Make Presidents Day Worth It

I’m not one to complain about a holiday. A day off is a day off, and it’s healthy.

Though I have to say, Presidents Day isn’t one of my favorites.

To start, it’s in February and it’s usually too cold to do a holiday-type thing like firing up the grill. Football season is over, and there’s generally not much to watch on TV. And I don’t know about you, but I’m still worn out from Christmas with the extended family.

So, it usually ends up being a day to binge watch Netflix and get caught up on paperwork and not much else.

But beyond that… Presidents Day?

Before it was rechristened “Presidents Day” we used to celebrate George Washington’s birthday, and I was good with that. Every country needs iconic heroes as part of its founding story, and Washington is our guy.

He was our victorious general in the War of Independence, the only man to be unanimously elected by the Electoral College, and he set the precedent for limited executive power by retiring after two terms.

But do we really need a holiday to celebrate the lives of the other 44 sons of b*tches that have held the post?

There are so many worthwhile Americans whose lives we could celebrate. Generals, pioneers, explorers, astronauts, scientists, entrepreneurs, inventors, writers… even athletes or musicians. Any of these would be more worthy of a public holiday than the parasitic blowhards that have come and gone from the White House.

But I digress.

One nice aspect of Presidents Day is that it gives us a breather early in the year to think about our financial goals. We’re a month and a half into 2019, but we still have more than 10 months of the year left to go.

So, if your work, like the market, is closed today, here’s a to-do list of some smart financial moves you can make at home.

Revisit your 401k and IRA beneficiary form

I know this sounds about as exciting as watching paint dry, but this is important and you can knock it out in five minutes.

Most people don’t know this, but your IRA and 401k beneficiary forms are generally more important than your will and testament. Apart from perhaps your home equity, it’s likely that your retirement accounts are the most valuable thing you own. And the beneficiary designations you made when you opened the accounts take precedent over your will.

Let me explain. Let’s say you’ve been at your current job for 10 years and that you were married when you started the job. But two years in, life intervened. You got divorced and then found yourself remarried again a few years later but you forgot to update your 401k beneficiary form.

If you were to get hit by a bus today, your ex-spouse would inherit your 401k, regardless of what your will and testament says, leaving your new spouse with nothing. And there’s not a thing they could do about it. The law is very clear that the beneficiary forms associated with the retirement plan trump whatever your will says.

So… take a few minutes today to make sure your beneficiary designations are in good order. Your heirs will thank you.

Revisit your contribution levels

You didn’t think you were going to escape a financial planning article from me without my customary nagging to save more, did you?

As you might know, the 401k contribution limits were raised this year from $18,500 to $19,000 or from $24,500 to $25,000 if you’re 50 or older.

Really try to hit those numbers, or at least get as close as you reasonably can even if it means pushing yourself and forgoing a few small luxuries. Every dollar you stuff in the 401k is a dollar that is safe from the tax man, potentially for decades.

I eat my own cooking here. I maxed out my 401k last year, and I’m on pace to contribute the full $19,000 by September of this year.

Make this a priority. You’ll never miss whatever it was you were going to fritter your money away on.

Turn off your phone

I’m a workaholic, which, if I am to be honest, is no less unhealthy than any other addiction.

But I make a real effort to carve out time to spend with my kids and just be present, undistracted by work, the stock market or whatever else was on my mind that day.

For me, this usually means getting home around 5:30 p.m., spending a good two or three hours talking, playing and just generally being around my kids. Once they go to bed, I usually work for a few more hours before calling it a night. But the important thing is that the phone and computer get turned off during family time.

So, be respectful to your family and turn off your phone when you’re around them. No, don’t just turn the volume down. Turn it off, and preferably put it in another room. Remove the temptation to compulsively look at it.

Let’s be honest, whatever you were doing on your phone probably wasn’t important. But your family relationships are.

This Presidents Day is going to be a little different for my family. My oldest son is playing in a competitive international soccer tournament in Orlando. Win or lose, it should be a fantastic experience for him. But naturally, it’s a lot more fun to win, so wish him luck!