Your December 2011 Financial To-Dos

December To-DosDrinking our fill of eggnog is a serious business, and, as you surely can imagine, it doesn’t leave a ton of time for thinking about personal finance.

So, as we do at the beginning of every month, we’ve put together a list of the top money to-dos for you to get out of the way now. Get in, get out, and move on to what really matters this season. (Like convincing Aunt Mildred to forgo the Christmas sweaters this time around.)

Gingerbread houses don’t build themselves, you know.

Recheck Your Holiday Budget. Deadline: Monday, December 5

It’s December, and the holidays are already less than a month away. If you’ve already started or even finished buying presents (as we suggested in our gift guides), make sure you haven’t gone over your total holiday budget. Check in on your total budget with the LearnVest My Money Center, which will automatically calculate your recent spending.

If you haven’t finished—or started—your holiday shopping yet, figure out how much to spend on each of your recipients with our new holiday gift budget creator.

Plan Out End-of-the-Year Tipping. Deadline: Thursday, December 8

Although it might seem like no biggie to set aside a tip for, say, your building superintendent, you don’t want to be blindsided by the number of people you need to tip at the end of the year. Doormen, housekeepers, regular hairstylists, personal trainers, dog walkers, even mail carriers … Make a list of these people early on so you can budget for their end-of-year tips and gifts if need be.

Max Out Your Employee Benefits. Deadline: Monday, December 12

If your company matches all or part of your 401(k) contributions, we suggest contributing the maximum you can for 2011 to make the most of that matching program. If your company doesn’t match your 401(k) contributions, we recommend maxing out your Roth IRA first. The annual contribution maximum is $5,000 for an IRA and $16,500 for a 401(k), and you can contribute to both. For more info on IRAs and 401(k)s, read this.

If you’ve signed up for your company’s health flexible spending account (FSA), use up any leftover money now because it expires at the end of the year. That could be as simple as buying a ton of over-the-counter medicines at the drugstore. For more ins and outs of FSAs, check this out.

Re-Evaluate Your Salary. Deadline: Thursday, December 15

The office may be awash in decorative snowflakes, but they can't hide the fact that end-of-year reviews are right around the corner. This is the perfect time to ask for a raise. We know it's hard to ask, but a big part of planning ahead for next year is readjusting your balance of income vs. expenditures. Here's a novel idea: more in, less out! We can help you negotiate your salary, here.

Set Your New Year’s Resolutions. Deadline: Friday, December 23

As work starts to slow down for the winter holidays, grab a few free moments to think about what you’d like to work on in the new year. Be as specific as possible: Rather than making a resolution to “save more,” choose a concrete goal like “save another $1,000 for my trip to Tuscany.” If you feel comfortable, consider opening the conversation to friends and family when you see them during the holiday—this can be a source for ideas and a good reminder that everyone’s got something to work on.

Take a Money Break. Deadline: Monday, December 26

For at least a couple of full days, don’t think about money, work, obligations or anything other than spending time with your loved ones. And don’t feel guilty for taking this break from any “must-dos”; this is your opportunity to really relish quality time with those you love and remember the true meaning of the holidays.

Rebalance Your Portfolio. Deadline: Thursday, December 29

At the end of every year, you should always rebalance your portfolio, which is like getting a financial haircut—retrimming to fix any unevenness or split ends. This means buying or selling investments that have grown or shrunken during the year, so you can regain your ideal allocation (what percent of your money you want in which investments). This is also the time to decide if you want to change your target asset allocation, especially if you’ve undergone any life changes like getting married or having a baby. Here’s how to rebalance in a snap.

Print out your full to-do list, plus what to buy now, here.

What To Buy When

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  • Dec

Winter Boots, Clothing and Coats:

Get in on winter sales now for the best selection

Suits:

Around the new year, stores discount their fall suits

Perfume:

A popular holiday gift, perfume is often on sale after the season

Home Furnishings:

Retailers are making room for new inventory

Calendars:

Just after the new year, prices are drastically reduced

Carpets and Flooring:

Many people spruce up their homes during the holidays, so prices plummet afterwards

Big Appliances:

Stock not sold during the holiday rush is now heavily discounted

Linens and Bedding:

Ever-popular "white sales" make January the best month for these items

Holiday Supplies:

If you're willing and able to store cards and wrapping paper for a year, you can find them now for up to 80% off

Office Furniture:

Retailers cater to home businesses starting around the new year

Video Games:

New games are released for the holidays, but you can get them marked down afterwards

Winter Boots, Clothing and Coats:

The selection is sparser, but the sales are steeper

Perfume:

Score a deal after Valentine’s Day

Homes:

Bad weather keeps buyers at bay, so competition is weak, and sellers are eager

Home Renovations:

You’ll pay less and get more attention from contractors, because few people renovate so early in the year

Bicycles:

Retailers mark down older models to make room for new inventory in February and March

Cameras:

New models come out in January and February, so buy last year’s version at a discount

Home Entertainment Systems:

The best TV and home theater sales come just before the Super Bowl

Video Games:

New games are released for the holidays, so you can get them marked down after the rush

Chocolates and Candy:

Buy after Valentine’s Day, of course

Sweaters and Cashmere:

Prices can be reduced by as much as 25% to 40% from the end of March through April

China and Flatware:

Get in on inventory left over from the holidays

Air Conditioners:

Don’t wait for the weather to get hot; demand is low now, as are prices

Gas Grills:

As with air conditioners, demand and prices are low

Gardening Tools:

Rakes, hoes, shovels and other gardening implements are as much as 50% off

Frozen Food:

It’s National Frozen Food Month, so supermarkets celebrate with sales

Sweaters and Cashmere:

Stock up now on next winter's sweaters with steep sales

Sneakers:

In spring, stores entice warm-weather runners with sales

Vacuum Cleaners:

Retailers slash prices now to make room for new models in June

Snow Blowers:

Come April, demand is low, so scoop up one for next year

Office Furniture:

Retailers cater to home businesses starting after tax season

Cruises:

This is the season for repositioning cruises, which have fewer ports of call but are cheaper and of great value

Electronics:

After the Japanese fiscal year closes at the end of March, retailers make room for new models of Japanese electronics

Sweaters and Cashmere:

Prices can be reduced by as much as 25% to 40%

Vacuum Cleaners:

Retailers slash prices now to make room for new models in June

Cookware:

Graduation and wedding promotions mean you should buy pots and pans now

Refrigerators:

New fridges come out during the summer, so stores are clearing space; negotiate a deal

Big Appliances:

Stock not sold during the holiday rush is now heavily discounted

Patio Furniture:

Warm weather means newer models, so buy last season’s styles now

Grilling Supplies:

Get charcoal and lighter fluid before summer kicks into high gear and prices go up

Small Kitchen Appliances:

Get your mixers and blenders now, when there are sales for wedding and graduation season

Party Supplies:

Whether or not you’re throwing a graduation party, stock up on disposable plates, cups, etc.

Electronics:

After the Japanese fiscal year closes at the end of March, retailers make room for new models of Japanese electronics

Mattresses and Box Springs:

Stores want to make room for new models, so negotiate a good deal now

Men’s Suits:

Father’s Day sales mean low prices

Tools:

Father’s Day strikes again

Cookware:

It’s not only wedding bells that are ringing—registers are ringing with sales of pots and pans

Paint:

When it’s hot out, no one feels like painting … which is why it’s cheap at this time of year

Butter:

Butter production is at its best in June and July, so prices are accordingly low; freeze for up to six months to make it last

Champagne and Sparkling Wine:

There are usually deals for bubbly during the holidays and before June weddings

Gym Memberships:

The outdoors beckon, so gyms are offering deals

Suits:

Get a spring suit—in the middle of summer

Furniture:

Retailers are clearing space to make room for new inventory

Big Appliances:

Take advantage of Independence Day sales

Paint:

When it’s hot out, no one feels like painting … which is why it’s cheap at this time of year

Butter:

Butter production is at its best in June and July, so prices are accordingly low; freeze for up to six months to make it last

Flip-flops:

Ever-useful flip-flops are harder to find later in the year; buy them now when retailers still have them in stock and they’re on sale

School Supplies:

Back-to-school sales!

Trees, Shrubs, Plants:

Nab end-of-summer deals late in the month, and store your plants according to instructions until next spring. Alternatively, buy bulbs, which you can plant whenever

Lawn Mowers and Swing Sets:

Stores discount these summer items now to make room for fall products

Computers:

Capitalize on back-to-school sales

MP3 Players:

Stores want to get rid of old models before October when new styles come out and the holiday rush begins

China and Flatware:

Get in on the inventory left over from wedding season

Wine:

The harvest is coming in, so you can find eclectic wines from smaller wineries early in the season

Computers:

Upgrade yours during back-to-school sales

Jeans:

The remainders from back-to-school season are now available inexpensively for kids and adults

MP3 Players:

Stores want to get rid of old models before October, when new styles come out and the holiday rush begins

Cars:

Next year’s models have arrived, so dealers want to sell the current year’s leftovers, giving you negotiating leverage

Holiday Airfare:

It’s about eight weeks before Thanksgiving, so make travel plans before flights book up and prices skyrocket

Jeans:

The back-to-school sales continue, with sparser selection but steeper discounts

Swimsuits:

Cash in on swimwear sales now through November

Big Appliances:

Buy last year’s models now; shop during Columbus Day weekend, because stores celebrate even small holidays with sales

Air Conditioners:

Temperatures are cooling, and so are prices

Gas Grills:

Pick these up now for next summer

School Supplies:

Back-to-school sales!

Toys:

Retailers lower prices as early as October in order to maximize holiday sales

Cars:

Next year’s models have arrived, so dealers want to sell the current year’s leftovers, giving you negotiating leverage

Health Insurance:

Open enrollment may be your one chance to sign up for insurance for next year

Wedding Dresses:

Wedding fever is at its lowest pitch now

Swimsuits:

Swimwear is as much as 90% off, but selection is low

Cookware:

Kitchenware becomes cheaper as the holidays approach

Christmas Trees:

For the best selection, get your tree right after Thanksgiving; it’ll stay good for at least a month, and trees later in the season have been cut weeks earlier anyway

Frozen Turkeys:

Buy one immediately after Thanksgiving, when grocery stores still have a glut

Toys:

Retailers are slashing prices to maximize holiday sales

Electronics:

Black Friday and Cyber Monday offer great deals on everything from TVs to computers

Wedding Dresses:

The beginning of December is the slow season, so get in before holiday engagements

Televisions:

In the run up to the holidays, stores have big sales on TVs

Pools:

Off-season, you’ll find the cheapest prices, though maybe not the best inventory

Small Kitchen Appliances:

Get your mixer and blender during holiday sales

Champagne and Sparkling Wine:

Although these are in high demand, prices are also more competitive than usual

Frozen Meat:

Buy this immediately after Christmas, when grocery stores still have a glut

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