It might be the season to spend on others, but there are also a few investments you should consider making in yourself this winter. The ideas below are designed to help get your finances in top-notch shape for the new year, while giving yourself some affordable indulgences along the way.
1. A programmable thermostat for your home.
A variety of new types of programmable thermostats have hit the market in recent years, including some that allow control through a smartphone. In other words, you can be sitting in your office while adjusting the temperature at your home. That's important, because lowering the heat during the day when no one's home can generate significant savings - up to 30 percent off, according to Emerson, which makes climate-control products.
Other types of home improvements, such as a smart power strip that cuts power to electronics when they're not in use, insulation and weather-stripping can also help minimize winter energy bills.
2. Anything offered through your credit card's rewards program.
If you're enrolled in a credit card rewards program (something you should only consider if you pay off your bill in full each month), now is a good time to cash in. Browse the catalog of offerings and consider using your points instead of ignoring them for another year. Many card providers also allow points to be redeemed for gift cards or even cash.
Last year, money expert Farnoosh Torabi used her points to buy an Apple Macbook Air. "Not a bad way to delay gratification," she says. She has also put her points toward traveling.
3. Chiropractor appointments, new eyeglasses and other health care expenses.
If you have a flexible spending account, the deadline for health care-related expenses is coming up. Employees typically have until the end of the year or mid-March to spend the money. If you've been putting off any doctor's visits or medical care, now is the time to take care of yourself, and be sure to keep any receipts for reimbursement filing. You can check with your flex spending account manager to verify the list of eligible expenses.
4. A make-your-own coffee contraption.
A range of products, from the Keurig single-cup brewing system to Nespresso machines to milk foaming tools make it relatively easy to create professional-tasting (and looking) coffee drinks at home. Over time, making them yourself will also generate savings. If you're the kind of person with a daily caffeine habit and you've gotten used to purchasing your lattes, consider experimenting with an at-home machine. You might even find that you prefer the end product, since you can customize it to your own taste.
5. Other cooking tools.
Slow cookers, high-powered blenders, cookbooks (and cookbook apps) and herb gardens can all make it easier and cheaper to prepare high-quality, tasty meals at home. Having them handy can reduce the temptation to order out again.
6. Home entertainment services.
Hulu Plus, Pandora One, Netflix and other types of subscriptions can make spending an evening at home, instead of out on the town, even more enticing, especially during the cold months. Since going out to the movies can easily set you back $20 or more, these services often pay for themselves over time, as long as you take advantage of them.
What else is on your winter shopping list?
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