By Jon Neal Selzer
The hustle and bustle at this time of the year is filled with planning for the holidays, cooking, shopping and the excitement of a new season. The snow will be flying, basketball will return as a focal point for many and we begin to bundle up as the winter winds arrive. We also often sense the stress levels going up with such a busy agenda for us all.
The opportunities of this time are enormous and some should not be missed nor neglected. The end of the year is a perfect time to do some other type of planning that will potentially have a significant impact on all aspects of your life. It is a perfect time to consider these five steps to a healthier holiday season, a gift of sorts to yourself.
1. Review your work place benefits. It is a great time to reconsider your flexible spending account, health savings account, health insurance coverage and your retirement plan contributions. Did you know that most people spend more time planning a one-week vacation than they do planning for retirement?
2. Begin preparing for your taxes. It is a perfect time gathering and sorting receipts, creating or reviewing files, making certain that you have a system for accumulating the statements that you will begin receiving, and that you are in good order when your W-2 or 1099s are received. Have you made a contribution to an Individual Retirement Plan (IRA) or a College Savings 529 Account for 2017 to maximize your tax benefits?
3. Review your beneficiary selections on all of your insurance and investments. An annual review is important as lives do change. It is not uncommon after a divorce that an ex-spouse will receive assets because of neglecting to take such actions. And, when your children get married, is it your intent to leave money to their spouses? It can get complicated, but it doesn’t need to. Don’t forget that your will, health care proxy and durable power of attorney documents are not only among the essential bricks to your life foundation, they state your wishes clearly. Annually updating your intent does the trick.
The end of the year is a perfect time to do some other type of planning that will potentially have a significant impact on all aspects of your life.
4. Develop a Plan B. Mostly, we go along living our lives with a general idea of where we are going and to where we hope to end up. The downside of this strategy, which works for some, is the absence of a Plan B. Very few plan comprehensively for the untimely death of a spouse, a serious and prolonged illness or a severe injury to a child. The impact of such can be financial, emotional as well as physical; becoming catastrophic in every way. Your ability to become a care provider for a loved one or to be cared for is a highly essential conversation to have and anticipate. The new Paid Family Leave Program might be a helpful tool in part. It will certainly not be enough to neglect this area of planning. Having the “conversation” does not need to be uncomfortable.
5. Create Your Map. Take the time to design your map. Who gets your stuff if something happens to you? When do you envision retirement? What do you hope your work journey will look like? What if you lose your job? What is your health plan (from handling your own health challenges to how will you stay healthy with exercise and diet)? Who is on your team (doctors, lawyer, accountant, financial adviser? Is there a list of your team members and have you given that list to your loved ones?
These steps are only a guide. They tend to be helpful in structuring the framework for your financial house to be in better order. It is always easier to make changes to such a fluid conceptualization of your dreams, hopes, ideas and aspirations, than to plan it when it could be too late. Think of these steps as an organic model, living and breathing as your lives change. Getting these things in a more clearly articulated fashion should prove rather liberating. It should better able to lead you to “feeding the soul” as I am often heard saying. By that, I mean, you should be less stressed as a result of such planning and better able to create new warm memories, enjoy the arts, sporting events, a good book and be able to spend more quality (and undistracted) time with the family.
Jon Neal Selzer is a Life Underwriting and Training Course Fellow (LUTCF) and owner of Marathon Financial Advisors, Inc.
He served as president of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation of Central New York and was the first executive director of the Ronald McDonald House in Syracuse.