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Candice Choi

A richer 2012: A monthly guide to maximizing money

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It’s time to pencil some savings into your 2012 calendar. To ward off another year of missed chances, here is a guide of simple money-saving moves you can make. You may discover you’ve been leaving free money on the table for years.

Debt: There’s extra incentive to pay it down right now. Cash still isn’t earning much interest sitting in deposit accounts, so if you’re sitting on any extra savings, consider using it to knock off credit card debt.

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Taxes: A common roadblock is a lack of documents to claim deductions. So set up a filing system.

College: Families with college-bound kids will want to get their taxes squared away early. The income and asset figures from tax returns will be needed to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid as soon as possible after Jan. 1.

Entertainment: If you haven’t seen any of the Oscar-nominated films on the premium channels, it might be time to trim your cable package.

Travel: Airlines offer the most sales on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

Clothes: 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.

Banking: See if you can save a few bucks by opting for e-statements. The monthly service fee for a basic checking account is usually higher with paper statements.

Home: Before the weather gets hot, consider investing in a more efficient air conditioner. Keep in mind that getting a unit that’s too powerful can be just as wasteful as getting one that’s too weak.

Mortgages: Homeowners should check whether it’s worth refinancing. The rule of thumb is that the new rate should be at least about 1.5 percentage points below your current rate. Otherwise, closing costs may not make the savings worthwhile.

Investing: If you don’t have a financial planner, consider rebalancing your portfolio with the help of an online tool such as’s Portfolio Manager.

Fitness: Check whether your employer offers any discounts for health club memberships.

Health care: Open-enrollment season arrives in workplaces across the country in October. Many companies have been tweaking their benefits, so make sure you’re still signed up for the health plan that best fits your needs. Consider opening a flexible spending account for health care costs. These accounts let workers set aside tax-free wages for items such as copays and medications. Remember, over-the-counter drugs are as much as 50 percent cheaper at Target and Walmart than at supermarkets, according to Consumer Reports.

Auto insurance: You may not need as much coverage if your car has depreciated in value. A clean driving record may get you a lower rate.

Giving: If you plan to give to a charity, be sure it is qualified. Charitable contributions can be deducted only if you have receipts to back them up.

Candice Choi writes for the Associated Press.
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