By Susan Tompor
Thirteen might not be the luckiest of numbers, but 2013 could be a pretty good year to get on a better financial footing - if you're not fussy.
Now 2013 is the year I will finally use a 1991 calendar. While cleaning, I found a Laura Ashley desk calendar that was too pretty to use back then. The days of the week for 1991 match up with 2013. See www.whencanireusethiscalendar.com.
Now, 13 other tips for '13:
• No. 1: Use what you've got.
It is possible to make dinner out of what's at home at least one day a week. Need a use for small bottles of shampoo in the closet? My husband made a game out of regularly tapping into our stockpile. We got about three months of shampoo free.
• No. 2: Cancel a service.
"I canceled cable in 2002," said Gabriella Barthlow, a certified credit counselor and owner of the Alpha Advisory Group. She's saved thousands of dollars. She waits until a TV series is on DVD at her library.
• No. 3: Drag your feet until January when it comes to donations.
Tax rates could go up in 2013. So a charitable contribution could be a more valuable deduction if you send the check next year instead of by Dec. 31, according to Robert Shefferly III, certified public accountant, senior tax manager for the national tax office for Plante Moran in Southfield, Mich.
• No. 4: Watch ATM fees.
If you're out of town and not near your bank, it may be possible to avoid ATM fees by using your debit card at a nearby supermarket. Buy items that you can use - and get $50 cash back or more. Kroger allows up to $250 cash back on a debit card purchase if you go to a lane with a clerk; the self-check lane has a $100 limit for cash back.
If instead you go to an ATM that's not part of your bank, you'd typically pay your bank a fee of $1.57 and pay the ATM owner another $2.50 on average, according to Bankrate.com.
• No. 5: Bank one more buck.
Charge one dollar every single time you break a New Year's resolution. Make sure everyone in the house makes one promise - not to yell at the TV during a Detroit Lions' game, not to forget to put away the laundry. Put that money toward a goal.
• No. 6: Go to your kids and ask them how to save money.
"If the family is struggling economically, the kids know that in the household," said Gregory Downing, a former auto dealer and author of Entrepreneur Unleashed: Wealth to Stand the Test of Time.
It's OK to be upfront with older children, if your take-home pay was cut by 50% and you now have to buy your own health insurance, said the Florida father of three, ages 17, 13 and 11.
Children can be part of the solution, he said, noting teens need to work as well, even if only doing odd jobs for pay.
Back in the summer, my 14-year-old son told me to stop buying him T-shirts and hoodies. I had gotten into a bad habit of frequently picking up something cool and cheap. Nice, but he had too much. It's been an easy way to save $5 or $10 here and there.
• No. 7: Think "just in time."
Buying in bulk can save money, say freezing butter bought on sale during the holidays.
But "avoid overstocking your refrigerator and pantry," said Tomika Snodgrass, a vice president for RBS Citizens in Southfield. The mom of two buys only items for her weekly plan.
• No. 8: Don't clip coupons.
This anti-coupon tip sounds counterintuitive, because so much marketing works against it these days, said Laura Lee, author of Broke is Beautiful: Living and Loving the Cash-Strapped Life.
Shoppers who peruse bargain circulars, sign up for e-mails from stores, join Facebook groups and so on are constantly bombarded with deals. "Buying stuff involves spending money, not saving it," Lee said.
If you clip coupons, prioritize based on your budget.
• No. 9: Buy some bandages - and maybe a bed pan?
Some rules changed in 2011 and now you're required to have a prescription from a doctor if you want to be reimbursed as part of a flexible spending account for buying over-the-counter medicine or drugs.
But many do not realize that there are 32,000 services and items that would be reimbursed by FSA funds - and do not need a prescription for reimbursement, said Natasha Rankin, executive director for the Employers Council on Flexible Compensation in Washington, D.C.
She noted that on average people lose $138 after not filing for reimbursements or not spending the necessary amounts in flexible spending accounts. Online stores even sell items that qualify for FSA dollars.
"People think they can't buy any products anymore," said Jeremy Miller, president of FSAstore.com. Miller notes that's not true.
Check with your sponsor about deadlines for spending and filing for reimbursements.
A new FSA cap hits in January. The maximum an employee can set aside is $2,500. If both spouses are working, the maximum allowed is $5,000.
• No. 10: Play make-believe.
If you could pretend to be a cowboy when you were a kid, why can't you imagine that one day you'll be able to retire? If you can believe it, you can save.
• No. 11: Create one "no-spend-zone."
One Saturday each month, don't spend any money. No fair pulling out plastic.
• No. 12: Save sentimental cash.
Examine the serial number on each $1 bill. Then, save bills that start with a special letter, like your first initial, said Samirian Hill, president of BudgetWise Financial Solutions in Southfield.
• No. 13: Go offshore.
No, not really offshore. But why not bank far from home? If you choose a financial institution that is a hike to get to, it could be difficult to empty that account, said Dorothy Barrick, financial counselor and group manager for GreenPath Debt Solutions, a national non-profit credit counselor. Of course, just pulling out a debit card from that bank would defeat the purpose.
The odd thought here: Don't just work for your money; work hard to avoid spending it, too.
Contact Susan Tompor: 313-222-8876 or firstname.lastname@example.org
More ways to ring in savings in the New Year:
• Take time to return cans for deposit money.
• Switch up your morning drink. If you usually buy a pricey coffee, opt for a less expensive tea. Re-use that fancy tea bag one or two more times, too.
• Don't be afraid to do something that seems too totally weird to save money - recycle scrap metal that's cluttering up your garage.
Dig up an old, low-cost family recipe, maybe for something like corn fritters. It won't be as good - or as cheap - as when Mom made it, but it will be less expensive than drive-thru.
• Fix something. When a backpack rips during the school season, sew it or use some duct tape.
• Substitute. My friend Joel cut back on his beer budget by opting to freeze cider for the year. Take a weekend trip, instead of a week. Buy fun socks instead of shoes.