“Rethink your savings plan. Any savings increase is easier to do if you don’t have to think about it. Raising your contribution to a workplace retirement plan, like a 401(k), makes the investment automatic, reducing the temptation to spend the money instead. Most banks, brokerages and mutual fund companies can set up similar automatic investing plans for IRAs and ordinary taxable accounts, drawing funds directly from a checking account. By having your paycheck automatically deposited in that account, you can avoid the siphoning that comes when cash runs through your fingers.
“There’s nothing wrong with a one-shot savings infusion, either.
“Set a budget. Budgeting, of course, always makes sense, so a budgeting vow is a good New Year’s resolution. Obviously, that means controlling big expenses, such as vacations and car purchases, but reining in small ones can produce surprisingly large payoffs.
“Try keeping a list of every expense for a month, no matter how small. Many people are stunned at how much painless saving can be achieved by cutting back on expenses that bring little value, such as fancy coffees and snacks. Carrying your lunch to work a few days a week can free up hundreds of dollars a year for long-term savings.
“Tracking expenses can be done with a sheet of paper in the wallet, but computer-based and online trackers Quicken and Mint can automate much of the process, assigning a spending category to every item that moves through your bank account. Just don’t forget to manually input those little cash outlays, such as chips from the office vending machine.
“Take advantage of automation. Your bank and credit card issuers likely have alert features that will send a text message or email if you have an unusually large charge, your account balance hits a given level or you are close to being overdrawn or hitting your credit limit. Automatic alerts can help keep spending under control, and setting them up is a painless resolution.
“Reconsider your investments. Many investors resolve to do a better job in the coming year, and January is a good time for re-evaluating your investment strategy, using the year-end statements that come early in the month. Do you have the right mix of stocks, bonds and cash? Even if you do, would you be better off in different holdings?
“By switching from managed funds to similar index-style funds, for instance, you may reduce unwelcome year-end capital gains distributions that can boost your tax bill.
“Shave down your debt. Borrowers can save money by resolving to reduce their debts. If your credit card charges 15 percent, every extra dollar spent to reduce the balance is like earning 15 percent in a savings account, a princely return. So start with the cards that charge the highest interest and set a target date for getting the balance to zero. Going forward, try to use a debit card instead, since that will draw from your checking account and not incur interest charges.
“Also see if you can get a better deal on your credit cards, either by switching to cheaper cards or negotiating with your current card companies.
“Look for insurance deals. Shopping for insurance is such a headache that many people just stick with the policies they have, even when better deals are available. But using a broker who deals with numerous firms, or shopping online, can make the process easier, and the payoff can be big. So the homeowner’s and auto policies should be revisited once a year.”