Gordon Powers

Financial planning is based on the premise that small changes made over time will help you to achieve bigger goals. But, unlike with RRSPs which allow you to make up for missed contributions, taxes don't offer many catch-up opportunities.

But all is not lost: You still have a few chances to save some tax dollars, providing you act before the end of the month. As always, check with an experienced tax professional about your own personal situation.

Sell your losers. While the markets have rebounded nicely this year, chances are you may still be underwater on some of those stocks you've been hanging on to. If so, you may want to trigger some of your paper losses through a process known as tax loss harvesting.

By selling losing stocks over the next couple of weeks, you can shelter tax that might otherwise be payable on capital gains you've already realized this year. Or, if you haven't got much to work with, you can trigger a refund of any 2006, 2007 or 2008 capital gains taxes you've already paid.

* Tell us: What tax tips do you have before year-end?

Make sure, though, to factor in transaction costs, whether you'd still like to hold the stock longer-term and the "superficial loss" rules.

If you sell a stock to trigger a loss, and anyone in your family — including any trusts or companies you control - purchases it shortly thereafter, you'll end up in trouble. You are not allowed to use the loss if you or your family member buys an identical property within the subsequent 30 days.

Keep in mind that the Canada Revenue Agency looks at the settlement date, not when you actually made the trade. Since stocks are settled on a three-day basis, and the markets are closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, the target date would then be Thursday, Dec. 24.

Tally those tax credits. Any money you plan on spending on items like charitable donations, political contributions, medical expenses, kid's fitness or tuition fees must actually be paid in 2009 if you hope to take advantage of the accompanying tax credits on your next return.

Top up your spousal RRSP. If you're using a spousal RRSP, make sure you contribute before the end of the year, not next February. This will effectively reduce the waiting period before your spouse can make withdrawals without that money creating a tax bite in your hands.

* Video: Tax tips for year-end

Down the road your spouse might, for instance, find himself unemployed, on disability leave, or on a paternity break — all of which would provide the family with an opportunity to withdraw the money when he's in a lower tax bracket compared to when you first contributed.

If you contribute now, he can dip into the RRSP on January 1, 2012 at the earliest without the money being taxed in your hands. If you wait until January to contribute, he'll have to postpone any withdrawals for another year.