December is here, which means you have presents to buy, cookies to bake and carols to sing, among other urgent holiday-related to-dos. But between all of these fun traditions, don’t forget to make time to check in on your finances. After all, this time of year can be a real budget buster. By tackling these five money challenges, you can have your eggnog and drink it, too.
1. Make a Final Push Toward Your 2017 Goals
Deadline: Monday, December 4
You may be ready to shut the book on 2017, but you still have an entire month to make progress on the resolutions you set way back in January — so don’t give up now! Get your goals back on track with our procrastinator’s guide. After all, this time of year can be your budget’s worst nightmare, so remind yourself of your larger financial dreams to keep from getting sucked into a spending trap.
2. Max Out Your Employee Benefits
Deadline: Wednesday, December 13
With the closing of another calendar year comes a lot of deadlines, including those for your employee benefits. Make sure you’re not leaving money on the table — whether that means using up Flexible Spending Account money, upping your retirement contributions to take advantage of a company match, or taking an end-of-year vacation to use up PTO days that can’t roll over or be paid out.
3. Wrap Up Holiday Shopping
Deadline: Saturday, December 16
Avoid the chaotic shopping malls and costly impulse purchases by knocking out your holiday shopping with days to spare. Without the last-minute panic, you’ll be less likely to buy things you don’t actually need or fall for so-called deals that aren’t really worth it. And keep in mind Friday, December 15, which Free Shipping Day falls on this year — aka the day where hundreds of retailers waive shipping minimums and guarantee delivery by Christmas Eve. Still need some gift inspiration? Check out our gift guide, and while you’re planning your holiday shopping budget, don’t forget to set aside funds for the people you want to tip this season.
4. Earmark Your Year-End Bonus
Deadline: Wednesday, December 20
If you’re expecting a nice addition to your paycheck this month in the form of a bonus, think now about where you want that extra cash to go. You may be tempted to put it all toward iPhone Xs for the family, but we recommend using the 90/10 rule when it comes to this type of mini windfall. Funnel 90% to your financial goals (like paying off a credit card balance or establishing your emergency fund) and treat yourself to a fun (but reasonable) splurge with the remaining 10%. Trust us, your budget will thank you.
5. Celebrate Your 2017 Wins
Deadline: Thursday, December 28
Already in the 2018 mindset? Not so fast. Take some time to reflect on all you accomplished in 2017. Maybe you didn’t reach every goal you set out to, but we’re guessing you did a lot more than you’re giving yourself credit for. So pat yourself on the back for all the hard work you put in over these last 12 months, and then think about what you want to accomplish in the next 12 so you can hit the ground running come January 1.