What will happen to oil prices next year? How will the Chinese economy fare? Will the Fed's interest rate hike strengthen the U.S. economy or prematurely weaken it? Are wages for the typical worker finally ready to climb or is another year of earnings stagnation in the cards? Who will be elected president in 2016?
December is the month when economists and other prognosticators delve deep into data and analyze trends to prepare us for next year's uncertain future. And as the old malapropism goes: "Never make predictions, especially about the future."
You can't control what will happen to the economy and markets. The uncertainty is why it's a more fruitful personal finance exercise at this time of year to concentrate on what you have greater control over, including budgets, savings and giving.
In this column I want to focus on giving and gratitude. December is a traditional time for thinking about giving thanks to the holiday spirit and the incentive of the tax calendar. However, my argument is that giving is far more important than the calendar and the tax code with personal finance. Giving and gratitude are core activities in managing money well over a lifetime.
Yes, saving for emergencies and retirement matter. The dollars most people devote to giving is usually smaller than the sum of those two activities. Yet the impact of giving on our approach to money can be — and should be — disproportionately large.
The mindfulness of giving forges connections with our community. The act of giving reminds us what matters most to us in everyday life. We ask all the right personal financial questions when we think through our giving decisions. How would we like the world to be a better place? What issues and causes move us deeply? What values do we want our money to reflect?
I recommend using the same thoughtfulness and sense of purpose about giving to our spending and saving decisions. Ask the same "giving" questions — about meaning, about mindfulness, about legacy — when dealing with other money choices.
Planning pays if you put giving at the center of managing your money. Two resources for research are Charity Watch and Charity Navigator.
You might also want to put on one of my favorite holiday movies, Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life. The story is a tale about gratitude, taking no one and nothing for granted.
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, "Marketplace," and commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.