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Wealth Column: How to be financially responsible this fall

The days are getting shorter and the summer heat is beginning to die down now that Labor Day weekend is upon us.

Soon enough we'll be bombarded by pumpkin spice everything, Halloween decorations and holiday gifts will be stacked on the shelves of stores far before we're ready to purchase them. With this weekend being the unofficial start of fall, we thought we'd put together a few ways you can stay financially responsible this fall.

Plan Ahead for Holiday Shopping

So back to those gifts. It will be time for holidays before we realize and the more prepared you are for that shopping season, the more likely you are to save money in the long run. We suggest taking some time in the coming weeks and creating a list of items you need buy in the next few months. Then as sales pop up throughout the fall, slowly chip away at your list. This can not only save you from overspending on items at the last minute, but can also allow you to take advantage of savings throughout the end of the year.

Consider End of Year Tax Obligations

The end of the year brings with it lots of tax obligations, which if left unmet, can be very expensive. One of the biggest of these is your required minimum distributions on any tax-deferred retirement account. If you forget, you'll owe the IRS a 50 percent penalty for any unclaimed required minimum distributions. That means, if your required minimum distribution is for $5,000 this year and you forget to take out the last $1,000, you'll owe the government $500, not including the income tax owed on those withdrawals. And if you forget to take the whole $5,000 out, well then you owe Uncle Sam $2,500 and that's a tough pill to swallow.

If you have required minimum distributions left to take this year and you don't need the money, consider making a qualified charitable distribution with that leftover required minimum distribution. Not only will you be able to help out a charitable organization of your choice, but you'll be able to get a tax benefit from the process as the distribution sent as a donation is tax exempt. This can be complicated so be sure to consult with your tax preparer or adviser.

Turn Down the A/C

Fall is that magical time of year when, depending on where you live, you may be able to turn off the air conditioning without needing to immediately turn up the heat. But, when it is too cold to leave the furnace switched off, we recommend turning it down just by a degree or two from what you're used to an adding a sweater instead to keep your electricity bill down throughout the fall and into the colder months.

Prepare Your Home for the Winter

Yes, we know you probably don't want to think about winter yet, but doing so early could save you big time on home repair bills, especially if you live in cooler states. Take a look around your home and be sure you don't have cracks, leaks or airways open to the outdoors where water could build up or warm air could leak out. Spend some time cleaning out the gutters after leaves fall, check the roof for loose or missing shingles that could lead to a leak and have your furnace serviced. All of these items can help you be more confident that you'll be able to weather the coming seasons without any major repairs and their corresponding price tags.

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