|By CANDICE CHOI; CANDICE CHOI AP Personal Finance Writer|
Throughout the year, there are a variety of steps you can take to pocket some extra cash, whether it's booking airline tickets a month in advance or setting aside tax-free wages to pay for health care costs. In many cases, these are actions that can result in ongoing savings that add up over time.
The problem is that these moves typically require a degree of planning, even if only a minimal amount. And when you're juggling work and the daily tasks of life, such opportunities have a way of sitting on the backburner until it's too late to act.
To ward off another year of missed chances, below is a guide of simple money-saving moves you can make each month in the year ahead. Scan through it now to see whether there are any particular dates or actions you want to flag, and keep the list handy as a reference.
You may discover you've been leaving free money on the table for years.
-DEBT: It's a perennial
-TAXES: To make the most of your taxes, designate an office folder or kitchen drawer where you can keep receipts and other necessary paperwork. A common roadblock when filing returns is a lack of documents to claim deductions.
-COLLEGE: Families with college-bound kids will want to get their taxes squared away early. The income and asset figures from the returns will be needed to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which should be completed as soon as possible after
-SPENDING: Flowers can become a big part of your
-CREDIT CARDS: Sweeping credit card reforms have banned a number of misleading billing practices. But the new rules don't set guidelines on rewards programs, which cardholders often fail to use to their full potential.
-ENTERTAINMENT, PART 1: If you realize you haven't seen any of the Oscar nominated films even though you've been paying for premium channels, it might be time to trim your cable package. The trial offers you were given when first signing up may also have expired.
-ENTERTAINMENT, PART 2: While you're at it, commit to a cap on how much you'll spend on online entertainment each month.
-TRAVEL: If you're planning a spring break, remember that the best time to book a flight is four to six weeks before traveling; prices for any given flight are generally highest in the few weeks just before and after that time frame. Airlines also offer the most sales on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
-SPENDING: As you store away your cold-weather gear, make a list of any items that need to be replaced for next winter. Then hit the clearance sales – and avoid impulse buys by shopping only for items on your list.
-TAXES: Don't panic if you haven't filed your taxes yet. You have until October if you file for an extension, but you'll need to pay any taxes that are due.
-BANKING: In honor of
-SPENDING: If you're dining out on
-HOME: Before the weather gets too hot, consider investing in a more efficient air conditioner to save on energy costs. Keep in mind that getting a unit that's too powerful for the space you're cooling can be just as wasteful as getting one that's too weak. The recommended capacities for various room sizes can be found at www.energystar.gov .
-COLLEGE: If you're the parent of a high school sophomore or junior, start planning a tour of college campuses this fall. Think about coordinating the visits with another trip and try to get in as many nearby campuses as possible to minimize travel costs.
-SPENDING: If you have multiple wedding ceremonies to attend this summer, think about where you can cut corners. This could be as simple as limiting how much you spend on new clothes or teaming up with others to buy group presents.
-HOME, PART 1: It's National Homeownership Month and interest rates on mortgages should still be near record lows. If you're still not sure whether you're ready to become a homeowner, check out the renting versus buying calculator on the website of the
-INVESTING: The mid-year checkup on your investment portfolio is even more critical in times of market volatility. You want to be sure that market gains and losses haven't knocked your mix of stocks, bonds and cash out of balance. If you don't have a financial planner, consider rebalancing with the help of an online portfolio tool such as Morningstar.com's Portfolio Manager or one offered by Quicken.com
-HEALTHCARE: If you're inspired by the Olympics set to take place in
-COLLEGE: This is the time of year that families apply for private student loans to bridge funding gaps for college. When evaluating the options, be sure you understand whether the loan has a variable interest rate and what the options would be if payments can't be honored.
-SPENDING: Several states offer tax holidays for back-to-school items on a designated weekend. The timing varies by state, but tax holidays usually start early in the month. If your state had a tax holiday last year, it may run again this year.
-TRAVEL: It's time for a little number crunching. Set aside an hour or two to review your summer travel and recreation expenses. See how much your vacation ended up costing, compared with how much you intended to spend.
-COLLEGE: The rise in college costs has far outpaced the rate of inflation; tuition and fees alone are an average of
-SPENDING: The holiday shopping season is rapidly approaching. Keep spending in check by starting to pay down debt and mapping out a budget.
-HEALTHCARE, PART 1: Open-enrollment season arrives in workplaces across the country. Many companies have been tweaking their benefits to keep pace with rising health care costs, so make sure you're still signed up for the plan that best fits your needs.
-INSURANCE: As you start to review your expenses for the past year, check whether you can cut your auto insurance payment. You may not need as much coverage if your car has aged and depreciated in value since you first signed up for coverage. A clean driving record since then may also qualify you for a lower rate.
-TAXES: Start thinking about the year-end moves to lower your tax bill for 2011. For example, consider maxing out contributions to your retirement accounts.
-COLLEGE: It's time to have a money talk with new college graduates. The six-month grace period on student loans for May graduates is coming to an end.
-SPENDING: You don't have to brave the crowds even if you haven't gotten around to your holiday shopping. Check out the hundreds of retailers that participate in Free Shipping Day in the middle of the month at www.freeshippingday.com . Don't forget to tap into social media sites of retailers to stay on top of special sales.
-GIVING: If you plan to give to a charity during the holidays, be sure the group you're donating to is appropriately qualified before making a donation. Remember that charitable contributions can only be deducted if you have receipts to back them up. Further guidance is available on the
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