December 20, 2018

A Fresh Start To The New Year

For more years than I'd like to count, I tend to kickoff the new year the same way. It is a five step process (I'm very organized!) that has worked for me before and during my satisfying retirement. Since we are less than 2 weeks away, it is time for me to get started. See how closely this matches your approach.

Develop a budget

This is always first. Without knowing (or making an educated guess) 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. Once I know about any health insurance cost increases I start to get serious.

For most years I start with the goal of keeping overall expenses no higher than the year just ending. 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.

In some years, because of added expenses I will adjust the income by increasing the investment withdrawal rate to make the expenses work. Then, the following year we will adjust back down again to keep things in line. 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.

Betty starts Medicare next year so our medical categories can shrink a bit. As things often happen, any savings will be absorbed by higher real estate taxes and the likely need for a new car. 

Clean out my office

All old receipts and files are boxed up and moved into the attic. Next year will be the last year I am handling the wrap up of my parent's estate paperwork, though I will hold onto all the tax files forever. New files and envelopes are begun for 2019. 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 decorations

If 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 will not have the whole family at our house for Christmas this year there is much less than the normal amount of things to clear out. Once the lights and decorations are packed away, 2018 will be officially over.

Develop our vacation calendar

Betty and I usually discuss the next year's vacation plans each fall. We have a general idea of our budget and where we'd like to go. After our European River Cruise in May and a scheduled trip to take everyone to Disney World at the end of January, the coming year will have no additional vacation plans. Long weekends now and again will have to do. 

Betty has church commitments that keep her pretty busy on various projects each spring. This year I have volunteered to help so that will keep us close to home until June.

Purge the house & backyard area

Betty 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: the fewer plants to water and maintain the better.

Even though we had a big garage sale just last week, there are nooks and crannies in the garage and in several closets that need to be thinned out.

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. Off they go to the trash or Goodwill.

2019 may be the year I part with a few of my ham radios. For various reasons they are getting very little use. I should be able to sell them and allow someone else to enjoy them.

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?



  1. I don't do a budget other than to estimate yearly costs to make sure they are are not getting out of whack. Ideally I would like to see the estimate go down each year versus up as certain one time items (e.g. 0% motorcycle loan) get removed. I also like to find other ways to purge costs like a cheaper TV plan.

    Removing clutter is a year-round task that we never seem to get ahead of. But since we want to make a decision in the next few years about staying where we are permanently, downsizing, or going homeless completely, we need to get more organized in that area.

    Since we are on the road until mid-March there isn't much we can do anyways. And when we get back I have to aggressively finish taxes so it doesn't leave a lot of time for contemplating how we can do a better job in 2019 versus 2018. Sorry, Bob, but I'm not a lot of help on this particular topic. But I can wish you and your readers a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday season!

    1. I will clarify for readers your note of going "homeless." I imagine you mean either an RV or just living in different locations throughout the year with no permanent home. I know you well enough to know with absolute certainty that you will not be "homeless" in the usual sense of that word!!!

      Why is it that no matter how much we declutter through garage sales and donations, that the house, storage shed, and attic are still full? Does this stuff breed at night while we are asleep?

    2. Thanks for clarifying. Yes, homeless could mean the RV, but it could also mean literally homeless as in no address anywhere, and just travel within the timeshare and rental environments. We wouldn't have to worry much about clutter then, out of sheer necessity.

      Some of our clutter seems to propagate from the daily Amazon deliveries that Deb has coming to the house! Some of the readers of your blog may have a similar "problem".

  2. To start the year the big day at our house is New Year's Day when I have as many family and friends over as want to come. January 2nd is clean up day from January 1st and take down the Christmas decorations. Four days after that we leave for 3 months to our wintering grounds in Mexico. Any decluttering at home waits until long after the snow has left these parts.

    Similar to ChuckY when we get back at the end of March it's a rush to get our taxes done and in on time. I am thinking if we ever decide to stay longer than 3 months I'll overpay on my taxes deducted at source and then I can file late without penalty (they don't seem to mind if you are late filing and they owe you money).

    I don't do an annual budget but I do meet with our financial adviser each spring and fall to review how things are going and if we need to make any adjustments. I keep track of expenditures as we go along and vacations are usually planned at least a year in advance (Australia in October in 2019). The annual Mexico trip I don't think of as a vacation but rather just living somewhere else.

    After years of annual departmental budgeting and finishing out the year at work I like to think I am following the "Keep It Simple Sam" method in retirement. It works for us.

    1. If it works for you it is the best system. KISS is perfect.

      Yes, the IRS (or your Canadian equivalent) doesn't mind if you file late, as long as you send them the proper forms and don't owe anything. Funny how that works.

      I do my taxes in late March just because some of our investments seem to constantly send updated forms and I HATE filing an amended return. I do the same with my parents' estate tax filing, though I try to get the K-1s to my brothers as soon as I am comfortable the amounts are right.

  3. First for me comes the ritual of taking down the 2018 calendars and replacing them with 2019 calendars. (I am a fan of decorative wall calendars with art prints or photographs). After that comes my annual financial accounting. I always do this on New Year's Day. It involves looking at the final balances in last year's budget spreadsheet, comparing how much I spent with how much I budgeted, and then setting up the budget and spreadsheet for the new year.

    1. Nice...yes, there are some really attractive calendars that serve as wall art, too.

      My final step is carrying this year's box of receipts and papers up into the attic. Out of sight, out of mind. It is a new year.

  4. Like ddavidson, the new year starts with putting the holiday celebrations to rest including 2018 as the calendar/day timer are changed. This is a time of reflection as the previous year is reviewed/evaluated. I've developed the habit of choosing a word that sets my intention for the coming year. Last year, the word was SPACE. Planning is ongoing as necessary. There will be a new well and some new fencing in 2019. Hello budget hit! Budgeting happens at tax time. In this part of the world, snow means slow. Jan & Feb offer up a lull that leaves time for good books, movies, nesting in preparation for the spring rush. Bob, Merry Christmas to you and your family, including your readers.

    1. Today is the the Winter Solstice, so for us it is dark for 14 hours. Compared to folks, like you, in more northern locations that probably seems like no big deal. But, it is also the time of year when we leave our homes and come out from the "heat means slow" time of year. With today's high of 71 we will be walking the dog and having lunch on an outside patio with one of our daughters. Come May, we go into hiding again, just when you are hitting the nicest time of year!

      Thank you for your kind wishes. Right back to you, Mona. Betty and I wish you a peaceful, safe, memory-packed end of 2018.

  5. I'm not nearly as ambitious or productive! I go to my cabin for last days of the year and come home New Year's Day. On New Year's Eve, I sit in front of the fireplace and write two letters -- one to the year ending, thanking it for all its blessings, and one welcoming the new year. Then I burn both of them in the fire. This has been my ritual for many years.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and Betty and your family.

    1. I like the letter idea, especially the one for the year just past. If we only had a fireplace!

      Our very best to you, our dear friend. We love you.

  6. You and I share a similar approach, Bob, but with a few key differences. Most of my year-end financial tasks are put off until the actual start of the new year - or, at least, until after Christmas. If you have time to work on your budget in December, I think I know who is doing the gift buying, cookie baking and present wrapping in your house and I'm guessing it's not you! :) At the beginning of January, I'll start collecting our tax return documents and the financial info for our accountant. I've already scheduled our annual February appointment. I stopped doing our taxes some years ago when we acquired rental properties, realizing that it was time to pay for knowledge I didn't have. I'll also review the asset allocation of our investments and plan for any necessary adjustments. Our budget runs on auto-pilot until I crunch the past year's numbers in January; since that month tends to be a quiet one for us, I don't stress about not having the new budget in place on January 1st. Our major vacation planning for 2019 was completed early in 2018 and we'll start thinking about 2020 within the next few months. So, we seem to look out a little further than you and Betty do, at least for the big trips. I'm sure part of the reason is that I'm extremely picky about campgrounds and campsites, so I plan well ahead of time in order to get the exact reservations I want. One other difference between us is that our outdoor projects at this time of year consist of splitting firewood and, at times, plowing and shoveling snow. Our regular outdoor projects will have to wait until spring arrives here in the Northeast.

    Transferring birthdays, anniversaries and appointments to my new calendar (I often choose one with gorgeous photos of our National Parks), prepping the new budget, getting the past year's paperwork in order and stored appropriately - all of those tasks mark a traditional start to the new year for me. I love the feeling of a clean slate and can't help but wonder what wonderful adventures the new year will bring.

    Merry Christmas to you, Betty and your family, Bob, and best wishes for the year ahead!

    1. We do have a process of budget adjustments a few times throughout the year, brought about by increases in service charges (like Internet) and an obviously lower level of expenditures in other categories. So, what I determine in late December does have wiggle room for reality as the new year progresses.

      I don't envy you the snow chores. I was part of that world until my mid thirties, but don't miss one second of it. I still remember having to get the snow off the roof of a house in Cedar Rapids so it wouldn't collapse from all that weight, and digging out the mailbox so the post office could find it.

      The very best to you and yours, Mary, this holiday season.

  7. The budget is done here the first week of January. We wait until all of the previous year's bills are finalized and paid. We look at the market (which is in a melt down) and decide if we need to withdraw more (or less) for big expenses coming up. This year we are going on a large trip and reproofing the house. That is all drawn in. We do a rough on food. Our entertainment costs are will be minimal this year. The unexpected expense in 2018 was the number of fund raisers for our grands' schools!
    We also clean out the work rooms- sort and shred files over seven years old.
    We are always decluttering, but wait until winter to give away our heavier clothes and shoes. The shelters are happy to have them. Usually the third week in January.
    I try to plan out my trips to see my mother. Four times a year- but the stays are rather short. We have determined four days is about what we can afford. I restock, take to doctors, get the TV straight again, go through more family papers, chat until 1 am and then leave. Whew!
    And, saying all of that, we are both blessed to be able to plan another year with love.
    May the new year bring us all joy.
    Merry Christmas Bob.

    1. I have been at this long enough to pretty much ignore the market fluctuations. I am not about to sell at the bottom and we have the resources to wait out the silliness. Besides, I trust my advisor to guide me.

      The cable company just raised our Internet charges again, so it is time to switch to the competition in January. They offer similar speed for half the price, guaranteed for life. Of course, if their dependability doesn't live up to the hype I can switch back to the other people and get the new customer rate.

      Sometimes you just have to ask. I was unhappy with the amount we are paying for our newspaper. I called to cancel and they cut the rate almost in half for 6 months.

      Merry Christmas, Janette. Stay safe and happy.