It’s time to pencil some savings into your 2012 calendar.
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 New Year’s resolution, but there’s extra incentive to pay down your debt right now. Cash still isn’t earning much interest sitting in deposit accounts, with the average rate for a one-year CD clocking in at just 0.35 percent, according to Bankrate.com.
• TAXES: To make the most of your taxes, designate an office folder or kitchen drawer where you can keep receipts and other necessary paperwork.
• 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 Jan. 1.
• SPENDING: If you plan on sending a bouquet, start browsing websites early to avoid inflated delivery charges on last-minute orders.
• CREDIT CARDS: Take a few minutes to understand the caps, expiration dates and redemption process of your rewards program; a few tweaks to your spending habits could boost the cash back rewards or points that you earn.
• ENTERTAINMENT: If you haven’t seen any of the Oscar nominated films even though you’ve been paying for premium channels, trim your cable package.
• ENTERTAINMENT: 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. 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.
• 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 Earth Day, check to see if you can save a few bucks by opting for e-statements. Consider setting up automatic bill pay to guard against late fees.
• SPENDING: If you’re dining out on Mother’s Day, go online to see if there are any deals available at your mom’s favorite restaurants.
• HOME: Before the weather gets too hot, consider investing in a more efficient air conditioner to save on energy costs.
• SPENDING: If you have multiple wedding ceremonies to attend this summer, think about limiting how much you spend on new clothes or teaming up with others to buy group presents.
• HOME: Homeowners should check whether it’s worth refinancing. The general rule of thumb is that the new rate should be at least about 1.5 percentage points below your current rate.
• INVESTING: 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
• HEALTH CARE: If you’re inspired by the Olympics set to take place in London, check whether your employer offers any discounts for health club memberships or programs.
• SPENDING: Several states offer tax holidays for back-to-school items on a designated weekend. The Federation for Tax Administrators offers a list of this year’s dates and qualifying purchases at http://www.taxadmin.org/FTA/rate/sales_holiday.html .
• TRAVEL: Set aside an hour or two to review your summer travel and recreation expenses. Make a note of unexpected expenses you could have avoided and file it away for next summer.
• COLLEGE: In honor of National College Savings Month, consider setting up a 529 college savings plan for your child. These work like 401(k) accounts and let families invest in the market and withdraw money tax-free to pay for education.
• SPENDING: Keep spending for the holiday season in check by starting to pay down debt and mapping out a budget.
• HEALTH CARE: Open-enrollment season arrives in workplaces across the country, so make sure you’re still signed up for the plan that best fits your needs. Also consider a flexible spending account for health care costs.
• 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.
• 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: To make sure your child’s credit record remains clean, help work out a budget to juggle payments, rent and living expenses. Graduates still looking for employment should investigate deferment options.
• SPENDING: Check out the hundreds of retailers that participate in Free Shipping Day in the middle of the month at www.freeshippingday.com.
• 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.