A Richer 2012: A Monthly Guide to Maximizing Money

By Candice Choi, AP Personal Finance Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — It's time to pencil some savings into your 2012 calendar.

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.


January

  • 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%, according to Bankrate.com. So if you're sitting on any extra savings, consider using it to knock off any accumulating credit card debt.
  • 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 Jan. 1. An early application improves the chances of receiving aid from multiple sources. To fill out the form, go to www.fafsa.ed.gov.

February

  • Spending: Flowers can become a big part of your Valentine's Day spending, especially if you procrastinate. If you plan on sending a bouquet, start browsing websites early to avoid inflated delivery charges on last-minute orders.
  • 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. Take a few minutes to understand the caps, expiration dates and redemption process of your program; a few tweaks to your spending habits could boost the cash back rewards or points that you earn.
  • Entertainment: 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: While you're at it, commit to a cap on how much you'll spend on online entertainment each month. It's easy to lose sight of how much you're spending when all you have to do is click "buy."

March

  • 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.

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