50 Ways to Improve Your Finances in 2013

Conquer the new year with these savvy money management strategies.

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18. Take advantage of your HR department.

When you land a new job, the human resources department can help you sign up for all of the new benefits, from flex spending accounts to health insurance to retirement accounts. Signing up for retirement benefits as soon as possible can pay off later: The earlier you start putting money away, the sooner it can start growing. TD Ameritrade calculates that saving $100 a month between ages 21 and 41 will create a nest egg of $471,358 by age 67, assuming a return of 8 percent per year. Waiting until age 41, however, will generate just under $60,000.

19. Prepare to earn less after 40.

If you want more motivation to ramp up that side income in 2013, here it is: In most professions, income stops rising around age 40. Payscale.com reports that in many professions, you earn quickly in your twenties and thirties as you become more valuable. Then around mid-career, you plateau, and as a result, salary increases slow down. (Certain careers, including those in law and high-tech, are exceptions.) One way to make up for that loss is to earn more money outside your full-time job.

[Read: How to Improve Your Finances at Every Age.]

20. Burnish your entrepreneurial skills.

According to a survey by Generation Y research and consulting firm Millennial Branding, 1 in 3 employers want their employees to have entrepreneurial experience. Knowing how to conceive, build, and promote a business idea is increasingly valuable in the new economy, even for those seeking more traditional jobs.

21. Learn to cook.

Replacing take-out and restaurant meals with home-cooked goodness can save you hundreds of dollars throughout the year. If you feel hesitant in the kitchen, a few hours with the Food Network or browsing foodie blogs will help get you in the mood. Investments in certain tools, such as cookbooks, immersion blenders, or quality pots and pans can also make the kitchen more enticing after a long day.

22. Invest in your home entertainment system.

If you're a movie buff, you have a lot of new choices that are cheaper than seeing movies in the theater. Hulu Plus, Apple TV, and Roku are among your relatively affordable options, especially when you consider how much you'll save by skipping weekly trips to the theater.

23. Focus on home improvements that pay off.

Leaky windows and attics can drive up heating bills in the winter and cooling bills in the summer. Consider investing in insulation as well as a programmable thermostat, which can cut energy costs by 30 percent over the year. Smart power strips, which cut power to electronics when they're off, can also help reduce electricity costs. LED lights are another smart option.

24. Give better gifts.

Do you know what people really want for holidays and their birthdays? Money or gift cards. It might sound impersonal, but a survey by Discover found that such fungible items top wish lists for both men and women. In fact, the National Retail Federation went so far as to name gift cards as the hottest gift of 2012, because they've grown so much in popularity. The fact that fewer cards come with fees and many offer extra loss protection has also contributed to that trend.

25. Get to know the holes in your homeowners' insurance policy.

The worst time to discover that your homeowners' insurance policy doesn't include reimbursement for water damage is right after a flood. Yet many homeowners don't understand the ins and outs of their policies, which can lead to nasty surprises. In fact, most standard policies don't cover earthquake damage, flood damage, or water damage from sump pump backups. (Homeowners have the option of adding supplemental coverage to handle these scenarios.)

26. Protect your online identity.

The past 12 months have seen a series of high-profile security breaches, including at Zappos and Barnes & Noble. To make sure you're as protected as possible, consider changing your passwords regularly, reviewing bank account statements each month to check for errors, and being especially wary of hyperlinks to deals promoted over social networking sites. Hyperlinks embedded within emails should also be treated with suspicion.