Tales from the Wallet: Year-End Housekeeping

What sort of year-end financial housekeeping do you do? What should you do?

I have fond memories of a trip home for Christmas one year, perhaps a year or two after I’d started working as a lawyer. I always used to sleep late and my parents would each poke their heads in to check on me and try to rouse me. Anyway, one morning around December 27th or 28th my father burst into the room at some ungodly hour (or so I thought then) to remind me that I needed to review my stocks and sell off some losers so I could have capital losses to offset against capital gains. Uh: thanks, Dad. (Pictured: Magic wallet in fresh strawberry, available at J.Crew for $22.50.)

He was right, though — as the year draws to a close now is a great time to think about a number of different aspects of your finances. For example:

  • Use the money you put into your flexible savings accounts — think eyeglasses, over the counter medicines, and more.
  • Max your contributions to retirement accounts if you can.
  • If you’re saving to go back to school, or saving for your child’s education: consider maxing  your contributions to your 529 plan (if you can) if your state has a deduction for contributions.
  • Get your free credit reports if you haven’t already gotten them for the year. (And according to that article you can also get a free credit score, which is news to me — I’ll have to check it out after holiday shopping, as the article advises.)
  • Give to qualified non-profit charities (and lower your taxable income).
  • Assess your stocks and other holdings. As my father noted, if you’ve had capital gains, selling loser stocks and funds can be a great way to offset those gains.

Readers, what sort of things do you do for your finances at the end of the year?  What sort of regular housekeeping do you do for your finances in general?

More reading:

- 6 Tax Moves to Make Before the End of the Year

- Tax Planning: 5 Things to Do Before the End of the Year

Comments

  1. PSA: be sure to use annualcreditreportDOTcom and not freecreditreportDOTcom or any other site that requires you to give them a credit card number. The latter type of site is a scam that sets up an automatic $5 monthly bill.

    • karenpadi :

      Or use credit karma to track your score. It’s free.

      • Sydney Bristow :

        As is qwizzle.

        Also, I used to get all 3 credit reports at once from annual credit report, but Clark Howard suggests getting 1 every 4 months so you can keep better tabs on things. I’m planning to do that this year. Even though each report might be a little different, you’d still only get each one once a year so this way you can track the general state of things more regularly.

  2. Oh wow. I am totally buying that wallet for my niece who’s about to get her driver’s license. Thanks Kat!

    • wait, I take that back as I don’t see a window compartment for said license. I /was/ thinking this would be a great starter wallet for a new teen driver who’s always jammed wadded-up bills into her jeans pockets.

      • North Shore :

        I did this for my niece when she turned 16, and then made a funny fake ID on photoshop for her, with silly categories and her Halloween photo. I put it in the wallet, and she loved it.

      • I had several versions of that wallet from about 16 to about 33, when I realized I just needed to carry around more than a few cards and some cash. I also liked it because the bright colors made it easy to find.

        Despite the lack of window compartment, it was perfect for when I wasn’t quite a grownup (yes, I realized that was well into my 30s…) because it just slid into my back pocket.

        Plus, if she is a teen, how often is she going to need to show her license?

        • Rani – I know what you mean by the “how often” part. There are some side issues involved with her and money and maturity and given that she is 17, I want her to get used to the idea of carrying plastic and ID and having to show ID with certain purchases before she gets pushed out the door in two years without that skill. But if the bright color gets her to carry it and makes it easy to find, visible DL or not, wonderful!

          • When my SD was 14, she and her dad moved in with me. She got a new key (to our house), which I had the hardware store put on a big, pink key so it would be easy for her to identify. We gave her a keychain, on which she also put the key to her mom’s house. For the first year or so we all lived together, she never left our house without being asked “do you have your keys, your phone, and some money?” She used to roll her eyes or yell or otherwise be defiant (mom has raised her to believe that she is a “child” and so never has to be responsible for herself — leave the front door open, call me and I’ll come at no notice to bring you money for a soda). Now, it is second nature. At least at our house.

      • I have been carrying a Fossil Popstitch Key Coin wallet in the back pocket of my jeans for years, and love it. Window compartment for id, zippered coin holder, nice leather, snap compartment for cash/cards. It would be an awesome wallet for a teenager [hmm, what does that say about me].

        Fossil’s website has it discontinued, but there are a couple of bright colors right now on eBay – links to follow.

      • I actually like to keep my ID in the regular card pockets rather than the window thing, because it is sometimes really hard to get the ID out of the window part and I have had a few times where they needed to make a copy or whatever and it took an embarrassing long time to get my ID out!

    • That is NOT the point of the article! It is to take capital loses to offset capital gains, subject, of course to the LTCG exclusion and the hodgepot I learned about in Law school! FOOEY!

  3. Diana Barry :

    We haven’t started 529 plans for our kids yet. :( I still haven’t gotten around to looking up which are the best ones. Does anyone have them for their kids, and if so, which state did you pick? I am looking for one that is not the prepaid tuition kind.

    My FSA runs on a fiscal year, not year-end, so I have to worry about that in May instead.

    • i would actually avoid the state-sponsored ones and look instead at a fidelity or vanguard or other fund. most of the states ones have 1) terrible options and 2) very high fees that wipe out most of the returns. even if you have no desire to pick specific funds, fidelity/vanguard (can’t remember which) still offer better plans.

      the exception to this is if you get significant tax benefits from using a state plan, and this varies by state and fund, so i would check that out first.

      • Diana Barry :

        I had thought that every 529 plan was state-specific but that some of them were *run* by Fidelity, Vanguard and/or Schwab. No?

        • Sorry, I worded that incorrectly. Vanguard offers a few that are sponsored by specific states (as you know, anyone can invest in them regardless of what state they live in or where their child goes to school) and I think those offer the best investment options and often lower rates. A lot of the other plans – which are run by different institutions – have pretty terrible options and lots of fees.

          • I believe that some states will give you a break on your state taxes (I’m thinking NY here) if and only if you use their plan. That’s another thing to think about when looking at which plan to sign up for.

    • I am so glad that you posted this question, because I was just thinking about it today. (My child won’t be born until March, but, well, I like numbers AND higher education!) Does anyone know or have an opinion on which states have the best 529 plans? I seem to remember that my parents have theirs in IL, which was recommended by their financial planner.

    • Alanna of Trebond :

      I don’t know anything about finance, so take this with a grain of salt, but can universities see the money you have saved in a 529 plan when allocating money for financial aid? I am only saying, because my alma mater gave out very substantial amounts of financial aid (even to households who make $200,000+), but savings for college are occasionally taken into account and subtracted from financial aid.

      • Reporting 529 :

        I looked into this a couple years ago for my SD. If memory serves, you have to report 529 accounts on the FAFSA form. However, if memory also serves, you have to report only ones that meet certain criteria (are owned by a certain person or name a certain person as the beneficiary). I don’t recall the exact rules, but I remember that if I had opened a 529 for my SD (who technically is not yet my SD because her dad and I aren’t yet married), no one would have had to report it on the FAFSA because I am not related to her as far as the federal government is concerned. I also vaguely recall thinking, “huh, if this would work for us, it should also work for other people — maybe mom and dad give their best friends money (below the annual gift limit!) to open a 529 in kid’s name.” It might be worth looking at the rules to see if what I’m talking about can help you.

        On the subject of FAFSA and financial aid: TELL EVERYONE YOU KNOW WHO IS DATING A MAN WITH KIDS WHO STILL NEED TO GO TO COLLEGE: Once you marry him, if he completes his kid’s FAFSA form (either mom or dad can do it, and the best approach is to run the numbers both ways and see which way leaves the kid eligible for more aid), then the federal government will consider your income and your assets when it decides how much aid his kid is eligible for. This is true even if you have a pre-nup that says you are not responsible for college (federal supremacy). So you might ruin his kid’s chances at eligibility for financial aid, but you might not be prepared or able to pay for college for his kid. Think carefully about when you really need to say “I do.”

        • This is really great information, and not well known. One of those little details that can be easily missed in the excitement of planning to get married later in life.

          For me personally, I’d rather boil my eyeballs in oil than become a parent OR step-parent, but I know I’m rather in the minority.

        • Our experience – my SD is academically talented – is in an Ivy League grad school for mech eng at 20 – so we had uber issues.

          And I work at a college with national ranking.

          What we found for undergrad – the private colleges ask for information beyond FAFSA. Our kiddo’s mom married a doctor, so her need-based financial aid TANKED. We’re middle class with after-born kids, so her step-brother in our household qualified for financial aid at a state school.

          We did have godparents talking about setting up 529s and it’s really what they are comfortable with. One of our step kid’s godparents is doing very well, however, when he gifted something of substantial value and the kiddo offered no acknowledgement, and irritation at the followup (selective charm and manners) because of the milestone and the value…things cooled. This kiddo has benefitted from scholarships, so if the 529 ultimately goes to his now-toddler nieces and nephews, great!

          Also – we were so accustomed to paying $$$ child support, that when it ended, we picked up a few girls to sponsor via reputable non-profits with tuition donations in other countries.

          • @ StepMom:

            How, practically, did your family walk through the steps? Did mom and dad coordinate re who fills out FAFSA? Did anyone (who?) talk to SD about how much dad (and you?) would be able to commit to paying? Does each house pay its share to the school directly? Any tips I should know? How did you avoid drama? Anything you can share would be valuable to me.

            SD is a junior. We have begged mom since freshman year to talk to us and/or a consultant about FAFSA. She literally refuses. What’s worse, she has scared SD so badly about making any decision without her that SD refuses to go to the consultant (for college selection help, not financial aid discussions) without mom. The appointment is a week from Saturday. Finally. Dad asked mom several times if she wanted to go and what times worked for her. No response. He and SD finally sat down and filled out the pre-appointment questionnaire and made the appointment at a time that works for SD. They informed mom. Mom can’t make it that day. They invited mom to reschedule for any time that works for her. That was two weeks ago. No response. But now SD is balking at going without mom.

            Did this kind of stuff happen with your family?

            We’ve gotten to the point that we think dad needs to tell SD that he supports her college plans, he will help her fill out any paperwork she needs, he and I commit to $X/year for 4 years, and that she has to deal with mom herself. Or skip mom and go straight to the financial aid office with dad. (We think she would qualify for more aid if mom fills out FAFSA, but we don’t know and probably never will, so we have remained unmarried to protect her eligibility through dad.)

            This is probably overkill and whiny and apologies to anyone still reading. It weighs on my mind. Obviously.

      • I know this comment is two years late at this point, but I read all the Song of the Lioness books when I was a kid!

    • savingforcollege DOT com is a great site with information on all 50 state plans. It used to be private, now is owned by Bankrate, so I don’t know if there is any interference.

      We have plans set up through Fidelity (state of Mass) and have been pleased.

      • Anonymous :

        More: I don’t have a SD but I know what my mother told me: “You better make good grades so you can get a scholarship for college.” And then, she was done. The SD is old enough to be told that she will be an adult in a year and that if she wants to go to college, she can come ASK you and dad for assistance. Then, leave the girl alone. She doesn’t want to go without her mom, well that is just fine, honey! “Let us know what your plans are, sweetie!” Maybe when she isn’t actually IN college, she will realize that mom isn’t really all that.

  4. karenpadi :

    I used to rebalance my stocks (selling off the winners and buying other “on sale”). I now have everything in target date funds and I think they do that automatically. Does anyone know?

    Oh, after I file my taxes, I go through and shred unneeded documents from the last year like pay stubs, credit card bills, and bank statements.

    • Yes, target funds do automatically rebalance to their target allocation, generally on a daily basis since they have a lot of inflows and outflows.

  5. Threadjack, I’ve FINALLY received an offer from my internship (policy/government), today. I’ve also been in the hiring process on a job I’m very interested in my hometown, they called my references, so now I’m waiting to hear from them too. Both jobs pay around the same amount, but I think the job in my hometown is better suited for me and will allow me to have more upward career growth. I’m really, really excited to have an offer at all, but I don’ t want to commit until I know if I could have another offer. Is it ok for me to email about the job I haven’t received an offer about yet and ask what the timeline is?

    • North Shore :

      Definitely, and tell them you just got an offer from the other one. It will make you a more desirable candidate.

    • Yes. This is normal.

    • Yes. I would also indicate that you feel like you are better suited for a position with their firm, and as such, you are requesting a timeline for the hiring process so that you can be better informed in responding to your first offer.

  6. Somewhat money-related threadjack:

    A very good friend of mine is getting married in March, and I’m in the wedding. I’m so excited about it, but honestly, the costs of being a bridesmaid are starting to get to add up: the dress, shoes, hair/makeup, co-hosting her shower & bachelorette party (both of which are out of town), and two nights at a luxury hotel for the actual wedding itself. I’ve also only been working full-time for two years, and while I make good money for my age and experience level, this wedding is still a big financial investment for me.

    The bride-to-be registered at 3 different stores for her wedding and shower gifts. My mom has a connection at one of those stores (let’s call it Store X) and gets a fantastic deal whenever she shops there, so I went to Store X and bought both her wedding and shower gifts while visiting my mom recently to save some money.

    Recently, the bride-to-be and I were talking about wedding gifts and she said, “Ugh, I really hope no one buys us anything from Store X. We only registered for boring stuff there.” She’s not even listing Store X as one of the places where she’s registered on her shower invite, just on their wedding website.

    Now I’m wondering if I should return the gifts I bought her at Store X and buy from one of her “preferred” stores? She’s my good friend and I want to give her something she’ll appreciate, but at the same time, I don’t want to go broke for this wedding. Help please?

    • Keep the items you bought and give them to her. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but if she registered for it, then she wants it, so why do you need to return it to buy something from a different registry? I’m sorry, but if she didn’t want the items or didn’t want to get items from store x, then she shouldn’t have registered for the items or even registered at store x.

    • In my book, you’re a saint for doing everything you’ve already done for her. Bridesmaiding is no joke these days. And even though she had no idea that you had already patronized Store X, it’s pretty ungracious to disparage gifts and gift-givers in the way that she did.

      Give her the gifts that you’ve already bought for her and don’t give it another thought. You’ve done plenty.

      • “Bridesmaiding is no joke these days.”

        Seriously! In the financial advice they give to new college graduates, they should add a section on “Saving to be a Bridesmaid”.

        • Always a NYer :

          I think a section on “How Not to be a Bridezilla” would be better.

          • You’re probably right.

          • Anonymous :

            I created this category on Mint – for a wedding I’ll be in next October. The bride isn’t Bridezilla and is sensitive to the costs (having been in my wedding and our best friend’s in the past two years) – but between traveling for a bachelorette party and the wedding, buying gifts and a dress, etc., it will be difficult financially. There’s a tendency to blame the bride, but potential bridesmaids need to realize what they’re getting into ahead of time and only accept invitations if they are able AND happy to take on those costs.

    • SF Bay Associate :

      Ugh, I’m so sorry. Having been a bridesmaid one too many times at this point, I think a lot of bridal party problems come from lack of communication. The bride may not realize just how expensive everything has been for you, or your income situation. If she is truly your friend, you should be able to be honest. Brides don’t need to be insulated from the financial burdens they are putting on their bridal party, as long as they are informed in a mature and caring way.

      “Jane, I’m so happy for you. John is a great guy and I know you’ll have a wonderful life together. I’m also honored to be part of your wedding. It is so special. However, I’m not sure if you realize how costs are adding up for the bridesmaids. It’s about $x at this point. This has been especially hard on me financially, because as you know, I haven’t been working that long yet, so it’s a lot of money for me. You mentioned the other day that you don’t like Store X, even though you registered there. Frankly, I already bought gifts for you there. Thanks to my mom’s discount, I was able to get you something much nicer than I could have otherwise afforded, given all of the bridal party costs . I love you and I want you to be happy with the present. Should I take it back to Store X and get you something at another store? Unfortunately, there’s only just so much room in my budget, so I can’t get the same value elsewhere. What would you like me to do?”

      • SF Bay Associate, I don’t think the topic starter should apologize for anything and the discount is nobody’s business. The store was on the registry, period.

        • SF Bay Associate :

          I would normally agree completely, Niktaw, but I think bridal party dynamics are different than regular guests. It sounded to me like K was concerned that the bride wouldn’t like the K’s gift, and also that the bride may be oblivious to how much this wedding is costing the K, which affects K’s ability to buy a gift the bride actually wants, as opposed to Store X which the bride maybe registered at because her mom insisted she needed to register for a dozen matching hand towels there. K is not just a guest. She is in the bridal party, and K says they are good friends. If I was in K’s situation, I would talk to my good friend about my concerns.

    • SF Bay Associate :

      Also, listing your registries on invitations is tacky as hell.

      • That’s what I thought too!

        The maid of honor disagreed me, so I deferred to her. But it did get an eyebrow raise from me when I saw it.

        Thanks for the advice above, by the way. I like how you worded that.

        • Research, Not Law :

          It’s acceptable on *shower* invites, not the actual wedding invite. A shower is basically a gift-giving event, so it falls under different rules.

          Regardless, keep the items! Sheesh, she registered for them. I’m having a hard time building up pity for her receiving “boring” gifts.

          • Research, Not Law :

            Oh, and also the shower is thrown by someone other than the couple or their parents (who send the wedding invites), so it’s acceptable for the host to mention gifts.

          • Thanks for clearing up the shower vs. wedding invite registry listing rules. It’s my first bridesmaid “experience”, so this is a whole other world for me.

      • If I understand correctly, it was the shower invite, which usually follows a different “rule.” Unlike the wedding itself, the whole point of a shower is to shower the bride and groom with gifts, so a registry listing is not presumptious like it would be on a wedding invite.

      • You can list registry info on shower invites since it is a party based around presents but no and never on a wedding invite. Even on the front page of a wedding website it is bad if you include the website on your wedding invitation.

      • SFBA, I agree with you. It’s tacky to list the registry on any invite – shower or wedding. But a lot of people do the shower invite thing.

        Honestly, in the age of google, it’s not that hard to find a registry.

        • I don’t like registry info on shower invites either. It’s one thing for a baby shower (those items are actually necessary, not just a wish list), but for a wedding I find it a little gross essentially to mail out a shopping list with information about when/where the gifts can be delivered. When I do give gifts (see my post below), it’s frequently something I’ve made or acquired off-registry, and if I’m totally at a loss, it’s very easy to call/email the host and ask.

          • I haven’t read of any “special rule” for invites – the registry information would stay off all invitations for my functions. The closest I’d come to that is adding language to the RSVP that says “for additional questions”

            Because it sounds like if shower folks talked to the bride, she’d give her preferred registry information, rather than feeling socially pressured to register at a place “for appearances”? Just a guess – could be MIL pressure, etc.

    • Give her the gifts you’ve already purchased, with gift receipts. If she’s truly a good friend, she’ll appreciate all that you’ve done for her.

    • Honey, I’m just sorry about this situation you’re in. Hugs.

      This is why I eloped. I love my friends too much to put them through these shenanigans.

      • Thanks. This first-time bridesmaid experience is seriously making me reconsider having my own wedding at all. Now I either want to elope or throw a small dinner party – no bridesmaids, no showers, nada.

        • Research, Not Law :

          For real. We didn’t elope, but we kept the wedding party small (one each) and paid for their lodging and attire. The various “events” were kept very minimal and close-to-home.

        • karenpadi :

          I agree completely. I don’t even have a boyfriend at this point but I do know I’m going to get married in Vegas (and I haven’t even been to Vegas yet). My family and friends are spread across the country so I’ve got to consider guests’ travel expenses.

          Flights and hotels are cheap, there’s lots to do and see, and we can have all of the requisite parties in a single weekend. The hotel will even plan the whole ordeal for me.

          I do have a few friends who are concerned that they won’t get to be bridesmaids. I’m confused by this but feel very fortunate to have such great friends. So I will have a “volunteer” wedding party that will probably get to pick out their own dresses.

          • Wow, that’s quite a plan for someone with no boyfriend.

            You might want to think about whether the groom (assuming you’re hetero) will have any opinion…

          • karenpadi :

            The plan was actually made when I did have a serious boyfriend.

            Of course, the plan could change based on my partner. That’s OK.

            Besides, many girls do dream about her wedding day from kindergarten. I think my plan in much the same way. What’s so wrong with that?

          • Tired Squared :

            I love it! That’s what a wedding should be about–celebrating your union and having some fun!

        • It’s really easy to be a nice-to-your-bridesmaids bride. Just pick a nice, simply dress from an inexpensive store (I chose mine from a Chadwicks catalogue), or, even better, just pick a color and ask your maids to just pick something they liked (My S-I-L did that; it looked beautiful – we had 2 in long and 2 in short dresses-, and, I was able to get my dress gently used on Ebay for 17 bucks!)

          You can invite them to get their hair done, nails done, whatever, but is that really important that they do? And every wedding I’ve been in has been “wear whatever shoes you think look good” – because, again, does it matter? People get so silly about these things.

        • Just another perspective here…. my MOH was a SAINT at my wedding–hosted an engagement party, planned the bachelorette bash in Vegas, bought the expensive dress, bought a lovely shower gift, got her hair & make-up done on the day-of (not all the bridesmaids did–it was their choice, b/c I couldn’t afford to pay for it myself). We talked about it all, she was very upfront with me about what an investment it all was, and she waited about a year to give us a wedding gift. It was awesome to get a gift, which was something I hadn’t registered for but totally loved and needed, after all of the wedding hoopla had long since passed. I think it’s totally acceptable to spread out the money like that.

          My concern about your situation is that YOU don’t seem psyched about the gift you got the bride & groom from Store X. I personally try to give wedding gifts that I’m proud of. For the shower, I’d return the gift from Store X and give something you’re proud of and know she’ll like.

          As for the wedding, I’d return the gift from Store X and either give nothing at all (which is totally fine, as you’re already doing SO much), or get something that you know the bride will love. Part of the joy in buying a gift is knowing someone will love it.

      • Second this. I did have a large wedding, but no bridal party. As a bridesmaid, I watched the costs stack up as I dutifully complied with my friend’s every wish and I honestly started to resent her for the financial burden (the wedding planning process also spanned much longer than is customary, too, so I’m sure part of my angst could be attributed to generally being “over” it). Although I am much lower maintenance than that particular bride, I couldn’t stand the thought of my wedding becoming a burden to my friends.

        Anyhow, to the OP keep on keeping on. It will be over soon and if I were you I’d stick with the gifts you already bought. If she registered for it, it must be something she can at least use (even if it’s not the most exciting thing). The bride is aware of the amount of money you have spent so far (at least on some level) and should not expect anything terribly fancy from you.

    • SF Bay Associate :

      K, I don’t have a bridal party for my wedding this month because of my experiences as a bridesmaid.

      Sorry to be all over this thread, but I must direct you ladies to apracticalweddingDOTcom – the only sane wedding website I came across during my wedding preparations. The only blog that says you don’t need to have All The Things at your wedding for it to “count” – only buy/make/have the Things that are actually Important to You and Your Fiance at your wedding, and forget the rest. Supportive of LGBT, blended families and real women dealing with tough family drama as they approach their weddings, and ceremonies of all types, whether it’s a giant church wedding or a picnic at an organic farm or an elopment anywhere – all weddings “count” just as much as any other, no matter what the ceremonies and receptions do or don’t have. She’s having a book launch today to try to get her book on the amazon bestseller list. For anyone who is engaged, or knows someone who is, buy them this book. Seriously, this blog prevented me from going off the deep end several times. LPC is featuring it on her blog as well. Even if my endorsement isn’t worth much, listen to LPC. Buy this book. The next friend of mine who gets engaged is getting a copy, and every friend after that.

      • +1 to A Practical Wedding

        • MissJackson :

          Make that +2 to APW.

          • +3. I loved reading A Practical Wedding during wedding planning — it definitely helped keep me sane. Or, rather, those rare periods of sanity I had in the midst of one year of general insanity were mostly thanks to APW. I like Meg’s “Wedding Graduate” posts and musings about making marriage work in this modern world as well.

      • We did this as a blended family – had a practical wedding. Stepkids were the wedding party. The oldest married couple who could attend were our ring bearers. Lots of kids at the wedding ceremony (we want them to be present) and at the reception (it adds a lot of fun to the party) and everyone got to wear (essentially) what they liked. Step/son only needed mild encouragement for a tux – mostly unfamiliarity, and the promise that if it didn’t fit/was uncomfortable we’d work with the tux folks or fix it ourselves, and once it was That Day – he was owning it!

        We had lots of complements on our wedding. +infinity to the concept and conducting of a practical wedding. A Toast to More Joy!

    • Keep the gifts you already picked out. Unless she’s really a terrible bridezilla, she’ll be thrilled and grateful that you’re getting her a shower and wedding gift while also participating in her wedding as an attendant. FWIW, I didn’t expect my attendants to get me gifts for either event as they hosted the shower and laid out a decent amount for dresses/etc.
      I also think that any sane bride should at least offer to offset the cost of the dress and make any hair/makeup/shoe choices at the discretion of the maids. I can’t imagine forcing my bridesmaids to shell out for matching shoes/generic updos/etc. Either pay for their hair/makeup yourself or make it optional!

      • So wish you’d been the bride in my hell bridesmaid experience. Although the problem wasn’t the bride, it was the MOH-zillas (yup, you read that right – there were 3). They kept telling us we needed to spend more money.

        At the shower, one of them (the worst one) looked at my gift and asked if I’d brought the wrong gift. I got so stressed out over the money involved that I developed the shingles.

    • Add me to the chorus of, “Give her what you bought.” If she didn’t want it, she shouldn’t have registered for it.

      How rude of her to say this to you. Hugs for having to be in this wedding.

    • Frankly, I was impressed that you got her anything. I know it’s not in line with proper etiquette, but my rule used to be that if I had to get a hotel room for your wedding, I wasn’t buying a gift. This was when my situation was such that I would be spending about $50 max on a gift anyway, so the rule has adjusted due to my slightly improved circumstances: I may get a gift if I have to travel (distance/expense of lodging are still considered), but not if I’m in the wedding party.

      In my experience, what I spend on planning the shower and bachelorette party are *several* times what I would have spent on a gift. That’s with careful planning, and not even counting travel or clothes I might have to buy. On the other hand, I am an extremely dutiful bridesmaid, so I don’t feel too badly about breaking from etiquette here.

      Do others feel this way, or am I really out in left field here?

      • I’m with you, Nikkiesq.

        But I might give the bride a heads-up before agreeing to be a bridesmaid. “I’d love to be your bridesmaid! But I’m not sure I can afford traveling for the shower, wedding, *and* a fantastic wedding gift.” Then, if she’s human, she’ll say, “Oh, well, I’d love to have you stand with me, regardless of whether you can get me a gift or not.” Done. You’re off the hook for a present.

    • Seriously, bridesmaid expenses are giving me the blues lately. Every day I get a new bill from the bride to be on something new we have to do. At least she is a sweetheart. But seriously!

  7. Frustrated :

    Another threadjack…

    I’m struggling with a boring, unfulfilling job. There are so many different complaints I could bring up about it, but the main issue is that I just don’t have enough work to do. I’ve taken on every project available and suggested new ones as well, but I still don’t have enough work to fill my time. This is not just an issue that is specific to me. The pace of work at my office is slow in general. Management is unorganized, and the expectations are really low. I’m the type of person who thrives on challenges. I love to be busy, work hard, solve problems, and learn new things. It’s been really tough to spend each day in such a stagnant atmosphere.

    I’m trying my best to work through this. I’ve reached out to friends for advice. I’ve read self-help books. I’ve tried to spice up my life outside of work. I’ve interviewed for a couple other jobs (no success as of yet). I’ve taken on freelance work to keep growing and learning. These things have helped quite a bit, but I still run into the same frustration again and again. I don’t want to dwell in negativity. I find myself getting angry, and I wish I could fix this situation.

    If you struggled with this and went on to something much better, please tell me how you did it. Tell me work doesn’t always have to be this frustrating. Or if you learned how to compartmentalize your life and deal with a so-so, I-sometimes-hate-it-with-a-passion job, share your advice for staying sane. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. I know people share really candid advice on this forum.

    • Diana Barry :

      I just changed jobs when I didn’t have enough work. Assuming you can’t leave early or work from home, and have to be at the office all day, there is only so much you can do before you start going crazy.

    • Research, Not Law :

      Find a new job. Unless you’re biding your time to lock in retirement, etc, there’s no reason to stay at a job like that.

    • I could have written this post, and really feel for you. I am still there, and am looking for a new job. If I knew this situation was temporary, I might be willing to slog it out, but I really don’t see things improving. And I am really worried about staying here too long because I don’t want my skills to degrade.

      What I have been doing to mitigate this problem while searching for another job (other than surfing the internet):
      - setting myself a specific daily schedule (otherwise I start to look at too many blogs);
      - cutting myself some slack and letting myself go to the gym for an hour in the middle of the afternoon rather than forcing myself to sit at my desk all afternoon with nothing to do;
      - keeping publicly cheerful and signing up for every business development opportunity I can (even though I don’t plan to stay at this firm, I want to play the game and don’t mind helping them out);
      - coming up with seminar topics, writing precedent client memoranda on topics that come up frequently.

      Work really doesn’t have to be this frustrating. I am looking at it as a temporary situation, which helps a lot.

      Good luck on getting out.

    • Besides having a Bunkster’s Boss-like boss, this was the other reason I left my last job. We were crazy slow, yet I was expected to be 99-100% chargeable. It was ridiculous. I found myself typing things out that I could have cut-and-pasted. I even got dinged on my first performance review for looking at the internet. *sigh*

      Even though your job may be torture, you still have a job. I would only spend time applying to jobs you think you’d really enjoy. I left a full-time job with an awful boss and a 45 minute commute for an awesome part-time job with a 20 minute commute, an amazing boss and coworkers. It took a while, but it’s one of the best things I’ve done.

      • Frustrated :

        Thanks for the advice, everyone. It’s appreciated. I’m staying hopeful and looking for better options.

        • Jacqueline :

          Frustrated, I was in the same boat for several years, and it was excruciating. I started to feel like I’d never get out, and it took a toll on my self-esteem. I did everything you described (spicing up life outside of work, making a schedule, etc.), but I’d still get the worst sinking feeling when people asked what I did at parties. Even though I don’t think anyone would suspect it was as slow as it was, I knew, and that was enough.

          Anyway, I’m happy to report that I just accepted a new job that will offer plenty of challenges and motivated, enthusiastic co-workers. The vibe, even on the interviews, was the complete opposite of my former position. I encourage you to keep looking and don’t give up! A better fit is out there. The most important thing is to tell yourself you WILL leave, not you MIGHT leave. Just deciding on your own terms (even before you have interviews lined up!) that you are going to make a change will help you get started.

          It’s actually very similar to dating, I think. It’s easy to get into ruts of singledom or bad relationships and think that you’ll never find the perfect fit, but you have to keep trying. Once you get started, new possibilities open up where you least expect them. Sorry, I know that sounds totally cheesy, and I don’t know if the me of six months ago would have believed it, but it did turn out to be true for me. Best of luck to you — I hope you find something better!

          • Frustrated :

            Thank you for this! I needed to hear a success story like this. I know exactly what you’re saying about getting the sinking feeling when people asked what you do at parties! It’s so hard not to feel a sense of shame when I talk about my job. I have a hard time showing any enthusiasm, and then I feel self-conscious and even more like a failure. Anyways, I appreciate your advice on deciding to move on. I keep playing mind games and thinking, “Oh, it’s not so bad. At least I have this and that,” but the truth is I am fighting misery every day. Thanks for the support.

  8. Finance-related question here: We’re coming up on open enrollment and I’m now at the age where family planning has entered the picture (husband and I are discussing trying to conceive in 2012). Can anyone offer any tips about putting money in your FSA with this consideration in mind? I generally contribute $400/year which is taken up by various doctor appointments and contacts. Should I be bumping this amount up (my guess is yes, but by how much)? My concern is that if we don’t get pregnant, I’m then going to have to find ways to use the FSA money or lose it. Any thoughts would be appreciated!

    • Unless you are extremely fertile, you probably won’t actually give birth until 2013, and FSA money is use it or lose it. I would leave 2012 where it is (or maybe bump it up a hundred or two for additional co-payments, assuming you have to visit the obgyn more often) and expect to increase it by much more in 2013.

    • FSA Add-On :

      I’m currently pregnant, and will deliver in July. Any suggestions for an FSA contribution amount in those circumstances? Thanks.

      • Depends on your insurance, deductible, etc. It cost us $4K to have a kid two years ago, but YMMV. We have an HSA which I like because the $ rolls over.

        • karenpadi :

          I’m also on an HSA and if I have a baby, the baby has a deductible too. It’s a messed up system because until I can only contribute to my HSA up to the “single” limit tax free (1 deductible) until the baby but once the baby is born, I suddenly owe 2 deductibles! I think there should be a provision where pregnant women can contribute up to the “family” limit.

          A baby would cost me $8000 out of pocket. After paying for my monthly vitamin out of my HSA, I can only contribute $2500 each year.

          If wishes could come true…

      • Research, Not Law :

        Again, depends on your plan coverage and the birth. When I had my daughter two years ago, the uncomplicated vaginal birth and three day hospital stay cost me $1100 out of pocket. A friend’s emergency c-section and five day stay under a similar PPO was much, much more ($15k?). For this current pregnancy (due in Feb), I’m now under an HMO and will pay only a $100 copay.

        • Research, Not Law :

          Oh – but a tip! Most hospitals offer a discount if you pay in full within the billing month. I saved 10%. But you must ask about it, so call billing directly.

        • FSA Add-On :

          Great info all. My insurance PPO pays 95% of all allowable benefits after a $100 deductible. I just don’t even know how to begin estimating what the cost associated with delivering might be.

        • $100 deductible, and 95% thereafter? I’m amazed. This is like a unicorn.

    • I would check your health insurance and see what is and is not covered for prenatal and well baby care. I am about 25 weeks pregnant and so far have paid a grand total of $50 for doctor visits related to my pregnancy. My insurance pretty much covers everything associated with pregnancy, L&D and well baby care, so I didn’t change my usual contribution at all. FSA is always a risk since you have to use it by the end of the year. It’s an interesting exercise in forecasting your health needs over the next year.

    • Research, Not Law :

      Spend time figuring out where your costs will be. Some plans cover prenatal care at 100% with just a few copays for ultrasounds and labs, but the labor, delivery, and recovery is 70%. In that case, it would be important to have the additional flex account savings for the year of the birth, but not for the prenatal care. Or, your plan may cover nearly everything, so it’s a moot point. Or, unfortunately, the coverage could be very disappointing, in which case you’ll want to beef up even for just routine prental visits.

      Also depends on when you plan to conceive in 2012. If you’re going to start on new years day, you have three months conceive in order to have a full pregnancy and delivery within the calendar year. Otherwise, your pregnancy will overlap years, so the costs will split. As the previous poster said, you don’t know how long it will take to conceive. But within three months is quite common.

      • Thanks for all of the responses! I really appreciate the input and can only hope that the most complicated part of this is the finances (hah!).

      • Do not put money in your FSA if you aren’t currently pregnant. You don’t know if or when you’ll get pregnant, and you may just end up losing the money. I would check with your FSA provider to see if you are able to up the amount you contribute if you do become pregnant. I believe the addition or loss of a dependent is the one circumstance where you can make a mid-year change on your FSA election.

        • I mean – contribute if you have other expenses that it will be used for, but don’t contribute in anticipation of pregnancy that hasn’t happened yet. You might consider talking to your TPA for the flex spending to see if they have any advice on how to plan for those expenses.

        • anon prof :

          This is a really good point. If you can change your FSA amount when you add a dependent, you can just shovel a bunch of $ in there right after giving birth and seeing the bill. Just be sure you know exactly what the open window is after the birth. For TTC, you probably wouldn’t need to add much unless you are going to use IVF, etc.

      • In House Lobbyist :

        Also remember that the baby will incur his or her own charges for nursery care and doctor visits to the hospital. My son had his own deductible that he had to meet too. Just read your plan how yours treats births. You could also call your insurance company and they could walk you through it.

    • Take a very close look at what your deductible is, and what your plan does and does not cover. I easily met my $500 deductible this year (which I budgeted for in my FSA) when pregnant with the cost of monthly prenatals/co-pays/lab fees/etc. And I haven’t even delivered yet!
      And fingers crossed you won’t have any emergencies, but I did have one emergency hospital visit while pregnant that made me very glad to have a hefty amount in my FSA this year.
      At the very least, I’d suggest having an amount in your FSA equal to your deductible, plus any re-occurring prescriptions (ie, prenatal vitamins). And you’ll probably want to start on prenatals once you start trying to conceive. My FSA also reimbursed me for my fertility monitor, which was a nice bonus!

    • Working Girl :

      It cost me 1k to have my kid. See if pregnancy or birth are qualifying events that allow you to change your FSA contribution. That way, if they are, you don’t need to set aside the money until you know you are having a kid.

  9. Any online brokerage recommendations?

    I’d like to start investing in a few mutual funds with my extra savings, but there are so many online brokerages that I find myself slightly overwhelmed when it comes time to pick one.

    • MissJackson :

      Depends on how much you have to invest, initially. If you can meet the Vanguard minimum (I believe that it is $3k?), they have some very low-management cost index funds.

      Here are the important criteria (assuming that you want index funds, rather than actively managed funds — which is what I would recommend for a new investor, but I’m a lawyer not an investment advisor):
      (1) no purchase fee
      (2) no redemption fee
      (3) lowest expense ratio that you can find. It should be a fraction of a percent. You can easily find expense ratios of less than .50% regardless of what you have to invest, and if you have $3k or so of initial investment, you should be able to find a much lower ratio. If you have $10k to invest, you can find less than .10% (Vanguard calls these “Admiral shares”)

      For accounts less than $3,000, I’ve had a good experience with the no-fee funds offered by sharebuilder (I already had an ING account, so ease of use was a factor in this selection).

      • Thanks!

        I have about $1,500 to invest right now, so I’ll look into ING. I already have an account with them.

        • MissJackson :

          You can use the search function at ING to search for “no load” and “no fee” funds. It’s pretty easy to set up, and should not cost you anything beyond the (low, maybe .50%) management fee. Have fun!

        • I like Vanguard a lot – I think if you do a minimum of $50 autmatic deposit into their index funds you don’t need a minimum, but I’m not sure on that. I found the section on mutual funds in “Making the Most of Your Money Now” by Jane Bryant Quinn really helpful in figuring out what to look for – I had no previous expereince with any sort of investing, and that really saved me a lot of confusion.

          • karenpadi :

            I’ll endorse Vanguard too. I use them for my rollover IRA and saving for my house down payment. I now have my 6-month cushion there and some “mad” investment money. They are really great and I’ve never had a problem.

            BTW, I got into Vanguard on recommendation from my grandmother who was in the financial services/insurance sector for many years as a secretary. She knows so much about investing. If she had been a man or born 50 years later, I think she’d be an investing legend.

          • karenpadi :

            Sorry, it is a year cushion. I was posting down thread and realized my brain-fart. Must be Wednesday.

    • Schwab or USAA :

      Schwab or USAA

  10. If you’re so inclined, year-end is a great time to whip out all those credit card statements (or, take advantage of the year-end statements that many credit card companies and banks will create for you) and sort out what you’ve spent this year, how much, on what. Great way to start a budget or track your progress or just be more aware of your financial picture, and think about what you may want to amend in 2012.

    • Seconding this. I bank through BOA so all year long I sort all my credit card charges into categories like “Grocery”, “Eating out”, or “Household” and at this time of year I look over my year and see where my money is going. Last year I noticed my “Eating out” went up a ton and connected it to a kitchen renovation, my new job that I drive an hour each way to, and my husband eating out because I already had. When my job changed in February I immediately set to work tackling that high “eating out” category. It’s down 50% and my grocery bill is only up 30% in response to the change. I’m just waiting to see how we do after Christmas but it looks like we’ll be saving a few thousand dollars that we desperately need.

      Since I lost my shit-paying replacement job I was upset but from the numbers I’m seeing the savings in gas, parking fees, car maintenance, and food expenses look like it’ll add up to the cost of my salary. That’s depressing as hell.

      • Sydney Bristow :

        I’m using budget software called YNAB (you need a budget) and have been diligently inputting all my transactions into it. It’s been very eye opening for me to see where I was spending more or less than I had budgeted. For the first few months, I was looking at everything each month and adjusting my budget categories to account for my realistic habits. Now my budget is realistic and all of the places I typically spend money at automatically show up in my assigned budget categories. I’ve found it extremely helpful to categorize everything and realize my general in-my-head budget was just never going to work.

  11. Research, Not Law :

    We do a big Goodwill run. Tax deduction and a clutter-free house for the new year.

    • I like to keep a “Goodwill Box” in a back room. That way, whenever I come across anything that I don’t need/want anymore, I can put it in the box, and it’s ready to go whenever I get around to taking it.

  12. I love the featured wallet. The magic wallet is my go-to item for travel, as I don’t like to take all of my credit cards, etc on vacation when all I need is cash, my ID and one or two other cards.

  13. Another financial question — what is a good guideline for how much (or what portion) of your money to have in cash/savings accounts versus stocks and other investments? I’m not concerned with retirement funds, but rather what to do with my other savings for things like emergencies and down payments, but also investing and growth.

    • I think the allocation of your money should scale to fit the time horizon over which you need the money. For instance, I expect to be paying for a wedding within a reasonably short time horizon (a couple of years), so I prefer to have the money for that in cash/money markets so I know that the full amount will be there when I need it. I also think emergency funds should be held in low risk instruments, maybe a money market fund or online savings account (I use online savings), or maybe laddered CDs.

      I think for goals that might be a few years down the road (maybe a house purchase or saving for childcare costs, etc.), it makes sense to have some allocation to equities and then as the goals get closer, start moving the money toward less risky investments (e.g., short-to-intermediate term bond funds / money market), so you have more certainty surrounding your principal when the time comes for you to spend the cash. Not sure if that’s helpful for you… right now, there is so little I’m interested in investing in given the economic climate I’ve mostly just been hoarding cash (though that’s probably not the most sound strategy).

    • karenpadi :

      There are a number of philosophies out there. I think it’s important to set goals and achieve them one by one. Especially when the market is flat and interest rates are close to zero. Here’s what I have (in order of how I built up my savings and paid off debt):

      $4k in a local savings account for emergency car repairs, house repairs, medical expenses (this is also the amount the bank requires for extra perks like ATM fee rebates).

      3 months in living expenses (back then interest rates were 7% on savings and three months expenses was “too conservative”). Paid off high interest school loans. Former loan payment used to buy low cost Vanguard index funds to build house down payment.

      Bought house; build emergency fund to 1 year living expenses (emergency fund in AAA bond funds through Vanguard and money market–you could try to chase interest rates in a CD ladder and I think ING has a 1% savings).

      Now, paying off mortgage (I figure it’s a guaranteed 5% return–much better than what I can get elsewhere).

      Please note, I am VERY conservative when it comes to money. This isn’t what I think everyone should do. Spouse/kids/job loss/other may affect your own decisions.

  14. Does anyone know how much you need to donate for it be worth itemizing? I’ve never bothered before, but we actually gave quite a a bit this year, so I’m wondering if it’s worth deducting.

    • The only time it was worth itemizing for me was when I had a mortgage. That, plus student loan interest, plus charitable deductions, was worth it.

      • Thanks! We have a mortgage for the first time this year, so maybe it will be worth it for us now.

      • Student loan interest is not an itemized deduction. It’s on page 1 of the return, “above the line,” meaning it can be deducted regardless of whether you take the standard or itemized deduction. Though to take it you have to have income so low that it’s laughable.

        • Anon for this :

          Glad you think my income is laughable.

          • Anon – glad you’re making it happen with the income you’ve got and best wishes for more income in the new year.

            While I didn’t write the comment, something in it resonated with me. About a decade ago, my now husband made comments when the Earned Income Tax Credit was new, that since I was a single parent with a deadbeat ex – that this was A Great Answer For My Situation. All of THOSE PEOPLE were going to get some unjust reward, etc…I came to the conclusion that some people are really out of touch with poverty and the programs that address them.

            I filled out the paperwork, and I qualified for…..$1

            All I could think is wow, if I’m struggling, working and have food on the table and this is the line – I am HAPPY that this program is in effect for those earning less, or who have more kids/dependents, really.

            And I went back and talked to my then-boyfriend and said – this is for people whose situations are even more complicated and tight. They are working. Support that. If you aren’t familiar with the community the program serves, get educated.

        • Come down from your ivory tower often? :

          The cut off for student loan interest deduction is a modified AGI of $70,000 or combined incomes of $140,000. (Although phase-outs do occur at $55,000 AGI)

          That is your income after 401K, healthcare, HSA, etc) meaning that you could be making up to$100,000 per year if you take advantage of pre-tax benefits and still be able to claim the student loan interest tax deduction.

          Did you really think it adds value to the conversation to tell us that anyone making less than $100,000 has income that’s “laughable?”

          Jeez, it’s comments like this that make me stay away from Corporette.

    • You want to itemize when your itemized deductions are more than the standard deduction, which for a married couple in 2011 is $11,600. The average person doesn’t itemize until she has a mortgage (although I know some overachieving chicks who hit it just with state tax). The most common itemized deductions that I see are mortgage interest, state tax, property tax, and charitable deductions. Since you bought a house this year, it is very likely that you will meet the threshold for 2011 to itemize.

  15. Property Taxes :

    In CA, we pay property taxes twice a year: in April and in December. Most people, when they buy a house, pay the April payment from year 2 along with the December payment in year 1. That way, you can deduct them both (plus the April payment from year 1 if you bought before April) from you federal taxes for year 1. Naturally, this means that in every subsequent year, you also pay your December taxes and next April’s taxes before December 31. So I do this every year.

    The benefit was greatest in year 1, when I deducted three payments. Now, I deduct two payments each year, as I would have anyway. If, however, there were any time that I wanted more deductions (this is a few thousand dollars) in one year than another, I could pay or not pay early that year as required.

  16. Two things on FSAs. 1) for 2011, OTC medications are not eligible unless you have a prescription (a change made by the Affordable Care Act) and 2) some plans provide a grace period where you can use your 2011 amount for a little while (up to two and a half months) into 2012. So check your plan! Regarding getting a prescription for OTC meds, if you are a fellow allergy sufferer and take a lot of sudafed, in some states the prescription provides an exemption from those pesky rules about how much sudafed you can buy at one time.

  17. Anonymous :

    Correction to Kat’s post: Over the counter meds/supplies aren’t eligible expenses for an FSA, and are only eligible for an HSA if you get your doctor to write a prescription for it.

    • Correction to Anonymous’ correction: Some OTC items do not require a prescription to use HSA funds. Check your HSA eligibility list for specifics.

  18. The last two posters said what I was going to (and didn’t see up higher).

    OTC are no longer covered by FSA so don’t go buying up Tylenol and other meds – they won’t be covered! The grace period is generally three months.

    However, now is a PERFECT time to reasses your FSA contributions! If you haven’t done your open enrollment period that is. :) If you have a ton of $$$ sitting in your account, lower your contribution for 2012. Why have money sitting there that you can’t/aren’t planning to use – and then you lose it? Totally erases the tax benefits.

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