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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40. Develop a back-up plan. In today's economy, no job is 100-percent secure. Create a list of steps you would take if you were to lose your job, even though you hope never to have to use it. Having a Plan B can give you peace of mind as well as a practical "to-do" list if you ever face the shock of an unexpected job loss.

41. Schedule creative time for yourself. Boost your productivity with scheduled downtime, in which you give yourself the freedom to brainstorm about new ideas and possibilities for yourself and your career. Todd Henry, founder of the Accidental Creative, suggests blocking out a regular time period and reading material that you wouldn't normally look at, such as an engineering magazine or copy of Vogue.

42. Consider asking for a raise. If it's been a while since you've seen an increase in your paycheck, it might be a good time to make an argument to your boss for why you deserve a raise. Put the reasons in writing and run the request by a friend to make sure it's as strong as possible. Of course, if your industry or company is experiencing especially difficult times, you might want to put that request on hold until business picks up again.

43. Free up your time and energy by outsourcing chores. Think of money spent on a cleaning service or grocery delivery as an investment in your career, because these things free up more time (and energy) for you to focus on your day (or night) job.

Giving:

44. Talk with parents and siblings about any support you expect to give to them. Giving doesn't relate only to charities; many people also support their aging parents and needy siblings. Make sure you understand what your parents or siblings expect from you, if anything, and that you can afford to provide them the support that they need. If you can't, talk with them about your limits and potential nonmonetary ways that you can assist them.

45. Choose a cause that you believe in. Many of us give haphazardly throughout the year, donating $30 for a friend's walkathon and $100 at a school auction. Instead, put some thought into the causes you'd like to support this year. Read a book or two to further educate yourself. For example, if you believe in ending world water shortages, then you might want to read When the Rivers Run Dry: Water—The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century. If your passion is addressing poverty, then you might want to check out When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Yourself. Then, figure out what you can do to help

46. Learn everything you can about your chosen cause. Bill Gates shared this advice for would-be philanthropists with the New York Times: "The key thing is to pick a cause, whether it's crops or diseases or great high schools ... Pick one, and get some more in-depth knowledge" by traveling, reading, or volunteering. Studying up on your cause doesn't need to cost much money, but it will make you a more informed—and more effective—giver.

47. Look for free ways to give, too. Giving blood, signing up to be an organ donor, or donating the gently used books and clothes in your home can be just as helpful as monetary gifts. Your time, of course, is one of the most valuable things you can give, along with any special skills, such as computer expertise, to charities in need of such assistance.

48. Give better gifts. Surveys show that most Americans say they want to spend less and give more meaningful presents. When birthdays or other events come up, think about how you can give an experience, such as an afternoon at a museum or conversation over tea, instead of things.

49. Clean out your closet. Not only will you have a more organized space for the new year, but you probably have some valuable items—books, CDs, and games—that charities could make good use of. See what you have that you're ready to give away, then look up local charities in need. Be sure to retain a record of what you give for next year's taxes.

50. Join forces with friends. By forming a giving circle, a group of friends can pool their money for a good cause. The number of giving circles has doubled to at least 800 over the past four years, and the trend is partly frugality-driven. Combining money and time makes it easier to research charities more extensively, check up on how the funds are being used, and garner enough power as donors that charities make an effort to reach out to you. A representative might visit your donor circle one night to explain the programs, or invite you to participate in some of the charity's activities. To find a giving circle that already exists in your area, visit givingcircles.org.