Ring Out the Old Year
Have you been thinking about joining a gym or starting a diet? How about organizing your office, or tackling a big home improvement project?
If so, we’re guessing you’re going to wait a month before tackling those tasks. After all, that’s what New Year’s resolutions are for, right?
But that doesn’t mean you have to put off all of your self-improvement projects until Jan. 1. While it’s certainly your prerogative to wait until 2012 to kick off big undertakings like losing 30 pounds or building a toolshed, there are a number of small-scale tasks you can start and finish before the month (and year) is through. Call them “old year” resolutions, little bits of self-improvement that can give you a sense of satisfaction and put you on the right track heading into the new year. Here are a few that you can execute before the end of the year.
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Prepare a Disaster KitHurricane season may be behind us, but it’s always good to have an emergency preparedness kit in the house in case a natural disaster forces you to evacuate or knocks out your power. While you can buy a ready-made disaster kit for less than $100, you can also put one together yourself. Essentials for your kit include a three-day supply of food and water, a flashlight with batteries, a first-aid kit and sanitary items. See MainStreet’s disaster kit guide for the full list.
It’s good to put together a kit now instead of waiting until right before a storm is due to hit and having to contend with price-gouging and empty shelves. And depending on where you live, a bad winter storm could make the kit necessary sooner than you’d expect.
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Get Your Taxes in OrderWhile many people don’t look at their 2011 taxes until 2012 , there are a number of tax-related tasks you should complete before the year is through. If you want to claim a charitable deduction on your taxes, for instance, you’ll need to do so before the ball drops on New Year’s Eve. And you can also deduct your medical costs if they exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income in 2011, so if you’re near that threshold, cram in as many doctor’s appointments as possible in December and buy any deductible medical supplies you think you’ll need.
For more tips, check out MainStreet’s roundup of year-end tax-planning tips and our list of last-minute deductions.
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Lower Your Monthly BillsIf you’ve resolved to spend less money next year, you can start now by reducing how much you spend on bills every month.
Jean Chatzky, a personal finance author and director of education for debt management site SavvyMoney.com, says it’s a good idea to review your bills and see if you’re paying too much.
“It’s good once a year just to take a look at your monthly bills and to make a couple of quick phone calls to see if you can reduce them,” she suggests. “If Verizon Fios has just come to your area, your cable company will jump through hoops to keep you. When Fios came to my neighborhood I called Cablevision and got $60 off my monthly bill.”
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Change Your PasswordsIf you’ve ever used “password,” “123456,” “letmein” or “qwerty” as a password, then you have a data security problem. Those are among the most stolen passwords of 2011, according to an analysis by password manager SplashData.
And even if you’re smart enough not to use such an obvious password, if you’ve gotten into the habit of using the same password for multiple accounts, you’re also at risk. There were a number of high-profile data breaches at companies in 2011, and whenever unencrypted email and password information is stolen, the first thing the thief will do is to test out that same combination on multiple popular email, banking and social networking services. In other words, if you use the same email and password for your bank account as you do on a video game service, all it takes is a data breach at the video game company to compromise your financial security.
The good news is there are several ways to maintain multiple secure passwords without losing track. MainStreet has previously looked at password management software like LastPass and RoboForm, which integrate into your password to automatically fill in your login information on your favorite website. And such services will even generate impossible-to-crack alphanumeric passwords for each of your accounts. It’s a simple and free task that can save you a lot of headaches down the road.
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Check Your Credit ScoreThere are several credit score websites, and a few of them run repeated advertisements hammering home the importance of checking your credit score (we’re looking at you, FreeCreditReport.com). At the risk of adding our voice to this irritating chorus, we’d like to suggest you get your credit checked.
You’re entitled to a free credit report from one of the three major credit report agencies – TransUnion, Experian and Equifax – once every 12 months. To get this report, go to AnnualCreditReport.com.
Want your actual credit score from FICO? To get that, create an account on CreditKarma.com and enter your Social Security number and other personal information. The site will provide you with your score for free – no strings attached.
Once you’ve seen your score and reports, you can resolve to find ways to improve your credit rating in 2012. You can start by figuring out what does and doesn’t impact your score.
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Cut Back on Gift SpendingMany New Year’s Resolutions boil down to “eat less and spend less.” Unfortunately, by the time many make this resolution, they’ve already spent much of the holiday season spending and eating like mad, and have a lot of catching up to do.
While we’ll leave it up to you to figure out how to avoid gorging on eggnog and cookies during the holidays, we can certainly help you cut back a bit. Chatzky recommends you simply avoid spending your own money on gifts.
“Buy whatever you can using unused gift cards you have around the house, and you can also buy gifts using frequent-flier miles,” she says. “And if you’re going to a party and have to bring a bottle of wine, don’t go out and buy a new one if you already have one around the house.”
Of course, there’s another option for not spending money on gifts: Just don’t buy gifts at all. Last month we looked at the best way to explain to your folks that you won’t be participating in gifting this year – though if they’ve already bought you gifts, it may be too late.
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Service Your AppliancesA lot of people recoil at the thought of undertaking home improvement projects on their own, and would rather pay a handyman hundreds of dollars than try to fix their own appliances. But there are a number of home repairs that you can make on your own that will improve your appliances’ efficiency and reduce the chances of a failure or fire.
Your stove’s drip pans, for instance, can probably be washed in the dishwasher, and you can make your fridge more efficient by vacuuming the dust off the condenser coils in the back. These were among several home maintenance tips we got from veteran handyman Steve Ash when we spoke to him back in March.
A big project like renovating your kitchen or adding a screen porch to your house definitely falls under the New Year’s Resolutions category. But there are also small, simple projects you can do on your own that will lower your electric bill and make your expensive appliances last longer.
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Update Your ResumeJust because you’re lucky enough to have a job doesn’t mean you’re happy where you are. About one in three Americans say they are likely to look for a new job in the next 12 months, and moving on to a new place of work may very well be on your list of New Year’s Resolutions for 2012. So why not get a head start by sprucing up your resume ahead of the new year?
Experts say that hiring season has already begun, so it would be foolish to wait until January to start the process. We suggest you dig out your resume now and start thinking about how you’d describe your current responsibilities. And before you start making changes, check out MainStreet’s investigation of how hiring managers view your resume. If you’ve made a lot of the common mistakes listed there, you may want to start from scratch.
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