50 Ways to Improve Your Finances in 2013

Conquer the new year with these savvy money management strategies.

Closeup of a street speed limit sign saying '50', on an angle.
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27. Stop before you shop.

When you're surrounded by advertisements and material temptations, it's easy to buy without thinking. But one organization, Jews United for Justice, urges people to first ask themselves a series of questions about the purchase. The questions include: "Is this something I need?" "Can I borrow, find one used, or make one instead of buying new?" and "Will this purchase enhance the meaning and joy in my life?" The group distributes credit card sleeves with the questions to encourage more thoughtful spending habits.

28. Ignore official-looking (but dubious) solicitations.

It's one of the most common scams around: A company poses as an official government agency in order to solicit your attention (and funds). It might send out mail that's covered in intimidating warnings, such as "$2,000 fine, 5 years imprisonment, or both for any personal interfering or obstructing with delivery of this letter." But they're really just trying to sell you something you probably don't need. The Federal Trade Commission calls the practice outrageous and says it's illegal to falsely suggest something bad will happen unless the recipient asks quickly. The bottom line: Ignore such solicitations.

29. Donate for free.

You don't have to be rich to be charitable. Consider donating your blood, gently used books and CDs, and your time this year. For extra power, get together with friends to form a giving circle, so you can leverage your dollars and give to causes together.

30. Learn how to talk about money with your kids.

Parents are famously awkward when it comes to talking about money. A T. Rowe Price survey found that just half of parents talk to their kids about savings goals and spending and savings trade-offs, and even fewer discuss higher-level concepts such as inflation and investing. But research routinely suggests that parents play a powerful role in how kids handle money as adults, so if you have children, try to get over your awkwardness to share some important life lessons this year.

31. Protect your money from your children.

Baby boomers have been generous toward their adult children, inviting them to move back home and offering them direct financial support. But often, that kind of generosity hurts parents' own retirement nest egg. In fact, even the parents of two Olympic gold medalists, Gabby Douglas and Ryan Lochte, revealed major financial troubles of their own. Before putting their own financial security at risk, parents should consider whether they can really afford the help they're offering.

32. Use technology to ease those conversations.

If you're struggling to explain the concept of limits to your children, there's an app that can help: "Can I Buy?" designed by the husband-and-wife team behind the Massachusetts-based developer Sqube. After crunching some numbers for you, the app tells you whether or not you can afford that purchase that you're considering. The creators themselves got the idea when they were trying to explain to their young daughter why she could not buy a new toy.

33. Take advantage of other new online money tools.

A new website, SmartAsset.com, hit the Web this year, and it's a useful one: It helps users make complicated personal-finance decisions, such as whether they should buy or rent, or which mortgage to take out. If you're looking for some help with number-crunching, the site could be the one for you. Mint.com is another useful site for budgeting and getting organized.

34. Check your Social Security benefits.

Since the Social Security Administration stopped sending out paper statements via snail mail each year, you might be missing your annual estimate of just how much Social Security income you're likely to receive in retirement. But there's an easy way to get that information: Visit socialsecurity.gov/mystatement to see your earnings history and projected future benefits. More than one million people have already done so.

35. Be an alpha consumer.