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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44. Create photographic evidence.

Just in case you ever have to file an insurance claim, take photos of your most valuable possessions, including furniture, jewelry, and televisions. Creating a paper trail of those goods, any damage they sustained, and subsequent claim filings can make it easier to follow up with the insurance company and collect reimbursements.

45. Prepare for emergencies.

In the spirit of always being ready, consider coming up with a plan for an alternative place for your family to stay in an evacuation scenario. When the power goes out, it's harder to find the closest available hotel, or to talk to friends about staying with them. It's also a good idea to get an emergency kit together, so if you have to hunker down in your basement for a few days without power or running water, you know you could survive. The kit should include batteries, flashlights, water, changes of clothes, cash, non-perishable food, and a first-aid kit.

46. Beef up your emergency savings account.

No matter how prepared you are, emergencies can end up costing a lot of money. Consider funding an emergency savings account that could cover you in the event of weather disasters, car breakdowns, and other unexpected calamities. Financial advisers generally recommend putting away three to six months' worth of expenses.

47. Plan to work well past retirement age.

Older Americans are increasingly working into their 70s, for financial as well as psychological reasons. In other words, many of them enjoy their work. A Charles Schwab survey found that one in three 60-something middle-income workers don't want to retire. To prepare for a long career beyond age 65, career experts recommend making sure you're doing work you love. That might mean launching a second career, unrelated to your primary one.

48. Change your habits.

In his book The Power of Habit, New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg explains how we can change our habits by focusing on the cue and reward. If you want to start exercising every day, for example, "cue" it up by putting on your running shoes before breakfast, and then reward yourself afterward with a piece of chocolate. Eventually, the new habit will become a natural part of your day.

49. Check out your older self.

Here's an easy way to motivate yourself to commit to big changes in 2013: Focus on your future self. Research by Hal Hershfield, assistant professor of marketing at New York University's Stern School of Business, has found that showing people aged photos of themselves makes them more likely to put money away for later. You can get in touch with your future self by writing a letter or even downloading an aging app, such as AgingBooth, for a sense of what you'll look like in 30 years. Spending more time with your grandparents can also help.

50. Think about where you want to be (financially) in a year.

When you're brainstorming for your big money goals for the year, try to focus on specific steps, instead of big, overwhelming dreams. For example, if you want to build financial security, goals might include spending less on food or developing a second stream of income. BJ Fogg, director of Stanford's Persuasive Technology Lab, suggests breaking big goals into small baby steps.

Here's to a prosperous 2013!