Sometimes the January doldrums hit hard: you’re broke from holiday shopping and stuck inside due to cold weather. Why not make the most of this month by finishing some important—and free—tasks.
1. Donate items to the thrift shop. You received new gifts in December, why not share something with those less fortunate? There are hundreds of thrift shops in this area, and many give you donation receipts for tax purposes. Check with your local church or hospital, or look up Goodwill in the phone book. Even if you don’t get a receipt, keep track of when and what you donated, and ask your tax accountant about using it towards deductions for charitable contributions.
2. Check your credit report. I know, it isn’t very exciting, but these days checking your credit report is a necessity. Fortunately, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) established the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which “requires each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies--Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion--to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months.” You can check each of the three major credit tracking companies for free once a year at annualcreditreport.com. You can also request reports over the phone at 1-877-322-8228 or by printing out a form from the website and mailing it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. I suggest checking one in January, one during spring daylight saving and once during autumn daylight saving. Alphabetically is the easiest way to remember: Equifax in January, Experian in March, and TransUnion in November. A caveat: don’t confuse annualcreditreport.com with freecreditreport.com. The FTC states that “only one website is authorized to fill orders for the free annual credit report you are entitled to under law.” You may have seen freecreditreport.com’s commercials, but they are not free. They charge your credit card about $12 a month to “monitor” your reports.
3. Go through your files. Even if you don’t like to file, there’s nothing like purging old papers to start the new year right. You’ll be amazed at how much space you will have left for new files once you are finished. Budget two hours per file drawer. Review memorabilia and old resumes and be honest with yourself: are you really going to need this in the future? Studies show that 80% of papers filed are never viewed again. Shred old documents yourself, or attend this year’s “GO Event” on February 7. Find details at www.napo-gpc.org.
4. Use your gift cards. You shopped for everyone else in December; January is time to shop for yourself! Many people save gift cards and gift certificates until they are forgotten or lost. Keep your gift cards in a visible place, such as your bulletin board, refrigerator, dresser, or valet. Schedule times to use them in your datebook: “January 10, 9 am - Shopping for Me!” Winter is a great time have a date night and use your restaurant and movie gift certificates. Some stores even give you cash back if you use most of your gift card.