50 Ways to Improve Your Finances in 2012

A guide to mastering your money in the new year.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that the economy contracted at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter.

"Forget the number: It says nothing about the state of the economy," says one economist.

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48. Start saving for college. The cost of college can be daunting, but several new strategies make it a little easier to manage. In addition to 529 college savings accounts, which allow parents to invest after-tax money that then grows tax-free, parents can also opt for prepaid tuition plans, which lock in prices today, as well as employer-sponsored college savings plans.

49. Pass on money lessons. Many parents say they feel more comfortable talking about drugs and sex than money. But children learn a lot from their parents' financial habits, often by example. Parents can turn to websites such as Mymoney.gov, AmericaSaves.org, ING Direct's Planet Orange, and SchwabMoneyWise.com for help.

50. Give a smart allowance. Alisa T. Weinstein, author of Earn It, Learn It: Teach Your Child the Value of Money, Work, and Time Well Spent, suggests teaching children to work for their money—in a fun way. She suggests connecting the allowance with tasks related to various careers, such as being a travel agent or chef. Travel-agent tasks include reporting on a destination in an appealing way, creating a brochure, and for older children, calculating exchange rates. "This way, the child is making the connection between effort and money, and the feeling that you worked hard for something. If you can capture that, then you're much more likely to have a child who grows up and can find emotional and financial fulfillment in their careers," says Weinstein.

Do you have other 2012 tips to add to the list? Please share them below.

Twitter: @alphaconsumer