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Advice & More November 2014

Dollar Sense

Potpourri: Stuff You Should Know So You Can Enjoy the Holidays More and Stress Out Less

By Teresa Ambord

To free your mind for celebrating, make an appointment with your tax professional ahead of time. Some actions you may want to delay till the last day of the year, for tax purposes (like gifts or charitable donations), but getting the decisions out of the way should help.

Planning for lower-stress holidays: it’s about more than just early Christmas shopping.

Nobody loves the year-end holiday season more than I do. But it’s still hectic, trying to be festive at gatherings with family and friends while all of life’s little daily maintenance tasks go on. Here are a few tips to help make life a little less stressful and help you focus more on enjoying the holidays.

  • While there’s time, schedule your regular dental, medical, and vision appointments for the weeks before the holiday season begins. That will give you one less thing to think about when you want to be in holiday mode and focused on family times. While you are there, don’t forget to get a flu shot.
  • An unfortunate coincidence is that the holidays occur during the time you have your last shot at tax planning for the year. More than once I’ve sat under the Christmas tree sipping egg nog when some urgent year-end tax matter kept niggling at my mind. Now I take time before the holidays begin to make the necessary decisions and either carry out those decisions or schedule the actions so I don’t need to think about them anymore.

Here are a few examples which might apply to you:

  • Do you need to take a required minimum distribution of your retirement accounts?
  • Should you sell investments now to take the capital gains hit in 2014?
  • Should you increase your charitable contributions to get a tax break?
  • Were you planning to reduce your taxable estate by making monetary gifts?
  • Are there business purchases you could make now, to reduce your tax bite?

To free your mind for celebrating, make an appointment with your tax professional ahead of  time. Some actions you may want to delay till the last day of the year, for tax purposes (like gifts or charitable donations), but getting the decisions out of the way should help.

  • Hire household help for the heavy cleaning if you are able. Whether you hire a reliable young person, or a professional maid service for a few hours, this doesn’t have to be expensive. Make a list of the chores that you most want to avoid, but feel you must do before company comes, like floor scrubbing. What you will save in energy and strained muscles will likely be well worth what you’ll pay.
  • Make an extra effort to eat healthy so you go into the holidays feeling good and not fighting a sluggish digestive system. Someone told me that if I wake up feeling bad today, it’s probably because of what I ate yesterday. Preparing healthy options ahead of time will let you grab a quick, but healthy snack so you don’t load up on salty, fat-filled fast food. If you don’t have time for healthy cooking, consider a home meal delivery service, like hellofresh.com.
  • Boost your immunity. Between the rush of holiday activity, cold-weather germs, and eating richer foods, your immune system could take a hit. Why not go into the holiday season with a stronger immune system? Get a flu shot. Take Emergen-C or keep Zicam on hand. Incorporate immune-boosting foods into your diet, like probiotic yogurt, oats and barley, shellfish, chicken soup, black tea, etc. Here’s a link to a Prevention magazine article detailing the foods that can help you stay strong and healthy before, during, and after the holidays.
    www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/power-foods-boost-immunity?s=1
  • Don’t overlook exercise. You need it to keep you grounded and feeling your best when the holidays arrive.

 

Holidays Are a Good Time to Make and Share an Ethical Will

An ethical will is a document which expresses your wishes, hopes… and maybe blessings. It’s something you share with family members while you are still alive. Sound unimportant? Think about it. You could look at it as a way to impart wisdom to those you will leave behind. It’s easier than a memoir and a good way to convey important ideas.

I had a friend – Annette – who suffered a serious brain injury at age 42. Before she went into a surgery, which she knew she might not survive, she wrote short letters to her daughters, husband, parents, and close friends. Sadly, she died during the surgery, and some of those notes were read at her memorial. Her daughters were in their late teens at the time, so Annette took the opportunity to give them some wise words about life, how to recognize a good man, and how to have a happy marriage and raise healthy children.

She admonished the rest of us to live our lives fully and not in fear. She even gave her husband the blessing of wishing him happiness, wherever life led him if she passed on. It was incredibly powerful, hearing these thoughts, wishes, blessings that were written by someone who knew it might be her last chance to say them. Annette cried a river as she wrote the notes. But in reality, it was an amazing opportunity which most people do not get. Usually, our important thoughts die with us.

With the holidays coming up and family gatherings scheduled, this might be a good time to think about the positive things you want your loved ones to know. It’s also a healthy exercise for you. Writing about life can have a healthy impact on you and others. It gives you a chance to explore your capabilities, desires, it relieves stress and helps cope with life’s problems, and may change the way you view those in your life. It might even make you sleep better.

An ethical will can also be a sort of moral road map. We all hope that future generations will respect and honor our values, so why not document them? If nothing else, an ethical will paints a picture of you for people you care about.

Where to begin? One way to do this is to just keep a list, as thoughts occur to you. For most of us, these awe-inspiring thoughts come when we’re in the shower or on a walk or trying to fall asleep, right? Start now while there is time and jot down key points which you can enlarge later. Or keep a daily journal if that’s your style.

One website, celebrationsoflife.net suggests you write about such things as:

  • Your beliefs and opinions
  • Things you did to act on your values (such as adopting a rescued animal)
  • Something you learned from grandparents/parents/spouse/children
  • Something you learned from experience
  • Something you are grateful for
  • Your hopes for the future
  • You can also purchase a guide at this website: http://celebrationsoflife.net/shop/ethical-wills-workbook/

After you’ve collected several items, group related items together and a pattern may begin to appear. This should not be a stressful endeavor. Actually it will probably relieve stress if you don’t put pressure on yourself. Write for a while and then put it aside and review it again later. Keep it simple. Say what’s on your mind, with kindness. Bear in mind, as tempting as it might be to finally let your horrible sister-in-law have it right between the eyes, it’s not a time to tell anyone off. You want it to be a sweet time for uniting and bringing the family closer.

 

Before the Grandkids Come

If you’re like most of us, you detest those darn child-proof caps that come on every medication. In fact, you may have tossed the troublesome lids. And you may be in the habit of keeping your medications on bedside tables or other easily reachable places. You should know, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 80% of emergency room visits are from medication overdose among kids 12 and under, usually because they were curious when they found medicines that resembled candy. That’s the equivalent of four busloads of kids, every single day, in the emergency room for accidentally swallowing medication.

Where do kids find the meds? The CDC says:

  • 27% find them on the ground or misplaced
  • 20% in a purse
  • 20% in a dresser or night stand
  • 15% in a pillbox
  • The remainder in a cabinet, or “other.”

Some experts recommend you actually do a count of your pills before the kids arrive, just in case you need to tell a doctor how many might’ve been ingested.

 

A Personal Note

Now that you’ve prepared your body, gotten annoying tasks like tax decisions out of the way, secured your medication… I wish you the best holidays ever, surrounded by those you love. May you embrace the peace of the season, every day of the year. If you're alone this season, plan ahead to add some of your own special favorites to the holidays, foods, Christmas movies, a church service, the music you love.

 

Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

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