Over the past year, we've discussed what to buy and how to save. Fifty-two columns later, we can safely boil spending and saving secrets down to one simple strategy: Have a plan. For retirement. For dream vacations. Even for the grocery store.
Smart spending and saving only happens when you're alert. And whether you're living paycheck to paycheck or managing an eight-figure investment portfolio, we're all saving, investing and hunting for bargains so we can spend later. Even those who can afford to be lazy with their finances usually aren't.
This year, we've examined the importance of haggling, the need to invest, the price of gold and how to splurge wisely. We've saved money on international vacations, cosmetic procedures, energy audits and, yes, even funerals.
In planning for a new year of savings, there are certain things you should and, frankly, must do if you want to save money in 2013. Here are our best tips for saving in the new year.
— Cancel unused annuals now
How many weekly magazines do you read cover to cover? If you're going to the gym once a month, wouldn't you rather walk to the movie theater and spend that money there? We have great intentions for the new year: to read more, to run more, to eat better foods. But good intentions sometimes hurt our spending resolutions. If you didn't use the gym in 2012, you probably won't use it next year. If you don't have time to read the New Yorker now, trust us, it will make you feel guilty if you see it on the kitchen counter. Cancel all of it now. Reinstate it when you've proved to yourself that it's a genuine part of your life.
— Clip coupons for everything
We've talked about smartphone saving and the benefits of cutting coupons for everything. Whether you're receiving print coupons or downloading them from coupon sites such as couponsherpa.com, the savings add up if you're using them for your everyday shopping.
— Save more than you want to for retirement
Some of our most important saving tips deal with retirement, and the news is grim: Most people do not have enough money saved for retirement. Twenty-somethings, start saving now! Our favorite retirement statistic comes from Ameriprise Financial: If you invest $5,000 every year beginning at age 30 instead of 31, you will have $109,000 more in savings when you retire, assuming an 8 percent compounded annual interest rate. So get started in 2013.
— Play the points game to win
We interviewed Brian Kelly, The Points Guy, and learned that savvy spenders should not pay with cash. If you don't carry interest on your credit cards, you should be getting free flights and hotels a few times a year. Sign up for rewards credit cards that fit your lifestyle, and check out our interview with The Points Guy for all the must-do tricks to rack up points quickly.
— Keep your receipts
We were blown away when we read an investigation from Consumer Reports' advocacy division that found that eight out of 10 hospital bills contain pricing mistakes. The auto-pay world makes it easy to overlook mistakes and forget what you're spending. Check your receipts to eliminate errors and keep yourself on track.
— Auto-save and earmark expenditures
While automatic bill pay can hurt your budget, automatic savings are the pathway to success. Personal finance experts recommend setting aside a fixed amount for entertainment each month and dividing savings into different bank accounts. They also recommend automatically transferring a fixed amount from checking to savings at the beginning of each month. Have the bank do it for you, and you won't know what you're missing.
— Give up expensive habits
We've written about how a daily $3 latte is really a nasty four-figure habit, and how easily the $7 sandwich you eat for lunch at work adds up to about $1,700 a year. Evaluate your spending habits, even those that aren't "sins." Should you buy a sandwich every day when you can bring a lunch and save hundreds of dollars? Most habits are formed from laziness, not necessity. Plan ahead, brew your own coffee and see the savings add up in 2013.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Being frugal is a virtuous lifestyle choice, and one that will pay off in the long run. If you implement good habits and start making small changes, you'll see your bank account grow in 2013.