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Your Complete Year-End Financial Checklist

Finance

Can you believe 2018 is almost over?! At the end of each year, it’s a good idea to take a look back at your finances. If you set goals at the beginning of the year, have you met them? Are you in a stable place financially? Or are there areas where you could improve? Take a look through this checklist to get a complete snapshot of your finances before the calendar flips.


Debt

One of the first areas of your finances you should look at is your debt. How much progress did you make with your debt this year? Or did you add to it rather than subtract from it? If you haven’t yet, go through and record how much you owe and to where (credit cards, student loans, etc.). Keep the list somewhere safe. At this time next year, you can compare where you are. If you didn’t make as much progress as you would have liked this year, why not? Do you have a debt repayment plan? Should you make adjustments to it? Checking in on your debt can help position you for a stronger repayment approach in the new year.

Retirement Savings

Checking in on your retirement at the end of the year is also wise. Most online platforms allow you to check your plans growth. Use this to look back at where you were at the beginning of the year. How has your money grown? Are you contributing as much as you can? Are you getting the maximum match from your company? Where do you want to be by the end of next year? Because retirement savings plans use compound interest, the more you save earlier on, the better off you’ll be down the line.

Emergency Savings

Another critical area to check in on is your emergency savings. Having 3-12 months of necessary living expenses saved up is ideal. This way, should the unexpected happen, you’ll be financially prepared. If you don’t have 3-12 months worth of expenses saved up, what adjustments do you need to make to start saving more? If you aren’t prioritizing contributing to your emergency savings, you may need to make changes elsewhere in your budget. Life happens, and getting caught without emergency savings can be incredibly detrimental.

Budget

How did your budget hold up this year? Did you even keep a monthly budget? If you haven’t been keeping a budget, now’s the time to start. If you have been, review whether it’s still working for you. Many people look at keeping a budget as a daunting task, mostly because it involves math. However, the math is simple addition and subtraction – what’s coming in versus what’s going out. And you don’t need a fancy software program or smartphone app to keep a budget. All you need is a pen and paper.

Your Estate

Thinking about estate planning can be difficult. Additionally, many people believe they are too young, or that estate planning is only for the wealthy. Neither of these is true. Estate planning is important because it ensures that your assets will be distributed the way you would like and to whom you would like. If you haven’t created a will, you may want to consider it. If you do have a will, the end of the year is an excellent time to review it to ensure it is still accurate and suited to your wishes.

Future Financial Goals

The last thing you should check off your list for the year is your list of future financial goals. If you came into this year with goals, check on your progress. Did you achieve any of your goals? Have you made as much progress as you’d hoped? After gauging how you’ve done on preexisting goals, think about what new goals you may want to set. Perhaps you’re looking to pay off your student loans, buy a house or go on a nice vacation. Once you’ve established a goal (or several), plan out the steps you’ll take to achieve it. Smaller, actionable objectives – such as paying off your highest interest credit card first – will help keep you motivated and allow you to build to those bigger goals. Writing your goals down can also be helpful. Putting pen to paper helps solidify your desire to accomplish it and can help hold you accountable.

The end of the year is a time when many of us reflect on the past 12 months. You can channel that sense of reflection to look back on your finances as well. What did you accomplish financially this year? What could you improve upon in the year ahead? Examining each facet of your financial situation as the year comes to a close will give you a complete snapshot of your money. You will also be better suited to make goals for the coming year. End this year – and start the next – feeling confident in your finances.

4 Min Read
Health

Self-defense From A Former Woman International Protection Agent

What would you do if you felt physically or emotionally threatened in some way? Do you trust your ability to escape a dangerous situation without harm? Would you remain calm and grounded, responding if needed in an appropriate way, or do you fear you'd panic — making a frightening situation worse?

The ability to respond to danger and protect yourself both physically and mentally from violence and fear is a valuable life skill. Especially in these times of uncertainty, protest, and unrest, simply knowing you have the tools to respond in the case of a physical or mental assault can bring peace of mind and boost your self-confidence — even if you never have to use them.

Especially in these times of uncertainty, protest, and unrest, simply knowing you have the tools to respond in the case of a physical or mental assault can bring peace of mind and boost your self-confidence — even if you never have to use them.

As a former US Secret Service agent and international protection professional, I co-led a team protecting top Colombian officials including the president at a time when Colombia was nicknamed "the kidnap capital of the world." Its government was in the throes of a bloody war with guerilla and terrorist groups. Three Americans had just been kidnapped and the State Department had issued an alarming Level 3 (Orange) Travel Advisory. I have worked undercover, had a bounty placed on my head, and kept a watchful eye on drugged-up thugs on the streets of countries such as Haiti, Peru, and Colombia. High-profile individuals I've protected include members of the Versace family, Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and the grandchildren of President George H. W. Bush. I talk about all this in my memoir The Protector: A Woman's Journey From the Secret Service to Guarding VIPs and Working in Some of the World's Most Dangerous Places.

It wasn't often that I needed to use the self-protection skills I'd been trained in — although when I did have to, I was beyond grateful I learned and practiced them, tirelessly. But as one of the tiny minority of women in this male-dominated field, I am thankful for the sense of peace and empowerment that simply having these skills, and the ability to stay calm amid danger, gave me. My personal motto is, "prepare for the worst, hope for the best."

Doing so requires not just physical toughness but also mental toughness, a skill I now help people build in my second career as a psychologist. Although in an ideal world, nobody would ever find themselves facing threat or danger, here are the basic steps I recommend you take in order to protect yourself physically and mentally in uncertain, frightening times and for all times:

Learn your surroundings to notice when something is out of place (e.g. it's 90 degrees outside and there is somebody walking around your neighborhood in a long winter coat). Make "surroundings checks" a habit, almost like a game, taking mental note of anything unusual that has changed. This will help prevent you from being caught off guard.

"Prepare for the worst, hope for the best."

Learn five self-defense moves. You do not need to have a black belt in martial arts to effectively protect yourself and boost your self-confidence. Take a weekend self-defense class and learn just five techniques. Then, practice them until they are natural and are part of your muscle memory. There are many excellent techniques to choose from, including knife and/or gun takeaways, getting yourself out of a choke hold, and breaking someone's nose with a palm strike.

Choose the lens through which you look at things. When you notice you are starting to panic or become scared, focus on acting, not thinking. For example, shift from "Oh my gosh, I don't know what to do…" and freezing in the process, to telling yourself, calmly, "I am going to get myself out of this situation, NOW!" and acting. Always tell yourself you can do something — it could be a matter of life or death.

Focus on your physical fitness. This is the key to both mental and physical health, and for mental and physical preparedness in any situation. When you are strong and fit, physically, you are more self-confident and likely to respond with clarity and, if needed, strength and speed.

You do not need to have a black belt in martial arts to effectively protect yourself and boost your self-confidence.

Find your voice. Voice is a stun technique that can buy you 2 to 4 seconds that you need to either run or disorient your attacker. If someone is making you uncomfortable — for example, by walking close behind you on the street for quite a while — turn around, put your hand up, signaling, "stop", and scream, "stop!" Then, run. Oddly, people are embarrassed to do this. Don't be! It will stun your attacker and buy you valuable time.

Meditate. Meditation is proven to reduce stress, decrease fear and anxiety, boost positive mood, and promote emotional health and self-esteem. Do it! It will serve you well in any stressful situation.