set resolutions each year, remember that you need to review your estate plan on a yearly basis. (And if you don’t set resolutions, you can still use the new year as a time for estate planning.) When the new year begins you can review changes in your life and finances from the past year to see what changes you need to make to your documents. If you find that nothing has changed, year and after year, the yearly review  is still a good habit to continue. Plus, since digital assets are now included in estate planning you may need to review online accounts and passwords to make sure everything is up-to-date even if nothing else changes.

As we wrote in “Estate Planning in the Time of Corona,” there are ways to get your estate planning done or have changes made if you need to  limit your contact with other people. These workarounds vary from state to state so do your research to find out what your state requires to ensure that your estate planning documents are legally executed.

Count Yourself Fortunate If You Can Shop This Holiday Season

Even with a pandemic putting a damper on big shopping events, people are still getting ready to spend this winter holiday season. Some may still be going out to big box stores or small independent stores, while others may be ready to shop at home using their computer or cellphone.

Every year we caution you not to overspend and this year is no different. If you are not too busy with food preparation before Thanksgiving, take the time to take an inventory of what you already have. This will not only keep you from buying more things you may not want or need; it will also remind you of how many items and resources are already at your fingertips. It is easy for us to forget how much we already have. And while there is something to be said for having duplicates for often used items, many of us are simply storing things we are not likely to use.

As far as gift giving goes, we know that people who are not going to see loved ones are more likely to send gifts. You may even feel like you want to spend more than you usually do because you cannot be there in person. 

According to Kiplinger.com’s economic forecasts,” COVID-19 Surge Boosts E-commerce, Hurts In-store Sales and Restaurants.” That news may make you anxious or relaxed if you work in one of those areas. As a consumer we would caution you to consider how you spend if you have money to spare.  If you have money to spend, consider spending it some of it with small, locally owned businesses that need more sales to stay afloat. You will be putting money directly into your local economy and improving the economic outlook right where you live. Count yourself fortunate if you can help a small business this holiday season.

Advice for Women on Creating Prenups

There are women who are out-earning their partners. Not only are they earning more, these women may also have property, stock options, investments, and retirement savings. So, whether it is through salary, business income, or investments, there are women whose financial assets equal or rise above that of the person they intend to marry. In “Prenups for Breadwinning Women: 4 Pitfalls to Avoid,” Kiplinger.com focuses on women but of course the advice about prenups can be used by anyone.

A prenup is not solely designed to benefit the spouse that earns more. It may seem that way because when you talk about protecting assets, it seems as if the only concern is making sure the person with more resources can hold onto those resources. Kiplinger.com notes, “A prenup must be fair to the breadwinning spouse, as well as the less-moneyed partner, and it should not be draconian in nature.” You also have to be open about your finances. Although a prenup can be legally binding, it is possible for a judge to invalidate it if  you were not open about your assets.

Part of being fair is ensuring that both parties have lawyers review the prenup. It may be easier for the partner with more money to have the prenup created but the less-moneyed partner also needs legal representation. Kiplinger.com states, “Otherwise, the enforceability of the agreement will be weakened significantly.” 

Another aspect of fairness is not having anyone sign a prenup under duress. Judges consider this as well. If you draft a prenup and present it to your soon-to-be spouse the day before the wedding, this puts under pressure on that person. If the person does sign it, this does not mean it will be completely enforceable. You can practice the negotiation skills you will need throughout a marriage by taking the time to talk about a prenup well in advance.

Tips to Reduce Retirement Stress

Many people are under a lot of stress right now. They are concerned about the present state of their finances and wondering how they will finance the future.  The Motley Fool offers “3 Tips for a Less Stressful Retirement.”

Diversify Your Portfolio: You know the time-honored saying about not putting all of your eggs in one basket, right?  When it comes to investing and finance a more official term is asset allocation. No matter how you say it, the idea is not to put too large of a percentage of your resources into a certain type of investment. The way you allocate your assets will depend on you age and other factors. A Fee-Only financial planner can help  you decide how to invest based on your financial goals.

Contribute to a Health Savings Account (HSA): Those who are eligible  should open a Health Savings Account to have funds specifically dedicated to medical expenses. You have to be enrolled in a high-deductible health insurance plan in order to open a Health Savings Account. An HSA offers tax-free withdrawals and the funds never expire.

Get Long-term Care Insurance: The article acknowledges that long-term care insurance is additional expense and still suggests reader take a change on long-term care insurance since a high percentage of seniors will need long-term care at some point since “your policy could more than pay for itself if you wind up in a nursing home for the last three to five years of your retirement.”  The Motley Fool advises that people in their 50s think about long-term care insurance but notes that healthy people in their 60s may be able to  get long-term care insurance policies without paying too much. And if you take their advice about opening a Health Savings Account, you can money from that account to pay the premiums for your long-term care insurance.

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