Winter is known for its indulgences, and as a result, we're bombarded with messages on how to scale back: How to avoid holiday weight gain, bloated credit card bills, and over-stuffed suitcases. But there are a few splurges you might want to consider embracing, because they can help boost your overall financial health.
In fact, with early sunsets and frigid temperatures keeping you indoors, winter can be the ideal time to plot some key money-saving moves, with the help of these seven tools:
1. Kitchen tools. Anything that helps you cook more at home, whether it's a new cookbook, casserole dish, or handheld immersion blender can save you money over the course of the year if it means going to fewer restaurants or ordering takeout less often. If nothing else, consider buying a simple milk frother, which usually sells for between $10 and $20 and can turn a watery homemade hot chocolate or latte into a foam-filled, café-quality delight. You'll automatically be less tempted to stop by the local coffee shop for your caffeine (or chocolate) fix.
2. A new calendar or planner. Who doesn't love to make New Year's goals and reflect on progress over the past year? Okay, many people don't, but it's still a good idea, especially when it comes to reviewing financial goals. Did you save as much as you wanted to this past year? If not, what got in your way? Do you have new financial goals for 2013, such establishing new sources of income or cutting certain costs? Brainstorming with family members and then writing goals down on a shared calendar can make it easier to start taking steps toward reaching them. At the very least, a colorful wall calendar with mini-goals for each month can serve as useful reminder each time you flip the page.
3. Home entertainment upgrades. Sure, a new Hulu Plus or Pandora subscription isn't necessary, but it can spruce up your home life this winter, especially as you spend more time indoors. That can also mean fewer temptations to splurge on far pricier entertainment purchases, such as restaurant meals or going to the movies. The most efficient way to purchase these items for yourself can be to "gift" them to family members. Then, you get your holiday shopping done while also sharing in the goods. December is also a great time to land killer deals on electronics, since many retailers feature them as part of their holiday discounts.
4. Gift cards for small indulgences. If you know you have a weak spot for daily indulgences, such as a morning Starbucks run, consider using a gift card (to yourself) to help reign it in. If you decide how much you want to spend on the category each month--say, no more than $30, which is about half as much as what it costs to buy a latte every weekday--then you can purchase yourself a gift card for that month and limit yourself to it. In other words, when the gift card runs out, so do the lattes. (The milk frother from tip #1 can also help ease the pain of this transition.)
5. A better credit card. Taking out a new credit card is not a purchase per se, but getting one that's better suited to your needs can improve your overall financial health in the coming year. First, look back on your credit card usage for the year. Did you pay off your balance each month? Did you take advantage of any rewards points or other perks of the card, such as warranties or travel insurance? If you don't carry a balance but aren't fully benefiting from card benefits, it might be time to get a card that's better suited to your needs. Check out a card comparison site, such as nerdwallet.com, creditcards.com, or indexcreditcards.com for the best option for you.
[See: 50 Smart Money Moves.]
6. Home improvements. If your chimney allows cold air to leak and drives up your heating bills, or if you still don't have a programmable thermostat, consider investing in those upgrades to reduce your monthly bills. Smart power strips that cut power to electronics when they're not in use, insulation, and weather-stripping on doors are also good options.
7. Healthcare check-ups. Anyone who still has flex spending dollars left over should pay special attention to this category to avoid losing that cash. New eyeglasses, chiropractor appointments, acupuncture, and dental check-ups can all be eligible for reimbursement. Check your plans' rules, then make some appointments.
What do you like to buy in the winter?
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