If you’ve made your list and checked it twice, and done at least some of your shopping either online or in store, it’s time to take a calm moment and consider what present would be appropriate for you to give yourself this holiday season. Here are some suggestions:
—The gift of a goal
The best gift: Set just one goal for yourself in the new year. And if that’s too long a time horizon, make it quarterly or monthly. Your chosen goal likely will involve self-discipline — or you would have done it already. So, whether it’s quitting smoking or starting an exercise program, set up a way to track your progress.
My favorite goals revolve around handling credit and savings. Could you really go two months without charging a penny to a credit card, using your debit card instead? Could you call the HR department now, and ask them to start deducting a larger 40l(k) contribution in January, or sign up for a monthly contribution to a Roth IRA at Vanguard or Fidelity?
Hint: The goals that can be reached automatically, without an emotional decision, are always easier to achieve.
—The gift of organization
It’s easier than ever these days to get your finances in order, as well as your closet. So your present to yourself could be a Marie Kondo-style sweep of your personal finances, whether you keep track of them online or in a file box at home.
This is a perfect time of year to start, creating file folders for tax stuff that will come in the mail in the next month (W-2 forms, 1099s for other income, your property tax bill for deduction purposes, notes from charities documenting your contributions). Create files for bank statements and mutual fund reports if you still collect paper. Tally the year-end valuation of your IRA accounts if you must take required distributions in the year ahead. Or organize your finances online.
And to make sure you have all your long-term financial needs organized, download the free personal financial organizer form at my website, www.TerrySavage.com.
—The gift of helpful technology
Technology makes it easier than ever to organize and plan. To get started, download the best-selling personal finance software, Quicken from www.Quicken.com. This program resides securely on your computer and instantly updates and organizes all your bills, payments and investment accounts; it even helps you budget and track expenditures. If you’d rather have all this information on your smartphone, download the Mint app, which does much the same thing.
Then consider the gift of financial advice from robo-advisers like Wealthfront, Betterment, Ellevest and Robinhood. Spend a few quiet days at year’s end setting up an account, considering their suggestions and perhaps rearranging your finances to reach those goals. Fees are less than 0.25 percent or even free, depending on the company — a small price to pay for this gift of financial guidance.
—The gift of becoming debt free
Creating a plan to wipe out your debt is far more productive than dreaming of winning the lottery. Remember, if you double the current minimum payment on any credit card and keep paying that same amount (today’s minimum) every month, and never charge another penny, your card will be paid off in less than three years. Can’t afford double on all your cards? Start with paying off the highest rate card and enjoy your success. Putting every extra penny toward paying down debt is a self-gift that keeps giving.
—The gift of giving of yourself
What can you personally do to help someone else? In many cases your time and your concern are worth far more than can be measured in money. Helping an overwhelmed friend by doing errands or babysitting, friending an older person who is lonely during the holidays, spending time with a child who really needs a role model, are all priceless gifts. You don’t have to shop for them. Just open your eyes and look around to see the unspoken need.
You may be surprised by how much each of these gifts changes your own life for the better. And that’s that’s The Savage Truth.