Action Plan: Managing your money in December

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There are just 31 days in December, but the year-end spending can cause a money hangover that lasts well into 2012.

To help stay on course, here are some of the key dates and important money matters to keep an eye on this month.

DECEMBER

7: Medicare open enrollment – The period for selecting a Medicare plan ends. Consumers can learn more in “Understanding Medicare Enrollment Periods,” at http://www.medicare.gov/Publications/Pubs/pdf/11219.pdf .

16: Free shipping day – On Friday Dec. 16, more than 2,000 merchants will offer free shipping with delivery by Christmas Eve, see www.freeshippingday.com .

22: First day of winter ? Now’s not the best time to buy a winter coat. So if you must buy a coat, be sure to make the most of holiday sales and use shopping comparison websites to your advantage.

26: Ready to spend? ? Close out the holiday shopping season by taking advantage of after Christmas and year-end clearances.

31: New Year’s Eve ? Among your personal improvement resolutions for the coming year, be sure to vow to get your financial house in order.

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Also keep in mind:

? Be careful if you’re making year-end investing moves. If you buy a mutual fund in a taxable retirement account, be sure to purchase it after it has made any planned capital distributions. Otherwise you’ll owe Uncle Sam.

? Take the time to understand a store’s return policy if you’re shopping for gifts. Some stores tweak their policies to make them more lenient for the holidays.

? The holidays are a time for giving. But you’ll want to be sure that a charity is appropriately qualified before making a donation. Further guidance is available on the IRS website at http://tinyurl.com/36syn7 .