Tips, apps for the season of giving and buying
The end of the year is when our thoughts turn to giving. It’s also the time of year when the retail holiday machine kicks into high gear.
It’s a bit of a paradox, and given the tendency to save so much of the giving and the buying to the last minute, this season of joy can leave us feeling guilty, frenetic and out of control.
My advice is to build on the spirit of Thanksgiving. Write down or say aloud what you are thankful for — or maybe the one good thing that happened that day. For me, that usually involves one of my walks with the dogs, but it could range from a quick phone call with an old friend or a funny experience in the grocery store.
And be charitable, even if it doesn’t get you a tax deduction.
Because the new tax law nearly doubled the standard deduction, approximately 85 to 90 percent of Americans will not be entitled to deduct their contributions. But many give purely for altruistic concern for others, not to reduce their tax bills.
Regardless of your motivation for giving, here are three important steps to keep in mind:
Confirm that the charity is legitimate.
Do not provide any personal or financial information until you’ve researched the charity. Use the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Select Check Tool to confirm the organization’s federal tax status.
Investigate the charity’s financial health.
Once you have confirmed that the group is legitimate, you can also see what others say about the organization and how much of your donation goes to supporting programs, as opposed to overhead. The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Watch, GuideStar and Charity Navigator are all helpful resources.
Make the contribution using a check or credit card.
Never send cash donations or wire money to someone claiming to be a charity. If you are planning to send a check, your payments must be postmarked by midnight December 31 — just writing “December 31” on the check does not automatically qualify you for a deduction; and pledges aren’t deductible until paid. Donations made with a credit card are deductible as of the date the account is charged, so if you are a little late in the process, you probably should stick to credit cards.
OK, so now on to the other part of the season — spending. With economic growth on the upswing and unemployment at a 49year low, you may be thankful this year for more stability or satisfaction at work, a slightly larger paycheck or better job prospects for the future.
You may also feel entitled to spend a little more to celebrate your good fortune, but here’s a piece of financial advice from Buzz Kill Jill: Don’t spend too much money! Before you get dragged down the holiday rabbit hole, get your head on straight and don’t go crazy. That means starting with a list of what you can afford and then sticking to your game plan.
According to Deloitte’s annual forecast for the holiday season, shoppers are using a blended approach to the shopping season and plan to conduct both online and in-store research before making a purchase. To help, download apps like ShopSavvy, which allows you to scan the barcode of any product and compare the best prices available; Shopular, which provides news of deals, coupons and location-based notifications; and Flipp, which creates digital versions of circulars from retailers and combines coupons with these local flyers for savings. You should also check out Honey, a free browser extension that automatically finds and applies coupon codes at checkout for over 30,000 shopping sites.
Good luck navigating the paradoxical season. Jill Schlesinger, CFP, is a CBS News Business Analyst. A former options trader and CIO of an investment advisory firm, she welcomes comments and questions at [email protected]lonmoney.com.
Traveling for business can be stressful — though it becomes more manageable after you’ve been on a few flights, noticed a pattern and developed a strategy. However, business travel during the holidays is far from relaxing. In fact, it’s taxing on your nerves and patience, and it can be downright infuriating at times.
And even though everyone wants to be anywhere else during the holidays, business travel is inescapable for some. For those few souls who have to close deals or mend relationships during the holidays, here are a few tips for making business travel bearable.
1. Take the path less traveled.
One thing’s for sure during the holiday season: Everyone wants to get where they have to go as quickly as possible. No one wants to deal with the harsh environment longer than they have to. For that reason, they fly.
While a plane is the most desirable option, it might not be the best for you. Consider the time spent getting to the airport early, waiting to board, possible delays, the flight time and, finally, waiting for luggage. If these nearly equal the amount of time spent driving, on a coach or even on a train, consider these alternative options.
If this is a last-minute trip and you do need to fly, consider alternate airports that are a bit farther out of the city. If you are able to, drive part of the way to take advantage of travel time.
2. Do your research.
Weather delays and cancellations can turn a trip that’s supposed to be four hours into one that requires three or four more hours. Before you book your flight, make sure that the airport you’re flying to isn’t known for snow storms, delayed flights or cancellations. The last thing you want is to not get there or back home on time.
3. Pack only what you need.
Airports are tremendously busy during the holiday season, posing a higher risk of your bag being lost. Eliminate as much risk as possible by sticking to a carry-on. You will have your belongings with you at all times, and you won’t have to wait at the baggage claim for your items. Just be sure to know the baggage and carry-on rules for the airline(s) you are flying with.
Jill on Money