50 Ways to Improve Your Finances in 2011

These New Year’s resolutions will help you save, spend less, and earn more.

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[In Pictures: 10 Ways to Save on Big-Ticket Items]

9. Budget by the year. Research shows that budgeting by the year instead of the month makes it easier to stay within your spending limits. That's partly because when we create an annual budget, we remember to take into account occasional expenses such as gifts.

10. Keep a spending diary. Even if you just track every dollar you spend for two weeks, it will open your eyes to where your money goes and what you could cut back on. You might not realize that you spend $100 a week on lunches, or that your taxi-cab habit is eating up half of your discretionary income.

11. Take advantage of your bank's free tools. Banks are increasingly offering easy ways of tracking your spending online. If your bank offers a free tool, use it to see where your money is going and where you can cut back.


12. Check up on your insurance. Do you have the auto insurance, renters insurance, and life insurance that you need? According to Allstate insurance, 2 in 3 renters skip insurance altogether, even though most people could benefit from the protection and it's relatively cheap. Life insurance is another awkward topic since no one wants to talk about death. But many people are under-insured, which puts their families at risk. Review the insurance that you have and decide whether you have the right amount.

13. Write a will. Consider working with a professional to make sure your assets will go where you want them to upon death; if you have any minor children, appointing a guardian is essential. At the very least, explore some of the online sites that allow people to write their own wills, such as buildawill.com and legacywriter.com, if you have a simple situation. (Financial experts say most people benefit from working with a professional.)

14. Protect your privacy. Whenever someone asks for your Social Security number, question if it's necessary to share it. Never give it to a solicitor on the telephone or in an E-mail, and if you ever notice a suspicious charge on your credit card, follow up with your card company—it could be the first sign of identity theft.


15. Write down how much money you want to save by the end of the year. As with your other goals, the simple act of writing it down will help keep that goal at the top of your mind throughout the year.

16. Become a better cook. Sometimes you have to spend money to save money. Nowhere is that truer than in the kitchen, where investing in a few key pieces of hardware can help you cook better, faster, and cheaper. And anything that makes your food taste better and gets it on the table quickly can lessen the temptation to order budget-busting take-out. Consider investing in a slow cooker to make meals even easier.

[In Pictures: 10 Kitchen Tools That Will Save You Money]

17. Reduce your utility bills. Making sure your home is properly insulated can save you money on heating and cooling costs. Using a programmable thermostat so that the temperature automatically rises (in the summer) and falls (in the winter) when no one is home during the day can yield annual savings of about 30 percent. While some 25 million households own programmable thermostats, only half actually use them.

18. Use less energy. Small changes, like closing doors to unused rooms or turning off the air conditioner during the day, can make a serious dent in utility bills. So can unplugging appliances, turning off lights, and shutting down computers at night. Even televisions can use power when they're turned off, so unplugging them when they're not in use saves energy. A $30 power strip, called the Smart Strip, automatically cuts power to devices that don't need it when they're off, such as a DVD player, while maintaining power to those that do, such as a cable box.

19. Use fewer products. Instead of lathering up with soap, shaving cream, shower gel, and body scrub, Diane MacEachern, author of Big Green Purse, suggests cutting back to just a handful of products. "Put everything you use in one day on the counter and it will blow your mind. Pick a day where you just brush your teeth and your hair and forget about the rest," she says. In addition to creating less waste, the change will lower your monthly drugstore bills, because you won't be buying all of those unnecessary lotions and creams. You can save up to $200 a year.