11 Easy and Great Ways to Save Money in 2013
Dec 27th 2012 6:00AM
Updated Dec 27th 2012 12:26PM
With the prospect of higher taxes and federal budget cuts looming on Dec. 31, here are 11 easy ways you can save money and/or put a few extra dollars back in your pocket in 2013.
1. Pay down high-interest credit cards first
I'm a realist and I understand that debt arises from unforeseen circumstances for many Americans. What people should do, though, is take a good look at their credit card statements and focus on paying down their highest-interest account(s), even if it means making smaller payments on lower-interest credit cards. For instance, retail chain J.C. Penney's credit card currently carries an APR of 26.99%. If I were a revolving-credit cardholder, I'd be focusing every dollar I had on paying this off ASAP! You'll find similar high-rate cards throughout the department store sector.
2. Correct your tax status
Do you enjoy it when you get a big fat refund in April? So does the government, because they don't have to pay you a cent in interest on the money you overpaid them by failing to properly gauge your tax status. Too many Americans overpay on their taxes during the course of the year, cheating themselves out of money they could be using each month to pay down debt or invest to generate some profit. While it's impossible to predict exactly what you'll make in the course of a year, sit down and determine what your rough tax implications are now to ensure you don't grossly overpay in 2013.
3. Buy the stocks of dividend-paying companies
There are nearly 2,000 companies on the major U.S. stock exchanges paying out dividends in some form; how many do you have in your portfolio? Dividends aren't free money (they're taxed at 15%, and that rate will probably be higher next year), but they offer a way for corporations to share their profits with shareholders. Not only do you get the potential for share price appreciation, but stable names like Coca-Cola and Johnson & Johnson have increased their payouts for 50 consecutive years!
4. Buy bonds
Still scared of the volatility of holding individual stocks? No problem. Buy a corporate or municipal bond instead. ExxonMobil bonds carry a AAA rating (one of only four stocks to carry that pristine stamp of approval) and their yield will vastly outpace the current inflation rate. If you really, really have a penchant for avoiding individualized stocks, you can often search out tax-free municipal bonds in your state.
5. Make a 401(k) or Roth IRA contribution
Want to get a nice tax deduction today while investing for your future? Then consider maximizing your 401(k) contribution each year (assuming your company offers one) and maxing out your IRA contribution. Many corporations match part of your contributions to 401(k)s -- that's free money -- and Roth IRAs allow users' money to grow tax-free until they reach the distribution age of 59½ years. Contributions to both are tax deductible.
Still paying checking fees for your bank account? Well, stop it. Between the emergence of local credit unions that rarely charge account fees and the option offered by most large banks to avoid checking fees by simply signing up for direct deposit, there are easy ways you to get around paying a $5 to $7 monthly charge for "holding your cash."6. Eliminate your checking fees
7. Customize your health care plan
Did you know that you can customize your health care plan to your needs? Most Americans don't, and simply accept that their HMO has written their plan in stone for them. Certain plans offer patients lower co-pays for drugs that they will regularly use, so it pays to do a little research. In addition, the passing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will soon open up a market of health solutions to Americans, giving us more freedom of choice, as well as lower costs.
8. Buy generic foods and products
One of the easiest ways to save a dollar at a time is to buy generic whenever you can. With prescription drugs, this isn't always possible, but with everyday items at the supermarket like cereal, batteries and meat, it can make quite a difference. With no brand-name premium or middleman to deal with, grocery stores can offer store-brand merchandise far cheaper.
9. Scour travel sites for deals and be flexible
I may trash travel website Orbitz from a financial perspective, but I am an avid user of the site for my travel plans. Without question, I save thousands of dollars annually on travel because of online travel sites like Orbitz, compared to what I'd pay booking a vacation directly through an airline or hotel.So before you book that next trip, check your favorite online travel sites for deals and be willing to travel during non-peak times, when rates are considerably lower.
10. Become a DIY homeowner
If you'd like to keep more of your cash now, you can do so by becoming a do-it-yourselfer. This means everything from doing the little things like eating at home more and making your own coffee in the morning to heavy-duty projects like painting the house yourself instead of hiring a professional. I can tell you for a fact that I spend in the neighborhood of $1,300 annually at Starbucks, and I could probably shave $1,000 off my annual expenses if I were to make my own coffee at home.
Finally, while this may sound counterintuitive, donate to those less fortunate than you if at all possible. Donations are tax-deductible, so they help put more money in your pocket come tax time by reducing your taxable income. And whether it's for the poor, the sick, or another cause altogether, your donations make a difference in the lives of others.
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Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Johnson & Johnson, ExxonMobil, and Starbucks, as well as puts on Starbucks. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, and Starbucks, as well as buying calls on Johnson & Johnson and writing covered calls on Starbucks.
The article 11 Easy and Great Ways to Save Money in 2013 originally appeared on Fool.com.