Staying (Financially) Fit Over the Holidays

With Halloween only 12 days away, we are officially in the holiday season. This is my favorite time of year, and I understand the temptation to let work slide as I give into the distraction of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and vacation.

But holiday season coincides with year-end and, for businesses, this needs to be a time of focus. Just as it's easy to undo months of dedicated diet and exercise with the wild abandon of the holidays, it's easy to let your business financials slip at the time when you really need them at their peak.

Here are a few common bookkeeping issues we see in Q4 year after year, and how to avoid them.

Missing Deductible Expenses

Christmas GiftsThe holidays are a great time to let loose and be more sociable with co-workers, clients, and referral partners. But just as you lose count of how many calories you're taking in, you can lose track of the money you're spending. Not only can this result in overspending, of course, but you can also be missing out on deductible expenses that will save you money in just a few months at tax time.

Perhaps you're planning an office Christmas party for your staff. Not only would those expenses be deductible, even food purchased for a potluck, but any staff appreciation gifts you'd like to hand out, as well. The same goes for client or vendor appreciation gifts. (If you have someone external doing your books, be sure they're asking about purchases for things like massage gift cards and fruit baskets, and recording them as business expenses, not draw activity.)

Many networking groups hold a special holiday party. Not only would any food and drink you purchase for that be deductible, but also mileage to the event. If you're having trouble keeping up with your mileage, something as simple as a mileage log (free to download here) in your vehicle or as sophisticated as an app can do wonders to help you track that.

Whatever you do, be sure you're keeping proper record of your business expenses, even while you party it up.

Falling Behind on Bookkeeping

Christmas TravelBetween parties, travel, and employees being out sick from all the germs they picked up partying and travelling, it's easy for certain tasks to get a bit behind in the later part of the year. However, bookkeeping is not like cleaning the house; you can't just plan to catch it all up at once. If I don't clean my house for a month, it's not that much more difficult, proportionately, than if it's not cleaned for a week. Bookkeeping doesn't work that way. If your bookkeeping takes four hours a month and you fall three months' behind, you now have twelve hours worth of bookkeeping to do. (And finding twelve hours for a task you like is difficult enough; imagine trying to find half an entire day to dedicate to a task you dislike.)

Many business owners who find themselves in the position of staring down months of untouched financials make the decision to get some outside help, just to catch things up. The problem is that they're in good company. Beginning in November, professional bookkeepers get very busy with new clients who are hoping to get their books cleaned up for year-end. Not only is there an influx of new clients, but existing clients continue to need service, and we're busy getting all of their year-end documents ready as well. Many of my friends who work solo or operate smaller firms do not take on any new work during this time of the year.

If you aren't certain that you'll be able to keep up with your financials on your own during the holiday season, begin seeking assistance now, before you get too busy.

Not Preparing for Next Year

(NOTE: If you are one of those people who files an extension out of habit, this is for you.)

Get Fit NowYou may not realize it, but there is a lot you can be doing right now to get ready for next year's tax season.

Just like you don't have to wait to make a New Year's resolution to start getting fit, you don't have to wait for January 1st to start getting your books in shape for tax season. For starters, you can be preparing for the January payroll reporting rush. In the chaos of year-end, many business owners forget that 1099s and W-2s are due at the end of January, and not in April. To prepare, you can be sure that you have W-9s, W-4s, and any required state tax documents on hand now, instead of trying to get them from workers later. (This is especially true of 1099 contractors, as they may work for you for a much shorter season and can be harder to track down later.)

If you have been using an outsourced payroll system, be checking now to ensure that the payroll reports in your financials match those provided by the vendor. Sometimes errors do occur, and you will need to alert the payroll company right away if their totals are incorrect. (Like bookkeepers, they are getting very busy this time of year, too.)

You want to check to make sure that your sub-ledger totals, such as your Accounts Receivable and Accounts Payable, match your General Ledger balances. You also want to be sure that you are up-to-date on any reconciliations.

Finally, it's a good idea to take some additional tax-sheltering steps. For example, if you had a good year and are cash-basis, consider making a large business purchase in December instead of January, to reduce your taxable income. Or maybe you have not been paying enough into your withholdings or your quarterly estimated self-employment taxes, and need to increase those in December. There are many options available to you, but you need to act now.

Fortunately, you still have some time to make the most of your holiday season. Stay on top of your books as you go, and you will have a restful and relaxing January (at least compared to everyone who didn't put in the work during December). If you need help, we are always available.