In just a few weeks, the holiday shopping season will officially start with sales during Black Friday—the day after Thanksgiving—and Cyber Monday. It’s also the time of year when you’re likely to be more focused on traveling and social get-togethers.
Even so, there are important steps you can take this month to put you in better financial stead, from learning ways to save money while shopping to making a number of end-of-year moves.
Here’s what should be on your financial to-do list:
Save on Shopping
This month, you may be able to save money when shopping online by understanding how retailers adjust their prices. More retailers now use dynamic pricing strategies—they shift their prices as they monitor competitors’ pricing and customer demand. Some even use what they know about your shopping habits and location to set the prices they show you.
There are steps you can take that may help you pay less, such as letting items sit in your shopping cart until the retailer drops the price to get you to buy. Another idea: Input a friend’s or relative’s ZIP code, or enlist someone in another ZIP code to shop for you. Prices may be lower than in your area.
There are also a number of digital tools you can use to save money while shopping. They range from browser extensions such as Invisible Hand to gift cards that sell for less than face value at sites like Raise or CardCash.
Take Your Required Minimum Distributions
If you have money in a tax-deferred retirement account such as a traditional 401(k) or IRA, and you’re over age 70 ½, taking a required minimum distribution before the end of the year should be on your financial to-do list.
The amount that you must withdraw is based on the amount of money you have in such accounts and your life expectancy, according to the IRS. Note that you will also have to pay taxes on this income when you file in April.
Failing to take your required minimum distribution can be costly: You’ll owe the IRS a penalty that comes to half of the amount that should have been withdrawn. It’s a smart idea to get in touch with your financial adviser now to figure out how much money you need to withdraw.
If your money is in a Roth IRA, you won’t need to add this to your financial to-do list. Roth IRAs are not subject to minimum distributions. You are also not required to take a distribution from a 401(k) with an employer for which you currently work.
Plan Your Charitable Contributions
Giving money to important causes is in keeping with the spirit of the holidays, and doing so before year-end can give you an extra write-off at tax time. Before sending in money, run a check of the organization you plan to contribute to via sites like Charity Navigator and GuideStar. These watchdogs, as they are known, offer reviews from donors as well as data on how much of the contributions you make go directly to the cause. (For local or regional charities, check the BBB Wise Giving Alliance.) When you do give, be sure to save the receipt so that you have it at tax time.
Visit Your Doctor
If you still have money in a medical flexible-spending account at work, put this on your financial to-do list: Start spending it down. Although many companies now offer a grace period into next year, you’ll forfeit any money you haven’t spent once that period expires. Take the opportunity to make doctor’s appointments that you’ve been putting off, or to schedule a flu shot if you haven’t had one yet. November is the slowest month of the year for doctors, according to Zocdoc, a website that helps you to find a doctor and make medical appointments online. So you should be able to get a convenient appointment with a reasonable wait time.
Note: If your money is in a health spending account (an HSA rather than an FSA), the unused balance will roll over to next year.
Buy Items on Deep Discount
In addition to the savings you’ll get on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, November is a great time to get a discount on televisions and toys.
Research by Consumer Reports product experts, who track prices year-round, shows that November is an ideal time to get a good deal on coffee makers and refrigerators. The cooler weather means you may also be able to get a good deal on leftover bikes and gas grills, which retailers need to move out of their stores.