Develop a budgetThis is always first. Without knowing what my income and outgo is likely to be I can't make any plans for vacations, home repairs and new furnishings, charity donations, and all the things that keep the Lowry household functioning. Usually I draw up a rough budget based on the current year's situation by early December. After we get the dreaded health insurance new rate letter for Betty's policy with a 12-17% increase, I start to get serious.
For most years I plan on an overall increase in our total budget of 3-5% and that seems to work well. I know how much I want to withdraw from savings and investments so I simply work backward from that figure. If I reach zero before all categories are taken care of, out comes the red pencil until expenses are slightly below income. Betty and I will get together on New Year's Eve and decide the final look of the new budget...not very exciting but we avoid the craziness of that night.
2013 will have a new wrinkle: starting in May I will receive Social Security checks. That will be a tremendous help to our monthly cash needs and means the outflow from our IRA will slow dramatically. That is a good thing.
Clean out my officeAll old receipts and files are boxed up and moved to the backyard storage shed. Since I handle my dad's finances, his stuff must also be sorted and stored. New files and envelopes are begun for 2013. My computer to-do list program has the previous year's information archived and a fresh slate is started.
As one year's worth of receipts and papers go into storage, the oldest box of similar stuff gets taken to a shredder. Everything that is older than 5 years except tax returns, paid up mortgages or other important papers, is destroyed.
I look for books and other items that can be given away or go into recycling so the office is as clean and empty of clutter as I can make it.
Put Away holiday decorationsIf I had my way the Christmas stuff would be boxed up and back in the storage shed on December 26th. But, the family likes seeing everything all festive until New Year's Day. So, sometime on January 1st or 2nd we'll take down the lights, decorations, angle tree, and garlands and put the holidays behind us.
Since we had the whole family at our house for both Thanksgiving and Christmas this year there is more than the normal amount of things to clear out. It will take the better part of a day to arrange it all properly in the backyard shed before 2012 will be officially over.
Develop our vacation calendarBetty and I usually discuss the next year's vacation the previous fall. We have a general idea of our budget and where we'd like to go. This year, the new RV has given us an entirely different focus on our travels.
Betty has a major commitment at church that will keep her close to home through late March so the first part of the year will probably have to be short getaways. We are going to Oregon for most of the month of August and want to take a two week trip to California next fall. But, otherwise, plans for R.T. the RV will be discussed on New Year's Day. For this first full year we hope to be on the road for a total of two months in the RV. That will be quite a shift for us.
Purge the house & backyard areaBetty and I are happiest with minimal clutter. I am also am tired of trying to maintain so many flowering plants around our yard so I plan to downsize the number of pots I have in the backyard. With us hoping to be traveling for a few months this year, the fewer plants to water the better.
There are nooks and crannies in the garage and in several closets that need to be thinned out. Before moving decorations back into the house after the Christmas stuff is put away we will decide how much we want bring back inside.
I'll go through the books in my office and bedroom that are no longer needed and donate them to a charity. Usually at the beginning of the year I review my clothing situation. I get rid of things that are worn out or haven't been used for at least a year and make of list of what I'm likely to need in the coming year. Already I know several of my sports coats are heading for Goodwill.
That is my approach to starting a new year. But, I am always looking for new ideas and suggestions. What do you do to kick off the new year? How do you organize and prepare yourself, your home, and your mind for a fresh start?