Close out year strong

Each year, the days fly by more swifty. In fact, it seems about the time I finally got used to regularly writing 2017 on forms and checks, I realized it’s December. Within a short week, I’ll have to re-adapt and begin finishing the date with a new digit.

Odds are, it will be April before I have the habit down pat. Before you find yourself counting down to 2018, take a few minutes to pause and check these smart finance practices off your to-do list. You’ll begin again with a firm foundation and peace of mind, too.

Reconcile spending

The frantic rush of the days before Christmas can mean last minute spending and misplaced receipts. Before this week is over, dig out all of your receipts and reconcile your spending in your holiday budget and money management system. Don’t hide your head in the sand. Take a few minutes to get your finances in order.

Reflect on your budget

Look, I’m not here to judge. Some years you come in on target when it comes to Christmas spending and other years, you might miss the mark or go overboard. It happens to me, too. However, failing to revisit what you planned to spend and where those numbers might have been off can cause problems for years to come. The best way to guarantee you do a better job during the 2018 holiday season is to take a look at the cold, hard facts now while the spending is fresh in your mind.

When it comes to holiday gift giving, it’s also a great idea to write down specifically how much you spent on the people in your life. This time next year, it will be difficult to remember what you gave and how much to budget. Do it now instead of waiting and guessing.

Hit clearance

I am a clearance freak. For seasonal specific items that you need, now is the time to strike while the iron is hot and prices low. Inventory dwindles in January as retailers begin stocking for Valentine’s Day, so this is the prime week for discounts. But what should you purchase?

Trees, lights and decor suddenly become worth less than half of what they were priced mere hours before. Again, only purchase these items if you really need them. Holiday foods — candy, large cuts of meats, baking mixes, and more — will last well into the new year regardless of the wrapper. If you send Christmas cards, now might be the time to pick up next year’s holiday greeting. Ugly sweaters, fuzzy socks and other festive garb also make worthwhile purchases if the price is right.

Last but not least, keep your eyes peeled for paper goods and consumables. I usually buy solid red items because they coordinate with a number of holidays. Kids’ toothbrush and hygiene sets also are a high priority for my bargain scanning eyes.

Any time you purchase items months or even a year in advance, you must have an exact storage plan. Don’t get caught in the trap of forgetting you’ve already acquired the goods and then buy double.

End of year contributions

The last week in December marks your last opportunity to contribute to some retirement accounts and charitable organizations. Before the tax year ends, consider which accounts might need one more contribution before it’s too late.

Set financial goals

Coming to grips with your Christmas spending may cause you to realize you need to make some major financial changes. I love the fresh start opportunity of a new year. You can lay down old habits and pick up new ones. But even if you’re a crackerjack when it comes to money management, you still need to choose a goal or two for the new year.

Make sure your goals are realistic. Think through the action steps that will allow you to achieve your aims. Create smaller micro goals within your macro goals to encourage momentum and celebrate the progress you make. Write down your goals, too. Studies show you’re more likely to experience success if you put pen to paper when you attempt to change your behavior.

Finish the year strong. Reflect on the blessings and challenges of the last 12 months. Then, look ahead to a new year and new beginnings. Check these tasks off your to-do list to strengthen your finances before the clock strikes midnight Dec. 31. You may not remember to write the right year in the first few days of January, but you won’t regret pausing to make smart decisions about your money at the close of the year.

Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years  and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. She is the author of “Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After.” Send questions, column ideas and comments to