If you buy items on behalf of a charity, then you can deduct these costs as long as you correctly substantiate your costs. Receipts aren't enough if the costs are $250 or more. In this case, you need a written acknowledgment from the charity.
Note: You can never deduct the value of your time and effort expended on behalf of a charity. IRS Publication 526 contains more details about the ins and outs of this approach.
5. Make smart tax elections.
The tax law has many elections that allow you to choose the most beneficial way to handle certain tax items. For example, if you suffered a casualty loss in a FEMA-declared disaster in 2013, you can opt to deduct the loss on an amended return for 2012. Or, if you'd get a bigger write-off in 2013 because your adjusted gross income (the threshold for claiming this deduction) is smaller, simply claim your loss on the 2013 return. FEMA disaster declarations are listed at www.fema.gov/disasters. If you sold property on an installment basis, then you can choose to report it all on your 2013 return rather than spreading the gain over the years in which installment payments are received. This choice makes sense if you have losses now to offset the gains.
If you prepare your own return, your tax software should ask questions to help you chose the most favorable option; tax pros should do the same.
Keep in mind that the IRS won't voluntarily send you a refund; you must file a return showing why you're entitled to it. To hold onto more of your hard-earned money, take the time to see what you might be missing by considering the strategies that apply to your own life.
Barbara Weltman is an attorney, advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs and the publisher of Idea of the Day and the monthly e-newsletter "Big Ideas for Small Business" at www.barbaraweltman.com. You can follow her on Twitter @BarbaraWeltman.