It's that time again, and I bet you're scratching your head, wondering what to give those you love and those who work for you. Undoubtedly you'll come up with some neat items -- tangible consumer goods -- to wrap up for under the tree. But I'd like to encourage you to give both yourself and them something more -- in fact, a great deal more.

How does increasing their security and peace of mind sound? The dictionary definitions for security include freedom from anxiety and fear and a defense against financial failure -- not exactly glamorous, but a very big gift to give yourself, your employees, your loved ones, and your business.

Protect yourself

Here are five ways you can ensure your personal financial well-being. Check off all that apply:

* I have an up-to-date will/estate plan in effect that includes how my business would be handled if I died. My spouse and I both understand the provisions and agree to it.

* My spouse and I have an insurance package appropriate for our stage in life and the age of any children. We also have an umbrella insurance policy to extend any liability coverage we might need and to protect our assets.

* My spouse and I have discussed our financial needs for the future and have gotten expert (fee-only) financial help in planning. We know what we have to save every year in order to achieve our retirement goals and put that money away.

* My spouse and I treat our personal bookkeeping like a business. We track it via simple software and know what it costs us to live and play each year. We are able to budget in advance.

* I have a list of all suppliers where I have signed personally for the account. I am working hard to meet any qualifications that will allow the business, and not me personally, to be responsible for the business debt.

Secure your business

Here are four precautions you should have covered to protect your business from potential financial problems:

* I know how much "running money" the company needs to operate successfully, and I keep the company cash at that level. I have a credit line for when there are seasonal adjustments. I review this monthly or quarterly.

* I have had all relevant company forms and documents reviewed by an attorney with the appropriate specialty (construction, employment, tax) and made any requested changes.

* I have taken simple steps to protect the company against embezzlement. These include never signing blank checks, never authorizing use of a "signature" stamp, staying conversant with who our subs and suppliers are, and signing checks only when attached to the supporting invoices. I am still the person who opens and reviews the bank statements directly, and I have made sure that our accounting software has been adapted (if necessary) so that it cannot be modified by staff without a record.

* I have protected my clients, my employees, my company, and my family by having every new prospective employee undergo a pre-employment screening by an outside firm that includes drug testing, a driving record check, and a criminal record check.

Get giving

If there are any of those items you couldn't check off, there's your gift!

I have two experts to thank for help with this information: Glenn Henderson, CPA, Henderson Edwards Wilson of Dallas, and Walt Mathieson, CPA, of Mathieson Consulting, Brookville, Md.

Happy holidays! --Linda Case, CRA, is founder of Remodelers Advantage Inc. in Fulton, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. (301) 490-5620;;