Where I live, at pretty high northern latitude, and close to the most easterly point in the continental United States, the days have gotten very short, and the snow is falling. As we approach the New Year, it’s a good time to reflect for a few minutes; review the highs and lows of 2015, and begin to plan for what is likely to occur in 2016.
None of us have a crystal ball, and life definitely tends to interfere with the best of plans (as poet Robert Burns once said, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice and men Gang aft agley, and leave us naught but grief and pain…”). Nonetheless, as the immortal Yogi Berra once put it, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”
So with the cautions from Mr. Burns and Mr. Berra in mind, lets take a moment to reflect on this past year’s lessons, and try and learn what they teach us for the future.
Worry is mostly wasted mental energy.
As a very smart lawyer and former boss once told me, most worrying is simply wasted mental energy. If you’re gnawing over something that’s already happened, stop! (Unless there’s something you can do now about it.) If you are worrying about something that is coming up, are you as prepared as you can be? If not, figure out what you can do to get more prepared, then stop worrying. Worrying is only useful if it prompts you to take some action NOW to improve your situation.
Separate Your Finances!
Unless you are not sure whether you and your partner will separate, the first of the year would be a great time to start separating your finances. Step one is to set up a solo checking account, debit card and credit card that is solely in your name. Step two is to transfer your daily finances from any joint accounts into your sole account. Step three is to remove yourself from any situation where your partner can incur credit or other obligations that you will be partially responsible for.
There Are Never Too Many Hugs for Your Kids
Even when they are surly teenagers, and don’t seem to appreciate it (or perhaps, most importantly then) your kids will always want your approval and signs of affection. Sometimes a quick hug from a parent, for no particular reason at all, is one of the nicest things you can do. Of course, this is also true for current partners as well!
Grace Notes – Your Former Partner or Spouse.
George H.W. Bush was a master at the art of the thank you note. Unless you are totally disengaged from a former partner, New Year’s Day is a great time to send a thank you note. Come on, there is something positive you can recognize and appreciate! Never miss a chance to recalibrate this relationship in a positive way.
A distinguished lecturer for the Kids First program has me on a couple of occasions that “fake it until you make it” is one of the most important mantras for newly separated co-parenting partners. Even if your inner self is crying out to respond to another sarcastic comment with an equally cutting rejoinder, where does that actually get you? It just lowers the discourse one level for everyone. If trust has eroded between you and a former partner, for whatever reason, it may take multiple attempts at taking the high road before your efforts are reciprocated.
Plan Ahead – Year Long Scheduling
This is especially important if you are co-parents! Pretend you work for a company that requires you to submit your yearly vacation schedule in January. If you know exact dates, GREAT. IF not, you can at least pencil in what you know now; i.e. “I’m not exactly sure when, but I want to go with the kids to Niagara Falls and Ontario for a week in July. I’ll get you exact dates when I have them. Can you please check and make sure their passports will still be valid then? If not, I’ll work on renewing them.”
If you go to this effort, it is not unreasonable to ask your co-parenting partner to do the same! Sketching out the year now will prevent unpleasant surprises later, which almost always escalate conflict.
Now is the time to think about 4/15/2017.
The only things certain about life are death and taxes. With the exception of a contribution to an IRA, which you can do up until you file your taxes of 4/15/16, whichever comes first, it is too late to do much tax planning for 2015. However, tax planning for 2016 should start on January 1. Do you work for a company that has a 401(k) match? If so, not taking full advantage of it is leaving money on the table!
Remember that alimony payments are deductible to the payor, and income to the payee. If you are the payee, no one is withholding estimated tax payments for you.
Hard as it may be, you will be happier in the long run if you put money aside each payment period so you won’t be scrambling in April 2017.
Is Your Glass Half Empty or Half Full?
Finally, cultivate an optimistic outlook. Both good and bad things happen to us all, BUT you, your kids, and your partner and friends will all be happier and better off if you can celebrate the good thing wholeheartedly, and not whine about the bad things! We all learn most from our mistakes and misfortunes, and we are all better off when we are able to treat them as learning experiences! Easier said than done, I know…
See you next year! Lets be careful out there, especially on 12/31.