The December To-Do List

Holidays are often a welcome break from the busy nature of everyday life, but there's still a lot to do before they arrive. In addition to preparing your home for freezing temperatures, there are gifts to coordinate, resolutions to list and parties to attend. That doesn't even include your end-of-year workload in the office! December is overwhelming if you're not careful, but this checklist will keep you on top of your game:

1. Check Insulation

A poorly insulated home leaks warmth and increases your heating bill. Check the attic to make sure you have enough - heat rises, and you can lose a lot of warmth here if you're not careful. If you don't know how much you need, have a professional insulation contractor, HVAC specialist, or even an air conditioning service perform an evaluation. The results will tell you if you have enough insulation to get through the winter, if you need to add a layer or two or if you need to replace a moldy area.

Don't forget to insulate any exposed water pipes - a burst is the last thing you want to take care of this winter. Find insulation that matches the diameter of the pipe you plan to cover, then cut it to the right length. Separate the insulation at the seam, then cover the pipe so the seam faces down. Secure the insulation with tape, clamps, or wire.

2. Drain Water Faucets

If you live in a colder climate, you probably won't use your outdoor faucets this winter, so go ahead and drain the water from them. Find the shutoff valve for each faucet, close it, then open the faucet on the outside. Return to the shutoff valve, place a bucket under it and open the bleeder cap to drain the pipe. Don't forget to disconnect and drain the garden hose.

3. Clear Away Snow

Keep your household safe by clearing away snow after it finishes falling. Stock up on snow shovels, sturdy boots and gloves. Have some ice-melting products on hand, but be sure to read any warnings on the label. Many have chemicals that are toxic to pets. Use a broom to clear snow off tree branches so the weight doesn't cause them to collapse, and look for any ice dams on your roof. These frozen patches might leak into your house once they melt. If the job is particularly tricky or hard to reach, call a snow removal service instead of attempting it yourself.

4. Check Your Chimney

Conduct a chimney inspection before using your fireplace to make sure it's free of debris from animals and doesn't have too much soot or creosote. The latter substance forms when a fire doesn't get enough oxygen and emits a copious amount of smoke as a result. The unburned tar vapors condense inside the chimney flue, creating a fire hazard. Keep in mind that artificial logs create more creosote than wood ones, so you should check your chimney frequently when using them. If the creosote buildup is greater than 1/8 inch thick, schedule a chimney cleaning soon. If the buildup reaches 1/4 inch, don't use your fireplace until it's been thoroughly cleaned.

5. Order and Mail Gifts

Now that your home is prepared for winter, you can focus on the upcoming holidays. The most pressing issue is often getting gifts out on time. The holidays are the busiest time of year for delivery services, and since Christmas is on a Sunday this year, things are a little more complicated than normal.

The USPS will not run Sunday, Dec. 25 or the following Monday. Similarly, no UPS services will run on or the day after Christmas. If you want to use UPS 3 Day Select service, you have until Monday, Dec. 19 for delivery before Christmas. The delivery deadline for 2nd Day Air packages is Wednesday, Dec. 21. You can ship Next Day Air packages both Dec. 22 and 23. If you choose the latter date, select the Saturday Delivery option to make sure your package is delivered by Dec. 24. Note that shipping prices increase with faster delivery, so waiting until the last minute could force you to pay more than you anticipated.

FedEx SameDay is the company's only service scheduled to deliver on Christmas. Certain FedEx Express services will deliver on Saturday, Dec. 24, but senders will incur a $16 fee for each package. Packages sent via FedEx Express must be received by Friday, Dec. 23 for Saturday delivery. Neither FedEx Home Delivery nor FedEx Ground will deliver that weekend. You'll have to consult with a local office to find out the delivery schedule for your area.

Online retailers vary in terms of delivery deadlines, so make sure you check each purchase before the holiday weekend to ensure your gifts arrive on time. For your own peace of mind, it's smart to have everything ordered by Dec. 18.

5. Plan New Year's Eve

Whether you want to go out and live it up or stay in and enjoy an evening at home, plan your New Year's Eve ahead of time so you can have fun without any worry. Find out which night clubs are throwing the best dance parties or book a reservation at a great French restaurant. Alternatively, hold a dinner party with fine wine and a beautiful floral centerpiece. If you want a low-key evening, order in from your favorite takeout place and use a delivery app to bring it straight to your door. You're likely to consume some champagne this night, so stay safe and don't drink and drive. Have the number of a cab service in your phone, ready to go when you need it.

6. Check Your Insurance Policy

Most insurance plans have deductibles that reset at the beginning of the year. If you've met or are close to meeting yours, try to schedule any last-minute medical care you've been putting off. Otherwise, depending on your plan, you'll have to pay for certain procedures partially or completely out of pocket come January.

Individual policies vary in terms of deductibles, copays, and coinsurance - for example, your health insurance plan might have a $30 copay for annual physicals and a $1,500 deductible for services like CAT scans, surgery, and physical therapy. Check each of your policies - health, vision, and dental - then schedule appointments accordingly.

7. Write Your Resolutions

Take a cue from businesses across the nation and make goals that are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. The more details you lay out when creating your resolutions, the more likely you are to stick to them and the easier it is to see your progress. For example, if you want to learn a new language, find a local foreign language school and schedule weekly lessons, then make a plan to read a children's book comfortably by the end of the year.