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Don't Forget End-of-Year Financial Housekeeping

Thursday, December 23, 2004;

I know it won't be easy with all the celebrating that goes on at the end of the year, but it's time for you to do a little year-end financial planning. For my tips on year-end financial housekeeping, see today's Color of Money Column: "It Pays to Resolve Financial Matters by Year's End."

One of my tips: Be sure to contribute the maximum to your tax-deferred 401(k) retirement savings account. That's $13,000 for most taxpayers, and $16,000 for persons over the age of 50. Read the rest of my tips here.

_____Color of Money_____
Don't Let a Bad Gift Ruin a Good Friendship (The Washington Post, Jan 6, 2005)
No-Fuss Budgets (The Washington Post, Jan 2, 2005)
Read Michelle's Past Columns

And if you're planning to make some financial resolutions for 2005 (and you should!), I recommend four columns from the Color of Money archive:

* "Fiscal Fitness Starts With Firm Resolutions" (Jan. 1, 2004)

* "Don't Dive Blindly Into Retirement" (April 13, 2003)

* "Play Defense in the Credit Game" (Jan. 25, 2004)

* "Only You Can Fix Your Credit" (Jan. 11, 2004)

Win My Book and Learn to Save

Want a chance to win a copy of the new paperback version of my latest book?

On Dec. 28, "Money Mantras" will be available at all major bookstores and several major retailers (in store and online) -- complete with a new title, "Spend Well, Live Rich." The Washington Post ran an excerpt of the book last year.

My publisher -- Ballantine Books -- was kind enough to give me some copies to give to some lucky newsletter subscribers (at least I hope you'll feel fortunate after reading the book).

My goal is to give the books to folks who have been struggling with managing their money. So, if one of your New Year's resolutions is to get out of debt or save more, send me an e-mail with a brief statement (200 words or less, please) on how much it would mean to you to get your financial house in order in 2005. Send the e-mail to colorofmoney@washpost.com. In the subject line, put "Spend Well, Live Rich."

Unfortunately, I don't have many copies to give away. If your submission isn't one of my picks, don't let that discourage you from creating a plan and goals to better manage your finances in 2005. Continue to read this weekly newsletter and my columns.

Play the Re-Gifting Game

I know many of you will be getting gifts that just don't suit you this holiday season. So what to do with them? Well, many readers who responded to my recent request for comments on "re-gifting" shared some of their own ideas. (By the way, hope you caught my Dec. 19 newspaper column on this topic: "Re-Gifting, Without Guilt.")

Here's one tip that I liked:

"Our family and friends have a great way to re-gift at Christmas time: It's called 'The White Elephant Game,'" wrote Lorena Brown of Aloha, Ore. "The presents are wrapped and 'age-appropriate' for those that come. We set all the wrapped gifts in the middle, and take numbers for an orderly selection. ... Person no. 1 gets to choose the first present and open it. Person no. 2 can choose either to take person no. 1's gift, or choose a new one. If the previously opened gift is chosen, person no. 1 can choose a new present. ... The chosen gift can only pass hands three times before it is no longer allowed to be chosen. Whoever chooses that gift for the third time gets to keep it. Most popular gifts to date? A large (3 foot tall) trophy and a hammer with little screwdrivers inside."

Are you wondering if people were offended if their gift is the "white elephant"?

"People have seen their presents that they have given before, and understand that these presents did not suit the person anymore," Brown said. "And that's OK. Solves a lot of problems for trying to choose that 'perfect gift' and makes a fun memory as well."

I agree. I think I might try this myself.

Join Me Online on Jan. 5

Since we won't be meeting this way until after the new year, I again encourage you to join me for my first online discussion for 2005. My guest will be Robert Reich, former labor secretary for President Clinton.

Reich will be taking questions on his idea for restructuring the U.S. student loan system. If you missed my column on this topic, I wrote about how Reich thinks it's possible to improve the federal student loan program so that people who borrow to attend graduate school would just pay back a small percentage of their annual salary over a 10- or 15-year period.

Reich will be online with me on Wednesday, Jan. 5, at 1 p.m. ET to talk about his proposal. Submit a question or comment.

Well folks, have a very happy holiday and a wonderful new year.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to singletarym@washpost.com. They may be used in a future column or newsletter with the writer's name unless otherwise requested.

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