The holiday season is a great time to clean out your closet and donate your old, but still wearable, clothes to charity. As people pour into shelters to escape the winter cold, the need for clothes is ever-greater. This is also the time of year when many organizations sponsor major clothing collection drives. Here are a few tips for cleaning out the closet.

Clean Out the Closet in One Day
Some people recommend you set aside 15 minutes a day until the job is done. I’m more of a get-in-done-in-one-shot kind of person. It maye take a few hours, but then it will be done. Set a start time of around ten AM. Turn up the tunes, pour a warm beverage or some nog, then get to work.

Gather Boxes and Bags in Advance
The easiest way to clean is to set up two boxes: toss and give away. I usually leave the keepers on the hangers. If you have a lot of shelving, you may need a keeper box as a temporary holding spot. When a box gets full, either open another box or switch to paper or plastic bags.

Work Quickly
Don’t spend too long hemming and hawing over any particular item. You know what you haven’t worn in a year, what you don’t like, and what doesn’t fit. If your first instinct is to toss it, then toss it. If you’re first instinct is to keep it, then keep it – for now. You may want to take a bit of time determining whether something is a toss or a giveaway though. If it’s seriously worn or irreparably dirty, then toss it. If it’s just worn at the cuffs and hems but the zippers and buttons are still attached and there are no holes or major stains, then it’s worth donating.

Be Strict with Yourself
Unless it’s your wedding dress or another keepsake item that has sentimental value, don’t talk yourself into keeping an unworn shirt from three seasons ago just because you got a great deal on it. If you haven’t worn it, you never will. If it’s never fit, give it up. Most likely, it never will. You can, however, keep one pair of “skinny jeans.” No, not those horribly fashionable skin-tight jeans only supermodels could wear. I mean the pair of jeans that fit perfectly a few years ago, but are a little snug now. If you’re trying to lose weight, they may be the motivation you need to get in shape.

Be Careful with Shoes
When you’re throwing out shoes, check them carefully before putting them in the donation box. Charities usually can’t use shoes with worn out soles. Scuff marks are fine and broken laces are easy to replace, but toss them out if the sole is nearly worn through, the leather is broken, or there are holes in the top.

Clean the Shelves, Too
Once you get done with the hangers and the floor, make a sweep of the shelves. Reconsider the pile of old pillows stacked at the top, the stack of old purses you’ll probably never use, and various other items that get stuffed up there. Toss what you won’t use, but consider keeping all the free tote bags you’ve collected – they make great grocery bags. Either set them aside so you can transfer them to your car, or give them away so recipient families will have something to carry their “new” clothes home in.

Check the Other Closets and the Dressers
If you have a spouse or children, make the event a family affair. Children especially need clothes because they grow so quickly, and many shelters run low on children’s clothes due to hand-me-downs. If you don’t plan to have more kids, go through the clothes to find items suitable for donating. You should also ask your kids to sort through their toys. Something they no longer play with may make another child’s holiday if it’s in good condition. And what about garage storage? Look for canned goods, pots and pans that are in good condition, anything that can help a needy family get back on its feet. Once you start looking, you’ll find a lot of items you can give away. When I cleaned out my closet and dresser, I gave away four bags of clothes and shoes, and that was just me, not my husband.

Make a Final Check
Once you’re done, return to the closet one more time to see if there’s anything else you can part with. Now that you’re in full cleaning mode, you may be more willing to get rid of stuff.

Arrange for Pick-Up or Drop-Off
Finally, don’t let this stuff linger in your home or garage. Call a local church, St. Vincent de Paul, the Salvation Army, or a local homeless shelter to arrange for pick-up or drop-off. We’ve donated to both the Los Angeles Mission and Beyond Shelter, a local service that helps families rebuild their lives. If you have good winter coats, visit One Warm Coat to make your donation.

Anytime is a good time to clean out the closet. If you can’t do it before the holidays, consider it for early January. There will still be people in need during the harsh winter months. You might also consider making it an annual event, or even seasonally if you store your winter and summer clothes in the off-season.

As you go through the rest of your year-end financial wrap-up, it’s also a good time to take a look at your life insurance policy. Most people buy a 10 or 20-year term life insurance policy and then just forget about it, but you could be under-insured if your life has changed since you bought the policy.

When to Adjust Your Life Insurance
If you bought your life insurance more than a year ago, stop and ask yourself these questions:
1. Has my income greatly increased?
2. Have I had children?
3. Have I married or divorced?
4. Are my children independent adults?
5. Have I bought a new home or a second home?
6. Has my spouse returned to work or retired?
7. Have I returned to work or retired?
8. If I expect to receive a pension, has the pension policy changed regarding spouse benefits?

Changes to Income/Living Expenses
If you’ve received a small raise and nothing else has changed, then you probably don’t need to update the insurance policy, but if you’re income has increased 30-50% since you bought your policy, then it may be time to make a change. The general rule is to buy a policy worth at least five times your income, under the theory that spending and living costs increase as income increases. If you’re frugal, you might not need that much, but it’s a good rule-of-thumb. In other cases, you may need much more. For example, you may have moved into a larger house and now have a larger mortgage. You may want an insurance policy that will completely pay off that mortgage, instead of relying on the standard income rule.

Changes in Children’s Status
If you’ve had additional children or your children are no longer dependents, then your living expenses have undoubtedly drastically changed. If you have young children, you may need to increase the policy to ensure that their needs will be met. If you’re children are adults, then you may be able to scale back because you won’t need to provide for them.

Changes in Marital Status
If you recently married, you may need to increase your policy to provide for your new spouse and future children as well as any prior children. If you divorced and aren’t mandated to provide an insurance policy for your spouse as part of the agreement, then you may be able to reduce your policy. At the very least, update the beneficiaries to accurately reflect your new situation.

Changes in Employment Status
If you or your spouse has retired, see if your living expenses have gone down. If they have, then you can probably scale back the insurance policy. However, it may be worth keeping the policy if either of you is likely to require expensive medical care and your spouse will be left with large medical bills.

Changes to Pension Benefits
If you receive a pension that guarantees the same income to your spouse after your death, then you may not need a life insurance policy. Unfortunately, spouse benefits are frequently cut when companies look to contain pension costs. Check your current benefits for a spouse benefit, then adjust your life insurance accordingly.

If you haven’t made any life changes, it may still be worthwhile to see if you can get a better price for your policy. If you do need to make changes, contact your current insurer for a quote, then use a service like NetQuote to request competitive life insurance quotes before you make a change. The end of the year is a good time to do this, but you can update your life insurance policy anytime you experience a life change.

Once you’re done listing your accomplishments for your review, take a few minutes to update your resume. In this economy, it doesn’t hurt to have your resume ready. It also pays to have it in a good economy when a headhunter might call or a friend could clue you in to an excellent opportunity. Your resume should be in a constant state of readiness – but make you sure you prep it on your own time and on your own computer.

Fix the Format
Most resumes are emailed or entered into online forms these days. Although bullet points look lovely on a printed resume you bring to an interview, you should also save it as a text file that uses commas rather than tabs and hard line breaks rather than bullet points. In a text resume, everything will be flush left. As a final test, email it to a friend or a secondary email address to see how it appears once it’s gone through the intertubes. Edit it again to fix anything that produces odd characters.

Update Your Objective
I usually tailor my objective to the job I’m looking for, however you can have a general job objective on there as a reminder of your primary goal. Make it a stretch, but also incorporate your current skills.

Update Your Title and Dates
Update your titles and employment dates to reflect any promotions since you last updated your resume. If you’ve received several promotions, consider listing all of them on your resume to show your steady progression across a period of time. For each bump, indicate the initial responsibility you took on as part of the new job.

Highlight Accomplishments
Look at your review. Copy any of those accomplishments over to your resume. If you listed a specific client that may be subject to a non-disclosure agreement, delete the specific name. Instead write: “Developed a promotional strategy for a Fortune 500 company that resulted in a 10% increase in sales.”

Add Skills
Almost any job will result in additional skills. If you have a skills section at the end of your resume, add the additional tools, programs, or skills you’ve mastered, especially if they’re highly specialized to your industry and training someone in them requires a fee or time investment.

Update Your Education
If you’ve completed a degree or received certifications, update that section of your resume as well. You should also mention if you’re in the process of receiving a higher degree, like an MBA, with an expected graduation date.

Update Your LinkedIn
After you update your resume, update your LinkedIn profile to reflect your current title. I’ve seen people list responsibilities and accomplishments on their profiles, but I’m not sure I want to disclose all of that on a public internet format. I’d rather give an overview and then send a resume for follow-up.

Tackle the Salary History Question
There are three ways to handle the issue of salary history, which some prospective employers require for consideration. Personally, I hate applications that require a salary history, especially when you’re planning to change fields. That said, here’s how to handle the issue:

  • Prepare a second resume that includes salaries (also prepare a text version.)
  • Add a salary history only when requested.
  • Include a salary history in the cover letter, but not on the resume itself.

If you’re just updating your resume but don’t have immediate plans to submit it, leave off your salary. You don’t know how many raises you’ll receive between now and the time you actually look for a new job.

In addition to helping you prepare for new opportunities, having an updated resume may even help you keep your current job. During layoffs or mergers, some employees must re-interview for their jobs. You’ll be ready at a moment’s notice if you already have your resume updated.

Many companies conduct an annual review for each employee at year-end, while others do it at the hiring anniversary. If you have a review coming up soon, don’t wait until the day before to start planning. Start preparing now so you can sparkle when the day finally comes.

Pull Out Your Old Review
If you received a written assessment after your last review, pull it out now to review the items they said needed work. Make sure you’ve corrected those deficiencies. You should also check any goals they set for you, or you set for yourself. Have you accomplished them? If not, figure out why so you can explain at your review.

Write a Review Memo
Some employers ask their employees to write a review memo or do a self-review. Others simply poll supervisors and prepare the document themselves. Even if you aren’t required to write a review memo, do it anyway. As soon as your supervisor schedules the review, hand them your memo. It should highlight the following things:

Accomplishments. Did you save the company money? Bring in new business? Contribute to a team? Spearhead a project? Use as many hard numbers and facts as you can.

Goals. Did you meet or exceed any goals? Set new goals for yourself, but make them reasonable. This will hopefully guide your employer when they set annual goals. You should also set a challenge goal for yourself. Do you want to become a manager or team lead? Say so in your review and ask for guidance in achieving that goal.

Challenges. Were there any challenges that prevented you from meeting your goals? If they are personal challenges, detail how you will improve them. If you need additional staff or equipment, indicate that so they can include it in the budget.

Dress Professionally
Your review day is not the time to declare a personal casual day. You don’t have to wear a suit if you work in a casual office, but try to at least wear a slightly nicer shirt, jeans without holes, and real shoes (no flip-flops.)

Don’t Argue
If your boss indicates that you have a shortcoming, take it in stride and agree on a plan to improve it. Don’t pass blame, argue that it’s not your fault, or be combative. This should be a pleasant experience. If you don’t expect it to be pleasant, think about why that might be. Maybe it’s time to step up your game.

This year, your employee review could well be the thing that determines whether or not you’re included in lay-offs. Make sure you sparkle when the big day comes by starting to prepare for it now.

If you have a flexible spending account that operates on a calendar-year, then you need to make sure you’ve spent down the entire balance by December 31. Any funds left in the account will vanish on January 1. Here are some tips for spending down the balance in the last few weeks of the year.

Visit the Doctor, Dentist, Etc.
Co-pays and doctor fees qualify as flexible spending account expenses. If you’ll soon be due for a physical or need a dental check-up, eye exam, or anything else that involves seeing a medical professional, schedule those appointments to occur before December 31. School breaks are very popular times to take the kids to the doctor, so call to make your appointment now.

Buy Medical Supplies
Check your stock of contacts and order more, even if you won’t need them for a few months. This is also a good time to replace your glasses. You can also spend FSA funds on things like contact solution, bandages, OTC medications for allergies and other defined conditions. If you visit CVS, they print the total of eligible expenses at the bottom of the receipt. Use your CVS card so you can log-on to check the amount of eligible purchases.

See a Psychiatrist or Psychologist
The holidays can be stressful. If you’re feeling the need for therapy, squeeze in a couple of appointments before the end of the year.

Quit Smoking
If you’ve been wanting to quit, this is two ways to save money. Not only can you use FSA funds to pay for the program, but you’ll save money on future cigarette purchases. At $5-7 a pack, that adds up quickly.

Refill Prescriptions
Although most prescriptions can only be filled once every 30 days, you probably have time to fill each one at least one more time. Even if it’s a medication you don’t take frequently, refill it now to help draw down your balance.

Get Acupuncture or See a Chiropractor
Do you have allergies? Back pain? Stress? Many FSA programs cover acupuncture and chiropractic. See these specialists now to start treating your issues. I know from personal experience that both can be extremely effective for certain issues.

Thinking about LASIK?
If you have a lot of money left and have been thinking about LASIK, go for a consultation. If you qualify, and can fit in the appointment for the last week of the year, you’ll not only spend down the balance, but be able to receive treatment without missing a lot of work or taking additional vacation time.

Your plan may allow additional items, so review your limits carefully and then head to the nearest discount store to stock up medical supplies that qualify. Just make sure you don’t buy so much that it will expire before you can use it up.

If you have trouble spending down the balance, consider putting away less next year. Although it’s nice to be able to reduce your taxable by contributing to a flexible spending account, it doesn’t work in your favor if you lose the money at the end of the year.

Today’s post is a guest post from Peter at Bible Money Matters

For the better part of a year I’ve been blogging about frugality and finances. As a side-benefit of blogging about money, we’ve ended up paying pretty close attention to our family budget. Because of our planning and attention to detail we’re doing pretty well now. But it hasn’t always been that way.

A couple of years ago we were in a much different place. Our budget was non-existent. Every bit of income quickly turned around and became outgo. We weren’t doing all that poorly financially, but we had one big problem. We failed to make any sort of plan.

When we would discuss money, it was usually to try and figure out where all the money was going, and why we didn’t have any left. Those discussions usually disappeared as soon as the next paycheck arrived.

Right around the time that I started blogging I realized that we had never really paid attention to our money, that we had never discussed what our goals for our money were, and we had never made a plan.

Time to make a change

We enrolled in a class teaching about money at our church. It was a life changing experience. We started talking about money, and setting goals for our future. We did a full zero based budget and allocated all of our money before it even appeared in our bank account. We made a plan.

The plan that we made wasn’t a very good one to start. We underestimated how much we would need for certain spending categories, and gave too much to others. We still overspent in some areas.

I realized something however, during those times. A bad plan is better than no plan at all. It means you’re at least trying to turn things around, and make things better, instead of wallowing in apathy and indifference.

Steps to a change

If you’re just getting started on turning your finances around, here are a few steps that you can take, that will help you turn things around.

  1. Resolve to make a plan, and keep each other accountable.
  2. Do a monthly cash flow plan, and figure out how much money you need in all spending categories.
  3. Do a zero-based budget where you allocate every dollar of income, spending and saving, before it shows up in your bank account.
  4. If you need to, save an emergency fund.
  5. Pay off debt using a system like Dave Ramsey’s Debt Snowball.
  6. Save and build wealth.
  7. Give!

Remember a failure to plan is a plan to fail. Make a plan for your future and even if your first one isn’t a good one, at least you’re on your way to making a change, and changing your future.

Note from Aryn: I completely agree. I’ve always been a planner, but my husband came to it after we started dating. When we married, he became in charge of the daily bills while I did the taxes and investing. It was hard for me to not always know exactly how much money we had. Now that I know where to find our cash flow budget on his computer, I feel much better and we’re able to discuss our financial plans both big and small.

Today’s post is a guest post from Green Panda Treehouse.

How many times have you heard ‘read the fine print’? Sometimes we hear things so many times it becomes white noise. With credit cards, though, not reading the fine print can cost you a good amount of money.

“With more than a billion cards in our wallets, we floated some $937 billion in outstanding credit-card debt as of last November, according to the Federal Reserve. The average card-holding household has $9,659 in credit card debt, up from $2,966 in 1990.”

Source: Time Magazine

Make sure you’re not being charged an annual fee.
Why should you be charge a fee for owning a credit card? There are many credit cards out there that have no fee. Call your credit card company and see if they can waive it.
Saving with no annual fees: $29-$89

Review all the fees for the card. How much are late fees? When are payment due? You may have the payment delivered to them by the right day, but they might consider it late if it comes past their cut off time, which can be 12noon.
Savings on late fees: $25-$35
Savings on over limit fees: $29-35

Know your interest rate after the introductory period.
No interest rate lasts forever and the average interest rate is 14.7 %.  Check your last few statements to see if they changed any of the rates or fees, since they can do this. USA Today report how surprised one man was about his rate:

“Tommy Newsom was shocked when his bank nearly doubled his credit card interest rate this year, to 27%, for no apparent reason. A customer rep told him the law allowed the bank to do so, and that was all the justification it needed.
‘I never missed a payment,’ says Newsom, 63, of Mesquite, Texas, who owes about $5,000 on the card.”

Source: USA Today

It doesn’t hurt to call and see if credit card customer service department can lower your interest rate.

See if your credit card company charges you to make over the phone payments.
Some credit card companies make some money is by charging you $15 to receive a payment over the phone. Try to mail/send your payments a week early. If  you have to pay $15 to avoid $39 or higher, though, suck it up and pay the fee.

Know exactly how the rewards program works. If you have cash back or flier miles reward card, make sure you are maximizing its full potential. Sometimes you find that the card costs more than the credit card rewards they give.

How do you handle credit cards? Pay in full each other or carry a balance?

Note from Aryn: I was raised not to carry a balance, but had two situations in my life where I ended up with credit card debt. Both were of the “starving student” variety and I worked hard to pay them off as quickly as I could. My goal is to never carry a balance ever again.

Today features a guest post from Living Almost Large. She has an interesting perspective on relationships and money – something we should all consider before we walk down the aisle.

Hi I’m LAL from LivingAlmostLarge and LAL Musings. I am a twenty-something DINK writing who writes about personal finance and everything else. I am searching for true financial freedom and the ability to one day “Live Large”. I recently hosted the Carnival of Personal Finance, Festival of Frugality, and Fabulous Festival, check them out. Also I’m looking for guest posts in December so please contact me at livingalmost at gmail dot com!

I wanted to write about relationships and finance. Personally I didn’t have to deal with the stress of finding someone financially compatible. I met my DH at 20, and all I was interested in was a cute body, fun to party with, and a sense of humor. If I had to do it now though?

Money – Deal breaker?

How big a deal breaker is money in a relationship? When does it become a deal breaker if it is? Does it matter more to women or men? I think money can be a deal breaker. I also believe that money itself shouldn’t be the deal breaker but rather a person’s relationship and values with money is the true deal breaker. But how do you decide if money’s a deal breaker?

First, while I believe being debt free I realize that’s not necessarily how some people live. Thus the most important thing in a relationship is whether you are on the same page financially? Do you agree about how to spend and save money? I relate it to being comfortable with a person’s religion. Do you respect their values or share them? Can you live with their values for the rest of their lives if they never change? How a couple compromises really is the deciding factor in how a marriage/relationship will work. If you cannot come to a compromise or have shared values then it’ll never work.

Second, if you are incompatible financially is one person willing to change? Does the person in debt and irresponsible with money want to change for themselves? Or are they doing it for you? Perhaps debt is a deal breaker to you, but will the person changing really not resent the change?

Third, does the type of debt help? Does a person who only has student loans seem more acceptable than someone in credit card debt, car loan hell, and collections? Or is it all the same? I believe that the type of debt can play a role in deciding if it’s a deal breaker. If you meet someone at 25, they are more likely to still have student loan debt. However at 35 or 45? Perhaps student loan debt might seem more unacceptable.

Fourth, are the spenders in a relationship changing? Perhaps someone is $100k in debt from student loans, cars, and credit card; but if they are working to pay it off and have reformed their spending habits does it matter? Is money and debt still a deal breaker or are their new values and habits enough? I don’t believe you can easily disregard the change in attitude and values.

Finally, I’ve only talked about debt, but what about income? Does it matter if a woman earns more than the man? Should it? Is it a deal breaker? I think that unfortunately this is one of the bigger and more biased deal breakers. Many women want the option of staying at home, thus they are looking for men able to “bring home the bacon”. Thus while it shouldn’t matter what a person earns, in many cases it can and does influence the relationship.

By the way this is only applicable if you are old enough to have a conversation about money and reason out these judgments. If you are 18, it’s likely money and values won’t be what drives a relationship!

Note from Aryn: I wholeheartedly agree. I was in my mid-twenties when I met my DH. By that point, I was looking for someone who had a decent head for money. He wasn’t yet completely stable, but I could see the potential. We’ve grown together over the years and now usually agree about the major money things, even if we’ll always have core differences in some of our financial views. We’ve learned to compromise and agree on the big goals, and that’s what matters.

Personally, I didn’t think Cyber-Monday was that big a deal this year. Everyone I know who shopped online did it on Black Friday, when the online retailers were also offering deals. Nevertheless, this week’s blog carnivals include an event in honor of the pretend shopping day (pretend in the sense that Cyber-Monday was PR move created three years ago.)

First, the Carnival of Personal Finance hosted by Mighty Bargain Hunter. In addition to my post asking the timeless question: To gift card or not to gift card, I also recommend The Happy Rock’s tale of his single Black Friday experience.

Second, the Festival of Frugality #154 hosted by Living Almost Large. In addition to my post about making your holiday wish list to save other people money, I also recommed I’ve Got a Little Space to Fill’s handmade gift ideas.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of this blog’s launch. In that time, I’ve made 305 posts. I’ve also seen traffic grow from 400 visits a month to 22,000 visits a month. In my personal life, I’ve paid off nearly $40,000 in debt, discovered CVSing, changed the way I grocery shop to incorporate more foods from the farmer’s market and less from my local supermarket, and abandoned all hope of losing that last three pounds.

I’m sure I’ve had some good posts and some bad ones over the last year. Here are a few of my favorite posts (and yours, too, judging by the traffic):

7 Homemade Christmas Gifts That Don’t Suck

10 Ways to Prepare for a Depression

That Makes Me Stabby: The General Motors Bailout

The Case for Frugality: Now and Forever

Is a Frugal Lifestyle Always Environmentally Friendly?

I’ve also attracted my first advertiser in the past year. I’d like to welcome ING Direct to this blog. You’ll notice their lovely banner ads. I’m thrilled they asked to be added to the site. I’m a big fan of them, as I’ve mentioned in the past. We will soon be transferring our cash cushion from the checking account to one of their awesome Orange Savings accounts.

And now, as I look forward to my second year posting on Sound Money Matters, I’d like to know what you want to see more of. Do you want more discussion posts? More stabby posts? More money-saving tips?  Tell me and I’ll do my best to offer it.

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