As we approach the holidays, we also come up against a number of important end-of-year deadlines and essential tasks intended to maximize our resources and protect our financial well-being. Add in the shopping frenzy and spillover around Black Friday, Cyber Monday and other pseudo-holidays, and an already busy schedule can become crammed with enough items to leave you perplexed on where to begin. To help you manage key financial priorities to tackle this season, and ensure that you don’t miss any critical dates, we’ve got you covered with this November checklist:
Make use of any remaining balance in your flexible spending account: If you have money left in an employer-sponsored FSA (flexible spending account), be sure not to let these pre-tax payroll deductions go to waste. Make time to schedule doctor’s appointments, including eye exams, non-cosmetic dental work or other eligible procedures. You may also want to look into chiropractic treatments or acupuncture at this time, but make sure you check with your plan to find out what is eligible for reimbursement and under what conditions. Also think about items like contact lenses and lens fluid, personal care items and non-prescription medications. Need to stock up on household items such as sunscreen and first aid kits? Check out “12 essential items you can buy from the FSA store during the pandemic” from USA Today. As Consumer Reports points out, FSA accounts are typically offered on a use-it-or-lose-it basis, although many employers provide a grace period into the next year.
Plan for year-end charitable giving: With the holiday spirit upon us just as the window of opportunity for generating deductions for the 2020 tax year starts to draw to a close, it’s a good time to wrap up any financial contributions to charitable nonprofits you plan to make. While a number of worthy causes may be vying for your attention this year, your money will generally make a bigger impact if divide your total giving among fewer charities. As Freakonomics has explained, two donations of $70 are more valuable to a charity than 70 donations of $2, since charities are often charged transaction fees for each deposit into their account.
If you’d like to donate money to a new charity this year, be sure to vet them to ensure that the organization is using its donations responsibly. You can find information on the financial health, accountability and transparency on nearly 10,000 charities at Charity Navigator. Consumer Reports also recommends BBB Wise Giving for local or regional charities. Other services that provide vital information for making decisions about charitable giving are GuideStar and CharityWatch.
For the purpose of tax deductions, make sure your donations qualify according to IRS rules and that you maintain proper documentation. Even if you typically take the standard deduction, be sure to keep your receipts this year. Because for the 2020 tax year, taxpayers who claim the standard deduction can deduct up to $300 for cash donations to eligible charities. Find “5 New Rules for Charitable Giving” (including new incentives for giving under the CARES Act) from U.S. News & World Report.
Set a budget if you tend to overspend on the holidays: As easy as it is to get drawn into the excesses of holiday spending, especially if you’ve got plenty of extended family of the younger generation who are only too happy to have you indulge them, you can take control before you blow your budget with online money management tools like The Police Credit Union’s MoneyTrac. A free and secure service available to all members, MoneyTrac makes it simple to track and monitor spending, build and maintain a budget, set financial goals, and much more. With real-time updates and the ability to sync data from all of your accounts, it enables you to view all of your account balances in one centralized location for a complete picture of your financial position. It’s also an efficient way to manage debt, monitor your investments, track your net worth, etc. When setting a holiday budget, Yahoo! Finance reminds us to account for items like gift wrapping, décor, entertaining, etc. Of course, you’ll also want to factor in any holiday travel if you are planning for it this year despite the pandemic.
Scour for Seasonal Savings: Among the deeply discounted merchandise you’ll find in November are items geared toward the warmer months, such as outdoor furniture, bicycles and gas grills. According to OneGoodThingbyJillee.com, November is also a great month to buy clothing, with Black Friday ideal for sales on apparel at big-box stores like Target and Kohl’s, and Cyber Monday a better bet for high-end brands like Nordstrom and Coach. During this month, you’ll also find major markdowns on appliances from coffee makers to refrigerators, as well as electronics, toys and baby products.
Cast a wide net to get past the “MAP” gatekeepers when bargain hunting: Consumer Reports has drawn our attention to some insightful findings from the independent, nonprofit consumer advocacy group Consumers’ Checkbook. As explained by Jeff Blyskal, manufacturers and major retailers reduce price competition with “minimum advertised price” polices (MAPs) —agreements that prohibit retailers from advertising products below certain minimums, even on their websites. However, they can still sell these items for less than these publicly listed prices. Furthermore, an internet search engine may not help you uncover the lowest price for an item because it may favor those businesses that pay advertising fees or commissions. To find a rock-bottom price for a high-ticket item like a major appliances or computer, Blyskal suggests calling or emailing multiple stores and asking them for their best possible price. As he advises, it’s best to be polite, but let the salesperson know that you’re shopping around, and reach out to at least four or five stores.
Before you reach for your plastic, enroll in rewards programs: Finally, if you tend to shop at a few favorite retailers over the holidays, be sure to sign up for their loyalty programs to stretch your dollars further with bigger discounts and specials offers. According to Mission to Save, many restaurants and some retailers are also offering bonuses when you buy gift cards from them this holiday season. Find a list of offers here. Looking for more ways to leverage your spending into enriching rewards? The CU Rewards Program lets you earn points for every dollar you spend using The Police Credit Union Platinum Visa® credit card. Apply for CURewards today through our Online Banking to start racking up points toward rewards including vacations, gift cards and brand-name merchandise.