Some Financial Thoughts for the New Year

As 2015 rolls around, columnist Jeff Brown shares thoughts on holiday excess, neglectful checkbook management, and unexpected energy consumption.

I noticed that the consumer Christmas onslaught this year started just after Halloween. That’s just too early folks, and we ought to speak up. I know that we are a consumer-driven society, but enough is enough. For a start, maybe we should each have a family pow-wow and decide about some reasonable restrictions in our gift giving.

For example, my grandkids became so excited about the first few things they opened this year that we quietly withdrew the balance. And although we know that neuro research has proven we are made happier by giving than by receiving, thoughtful limits seem to be in order. And that doesn’t even include the need to mitigate the unnecessary financial burden we all take on. I saw a survey that showed the average family takes 2 months to pay off their X-mas excess.

In other financial ephemera, my bank manager happened to mention that in her experience, few of her customers routinely balance their checkbooks. That usually leads to an eventual mess, to say nothing of missing any mistakes (usually not in our favor), and sometimes too late to rectify any potential fraud.

The one instance that I know of where benign neglect in checking paid off was when I was in college. Through disinterest and an awareness of the small sums involved, I merely rounded up in my checkbook whatever checks I wrote. Four years later, a kindly teller helped me sort it out and as I had planned, I had accumulated a much-needed few hundred dollars to take into med school. However, this is not a recommended strategy for a full functioning household.

One smarter way to reduce your hassle factor this year is to get qualified for the TSA Pre-check program, to get through airports more easily and quickly. The security line is shorter and you have to divest yourself of fewer items of clothing. Google the site, pre-qualify, and then go to the closest office listed for a fingerprint and a face to face. It’s $85, good for 5 years, and based upon recent experience, well worth the effort. The next time that you wade into a shorter, easier airport security line you will smile for the relief.

If you are looking for an actually doable new year’s resolution that might help the family exchequer, try this; put all “found money,” like tax refunds, severance, inheritance, or other windfalls, immediately into a rainy day account. Suck it up this year and you will thank yourself later.

Lastly, after walking through my darkened house one night, I noticed the plethora of red and blue power lights scattered about. A bit of research showed that these appliances upon which we depend may account for 10% of our electric bill when turned off, if you can believe it. Apparently our flat screen TVs are among the worst offenders. It might seem a bit much, but unplugging some of these power suckers at night might be worth it—in money, and in grim satisfaction. Take that, you 21st Century!