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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Jon Yates, the official problem-solver at the Chicago Tribune and author of What's Your Problem? Cut Through Red Tape, Challenge the System, and Get Your Money Back, says persistence is often the most important factor when seeking a response from a company. That might include threatening to take your business elsewhere, or asking to speak to a manager or executive until you get the answer you want.

36. Start a social media account.

Airing grievances about specific companies on a blog, Facebook, or Twitter can also be an effective way of getting their attention. Just be sure you don't sacrifice your own privacy and security in the process. Many banks, for example, run active Twitter accounts, but they caution customers to take specific questions off the public venue and onto a phone line or email account. Talking over social media, after all, means talking in front of an audience.

37. Pay less for gas.

In addition to seeking out the lowest-priced gas station in town, you can also stretch your gas dollars through more creative means. Those include lightening your car by unloading any heavy items stored in the trunk, carpooling, making sure tires are properly inflated, and replacing clogged air filters. An even safer bet is replacing some of your car time with public transportation or biking.

[See: 50 Smart Money Moves.]

38. Refinance, or not.

When interest rates are low, refinancing to lock in a lower rate on your mortgage is tempting. But doing so also comes with costs, including closing costs and your own time. (Completing the paperwork can take hours.) Before jumping on the refinancing bandwagon, crunch some numbers with an online refinance calculator to help you figure out if it will really save you money.

39. Improve your credit score.

Credit scores can hold a lot of power over your life; they influence your loan rates and the ability to rent apartments, and they can even play a role on job applications. According to money expert Liz Weston, author of Your Credit Score, the most important steps you can take to improve your score include removing any errors and making regular, on-time payments to all revolving accounts, including credit cards. Paying down debt helps, too.

40. Get your credit report.

You're entitled to a free credit report every year, which you can access through annualcreditreport.com. Reviewing it regularly makes it possible to check for (and correct) any mistakes, as well as catch potential problems, such as identity theft, before they escalate. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also announced this year that it will start supervising the credit bureaus as part of an attempt to make the world of credit scores and credit reports more transparent to consumers.

41. Learn patience.

Research co-authored by Columbia Business School professor Stephan Meier found that impatient people tend to have lower credit scores, which means they pay more for loans. Study participants who were most willing to wait for their cash rewards had, on average, scores that were 30 points higher than those who were the least patient. The suggestion? Learning to wait for rewards can pay off in the form of lower loan rates.

42. Check your insurance policies.

According to MetLife, just 3 in 4 married couples with young children have life insurance. That means 1 in 4 do not. Given the high cost of raising children (the Agriculture Department estimates $234,900 per child before age 18), that leaves families in a vulnerable position if one or both parents were to die. While there's some hassle involved, the cost of taking out life insurance is relatively low (a half-million dollar policy on a healthy 35-year-old might be one dollar a day, says MetLife), so consider signing up if you haven't already.

43. Organize your financial paperwork.

When Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012, thousands of people on the East Coast had to quickly leave their homes. If your paperwork is in order, it will be easy to know what to grab if you suddenly have to do the same thing. Essential papers to carry with you include identification, insurance information, and family documents, such as birth and marriage certificates and wills.