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Smart Things You Can Do With $100 in 2012

Jill Krasny

Sure, $100 is only $100. But never underestimate how far that money can go, even in this economy.

"It's smarter to put that money away because once it's in your pocket, it's pretty much gone," says Joel Larsen, a certified financial planner based in Davis, Calif.

No matter where your finances wound up this year, we've compiled tips to help you stretch that Benjamin even further in 2012.

Open a College Savings Plan

"A lot of people will say, 'it's only $100,'" says Larsen, but if you were to save $100 a month over 20 years at a 7% rate of return, you would amass $52,092.67—impressive, right?

Depending on your finances, you'll need to shop around to find the right plan. Weigh out investment performances, expenses, and tax exemptions.

Andrew Schrage, founder of Money Crashers, recommends trying a 529 College Savings plan set up by governments or colleges to save.

"One of the primary benefits of a 529 savings plan is that it offers tax protection from the federal government," he says. "Also, you may be eligible for tax protection from the state government."

Pay Down Debt

It may not be all you need to pay off that credit card bill, but $100 is a solid start.

"If you have a credit card that charges 20% in interest, you want to pay that off as fast as possible," Schrage says. "This option would be like putting $100 into an investment that paid a 20% annual return compounded monthly. There is no sense paying the minimum payments on high-interest debt and digging yourself in a deeper hole!"

Stock Up on Frozen Food

"You should understand the sales cycle that your grocery store runs and keep a binder of organized coupons," Schrage says. "Plan to go in and stock up on large amounts of frozen foods when they are best priced. When food prices are rising and you need to prepare, this strategy will become especially important."

Open a Roth IRA

If you're young, a Roth IRA is a great investment, says Larsen.

[See also: What Will Be Cheaper in 2012]

The money goes in after taxes, but by the time you prepare to retire, you won't have to pay taxes.

Taking advantage of your company's match is an easy way to double your savings. It's also better to sock away your money in an account rather than keep it in cash.

Take Your Pet for a Check-Up

Not following up on regular check-ups can be one of the costliest—and deadliest—money mistakes pet owners ever make.

Vets recommend check-ups every six months. Though they can cost between $100 and $200, the visit could save you thousands on emergency costs.

Open a Certificate of Deposit

"A certificate of deposit is one of the safest investments for your money and provides a better return than your savings account," Schrage says.

Long-term investors preparing for a fixed expense like buying a car can earn much more than the current yield on U.S. treasuries, he says. And unlike Treasury bills or bonds, CDs are FDIC-insured.

Make Minor Home Repairs

"Fixing up your house will help significantly over the long-term," says Schrage.

If you're looking to put it on the market, making minor repairs can dramatically raise its value.

[See also: Healthy Resolutions and How to Keep Them]

Repairing leaky plumbing and caulking holes are some of the best home improvement ideas, and might save 5% to 30% on monthly utilities.

Invest in Your Career

"A book or conference may be a great way to learn new ways to invest in your career," Schrage says. "You may want to educate yourself on ways to improve your career, improve your health and learn new skills that can help you save or make money later on."

Buy Clothes in the Off-Season

"If you know you are going to need new winter clothes, you should consider buying them in the summer and vice versa," suggests Schrage. This could save you hundreds.

Start a Rainy Day Fund

Whether you lose a job, wreck a car, fall ill, or another hardship, it's better to be prepared.

Aim to set aside three to six months' worth of living expenses, roughly the time it takes to find a new job.

Paying with savings over a credit card could save you heaps of interest and save your credit score from the trash heap.

Get a Dividend Reinvestment Plan

Schrage calls dividend reinvestment plans investing (DRIPs) "an extremely cheap way to start investing in stocks and watch your money grow."

Because DRIPs automatically purchase new shares of stock, they create the sense of passive income, which can help your money grow by leaps and bounds. "Especially if it's invested in a conservative, stable blue-chip stock," Schrage adds.

Invest in a DRIP for as little as $10.

Buy Groceries to Cook at Home

Cooking at home is a fun way to stay healthy (restaurants tend to load up on the salt), and save serious cash on eating out.

Packing lunch is another good way to cut back, too.
See the full slideshow of 15 Smart Things You Can Do With $100 in 2012

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