Along with a fresh start, the new year brings uncertainty about changing tax laws, growing concern over online privacy and security, and challenges for almost every demographic group—even the wealthy, who face steep tax increases. To help you get ready to tackle your own money goals for 2013, we gathered our best advice from the past 12 months and organized it into 50 bite-size steps:
Specific holidays used to loom large in the world of coupon hunters, who expected to see massive discounts on July Fourth, Labor Day, Black Friday, and other big shopping days. But recently, that's been shifting as retailers are offering sales all year long, and often at unexpected times. In 2012, for example, retail experts noted that Christmas sales started in October, and continued all season, partly in response to customer demand. That means shoppers should always be on the lookout for the best deals, regardless of the calendar date.
As the economy recovers, retailers are eager to pick up the biggest share of consumers' spending what they can, and in some cases, that means adopting more flexible pricing policies. Towards the end of 2012, several big-box stores, including Target and Best Buy, launched temporary price-matching policies. That trend could continue into 2013, which means customers can be more assertive about asking stores to match prices they find elsewhere.
Much stress can come from disagreeing with your spouse or partner about how you should be spending shared income. Indeed, in author and yoga teacher JoAnneh Nagler's case, it even contributed to divorce. But she and her husband were able to reconcile (and remarry) when they jointly agreed to a disciplined debt-free lifestyle. By scaling back on restaurant meals and other splurges, they're able to invest in what they really value, including their creative pursuits and romantic weekend getaways.
When you've built up a sizable amount of debt, it's virtually impossible to pay it off overnight, and attempting such a feat can be frustrating. That's why Nagler, who had $80,000 in credit card debt at one point, urges fellow debt-strugglers to go slowly. First, she changed her spending habits and set up individual savings accounts for each of her goals. Once she got those costs under control, she started paying off her debt.
Tax rates are likely to rise for many Americans next year, especially high-earning ones. To lessen the stress from those changes, taxpayers should adjust their spending and saving habits as early as possible to prepare to hand over more cash to Uncle Sam. Taking advantage of any credits and deductions, as well as putting more money into tax-advantaged retirement accounts, can help ease the impact.
Just 1 in 10 Americans have done the math to figure out how much they need to save for retirement, but it's an essential step in making sure there's enough cash for those much-deserved golden years. Financial advisers generally recommend saving enough to replace 80 percent or more of your income; that means someone who earns $80,000 should probably save around $2.1 million. Online retirement calculators can crunch the numbers for you.
Paying high fees, choosing portfolios that are overly conservative (or overly risky), and failing to update or even check on those investments on a regular basis are just a few of the common mistakes people make with their retirement accounts. To avoid missteps, employees can often rely on free services offered through their company's human resources department or retirement services provider. Fidelity, for example, offers free seminars and online information to clients.
Alicia Munnell, director of Boston College's Center for Retirement Research, cautions that putting aside 9 percent of your income into a retirement account is "grossly inadequate." Someone who starts saving at age 35, plans to retire at age 67, and expects a 4 percent return, for example, needs to save double that, even after taking Social Security into account. Other financial experts recommend saving as much as one-quarter of your income, in both retirement and after-tax accounts, to make sure you're fully covered.