Things to Do in Late November

Dear Sharon,

During Thanksgiving week, there are several things I do that make the end of the year so much easier:

  • Order my holiday cards
  • Order stamps to mail my holiday cards
  • Review my holiday address list
  • Finish up my charitable contributions

Thanksgiving weekend has always seemed like an endless stretch of free time for me because for many years I was performing in a show or had directed a show that played in the first half of November. I also spent 25 years working in Corporate America, and a four-day weekend was a true rarity. (Now that I’m self-employed, I often work several of the days of Thanksgiving weekend, but it still hasn’t lost its specialness for me.)

Holiday Cards

If you send out photo cards, Thanksgiving weekend is a great time to review all the photos taken throughout the year and select the favorites. Having the whole family around and available to look over the photo card options helps to speed along the decision-making process.

Whether you include photos or not, getting your custom-printed cards ordered in November will get them back to you in record time. And the prices are usually cheaper if you order before December 1.

If you are going to be hand-signing store-bought cards instead of having them custom-printed, you definitely want to get an early start on that. Hopefully you bought your cards on Dec. 26 last year when they went on sale. If not, buy them this weekend while all of the styles are still available. And start signing!

Holiday Stamps

I enjoy getting on the US Postal Service website and browsing the new stamps. There are always so many cute designs. I always order a little extra so that I have stamps to last me well into the new year. Ordering your stamps right after ordering your cards will ensure that you won’t have a holdup in sending the cards out.

Holiday Address List

After ordering my holiday cards and stamps, I review last year’s address list to see what changes need to be made. Unfortunately, there are always a few names that need to be removed because people have passed away. But there are also new friends to be added. And I always have a few friends who have relocated. Updating the list early gives me the time to email or text them and ask them for their new addresses.

Charitable Contributions

I have several clients who wait until the end of the year to make their charitable contributions. Sometimes they simply run out of time before making all the contributions they had intended.

I used to make all my contributions over Thanksgiving weekend to ensure that the acknowledgement letter from each charity had this year’s date on it. In more recent years, I’ve spread out my contributions throughout the year so that I don’t have to do so many at once. Thanksgiving weekend is my final review to make sure I’ve attended to everyone on my list.

What are some of the things that you always wish you had started earlier? Start an end-of-year checklist now that you can pull out in future years on Thanksgiving weekend. Your future self will thank you!

Turn Your Unused Gift Cards into Charity

I’m guessing that you have some unused gift cards stashed away somewhere. You may have forgotten about them. Even if you didn’t, you may not remember how much money is left on them.

An article on cnbc.com posted last year states: “Half of Americans currently own unredeemed gift cards or store credits, according to a new survey from Bankrate. The average person with unused gift cards is sitting on $167 in free money.”

Gift cards are a convenience for the gift giver but a bit of a burden on the recipient. Most people put them aside with the intent to use them someday, but someday never comes.

If you’d like to put those gift cards to good use and remove the burden of having to remember to use them, consider donating them to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. St. Jude’s policy is that “families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live.” What better way to use your gift card balances than to help support their mission?

Donating your gift cards is easy. Go to stjude.cardcash.com and follow the prompts. Because St. Jude’s is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, you’ll get a tax-deductible letter acknowledging the value of your donation.

Managing Your Charitable Contributions

If you’ve ever donated money to a charitable organization, you’ve probably experienced the immediate and ongoing communications from that charity asking you for more money. While I understand the organization’s need to generate funds, it’s frustrating to me that this is how some of my donation is being used. Is it likely that, having just made a donation, I will make another one so soon? Well, maybe I would if I were disorganized and didn’t know how recently I had just donated to them.

That is one reason why it’s important to track your charitable donations. Another is to simplify the reporting of your donations at tax time. Since we are at the beginning of the year, this is a good time for you to start tracking your donations, if you aren’t already.

I manage my charitable giving in a simple Excel spreadsheet. It has the following columns:

  • Charitable organization
  • Date of gift
  • Amount
  • The same three columns for last year.

I keep my spreadsheet sorted by the name of the organization. When I get a piece of mail from a charity asking me to donate, I can easily look it up on my spreadsheet and see when I last donated. I like having last year’s donation information easily available, since I donate to most of my pet charities once a year, and it’s helpful to see when I donated last year, and how much.

Having my donation information in a spreadsheet makes it easy for me to know exactly how much I have donated that year.  At the bottom of the spreadsheet, I also keep a list of my “in kind” donations — that is, the thrift shops to whom I have brought bags of goods, along with my estimate of how much those goods were worth. At tax time, I can easily report to my accountant the total amount of my tax-deductible cash contributions, as well as my in kind donations.

In case you get audited (as I did this past spring), it’s also important for you to keep the acknowledgement letter that you get from each charity. It tells you how much of your donation was tax-deductible, and verifies that you received no goods or services in exchange. When I was gathering my papers for my audit, I discovered that for on-line donations, the acknowledgement I received did not always have that information on it. I ended up having to contact some of the charities to ask for the appropriate documentation. That is why I have started making donations by mail again, as the mail acknowledgements are generally better.

If you have no surefire way to track your charitable giving, take a few minutes now to set up a spreadsheet on your computer. You’ll thank me next year at tax time!

 

 

Change for Good

Have you ever come back from a foreign trip with leftover currency?

If you travel abroad frequently, then you might want to keep the currency and bring it on your next trip to that country. However, if you don’t expect to go back to that country in the foreseeable future, you probably want to do something with it so that it doesn’t become clutter.

Bills can be exchanged for dollars at banks that handles currency exchange, but they won’t accept coins. Many of my clients have foreign coins sitting around, often mixed in with U.S. coins. Here is a better idea: donate those coins to UNICEF via their Change for Good program.

As their website states: “Change for Good is an innovative partnership between UNICEF and the international airline industry. Established in 1987, it is one of UNICEF’s best-known and longest-running partnerships. Currently twelve international airlines support the Change for Good program. Thanks to the generous support of customers and participating airlines, the global Change for Good program has generated more than $150 million, which has contributed to UNICEF’s efforts to helping save and improve the lives of millions of children around the world.”

In the United States, American Airlines is the participating airline in the program. You can donate change (foreign or U.S.) on some American Airlines international flights. Or you can mail it to:

UNICEF USA
ATTN: Change for Good Program
125 Maiden Lane
New York, NY 10038

Another great opportunity to send clutter out in the world to do good!

Mary Poppins’s Closet

Yesterday I engaged my entire family in cleaning out our entryway closet.

We are lucky enough to have walk-in closets —  designed by California Closets before we bought the apartment  —  so it is actually possible to see everything that’s in there.  Therefore, I knew we had a few items that we could get rid of.

Frankly, I am amazed at how much stuff we are giving away!

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