As the economy falls deeper into a hole, a review and some preparation can improve your finances for the year ahead. Here are a few tasks you should consider doing.
Review 401(k) plan (and other job benefits).
The economic crisis has businesses trying to cut costs anywhere they can, and one place that's convenient is the 401(k) match.
have all recently cut their matching contributions.
The rule of thumb has been to invest in your 401(k) up to the match. If your company no longer offers the match, it may be time to look at other options. This is especially true if your company's 401(k) offers limited investing options or ones you didn't particularly like, but tolerated due to the match.
While you're at it, review your benefits. You'll likely be surprised at some that are available. As companies reduce and change perks, it will be important to keep on top of the changes so you can take full advantage of those benefits being offered.
Review this year's financial goals and set next year's.
A lot has happened in the past year and, with the economy in a recession, it's likely you are going to need to reevaluate long- and short-term goals. The important issue is
in the first place.
Do a holiday house cleaning.
Take an inventory of your house. If you haven't touched something in the past year, it's probably something that should go. If the item still has value, consider selling it on
. If it doesn't have much value or isn't worth the time and effort to sell, bring it to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. You'll be able write off the donation on your taxes.
While there, see what Goodwill and the Salvation Army have to offer. Many people conduct a year-end household purge for the tax benefits, meaning this is the time of the year when you are likely to find top-quality merchandise.
Start getting your taxes in order.
April is still a long way off, but doing a little preparation now will not only mean less stress come tax day, but also save you money in the process. There are moves that need to be made before the end of the year to qualify for a tax break. For example, you may want to accelerate itemized deductions by prepaying any of next year's deductible expenses while deferring any income until 2009. If you are considering donating to a Roth IRA, you have until April 15 to do so, but the account must be opened this year to qualify. If you are feeling generous, you can give $12,000 ($24,000 for acouple) as a gift. It qualifies as a gift-tax exclusion.
Use up flexible spending account (FSA) dollars.
If you have a flexible spending account with your employer, make sure you have used up all the funds. Anything not spent ends up being lost forever. There are plenty of over-the-counter items that qualify. If you are in doubt, most drug stores list items that qualify for
Do next year's holiday decoration shopping.
The days after Christmas are the time to shop -- for
. Stores don't want to keep holiday merchandise for a full year, so they will mark it down anywhere from 50% to 90%. Buy greeting cards, gift wrap, bows, tags, decorations and lighting.
Jeffrey Strain has been a freelance personal finance writer for the past 10 years helping people save money and get their finances in order. He currently owns and runs SavingAdvice.com.