Some New Year's resolutions can help you save cash. Put the savings in the bank and use it for practical things, such as retirement, groceries or the power bill. Or reward yourself with a night on the town, a much-needed getaway or a new toy.
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While you're ruminating on how you'll spend your well-gotten gains, here's a look at just how much keeping five popular resolutions could save you, along with the items that money could buy.
Cigarette prices vary by state, running from $10.06 (New York), to $4.50 (Missouri), according to a 2010 survey by Orzechowski and Walker, an Arlington, Va., consulting firm.
The average pack costs $5.95, according to the survey. Your savings on a pack-a-day habit amount to about $180 each month or more than $2,100 annually.
Quit smoking, and that money could buy an eight-day luxury Caribbean cruise or a 60-inch LED flat-screen TV.
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The savings don't end there. Nonsmokers pay 14% less for health insurance, according to eHealthInsurance.com estimates. The only financial downside is you'll likely have to be smoke-free for 12 months before your premiums decrease, says Carrie McLean, consumer specialist for the company.
Women can save $45 a month or $540 annually, according to eHealthInsurance.com estimates. Men can save $21 a month or $252 annually.
For women, that could buy five half-day packages at a spa; a pair of Manolo Blahnik suede heel pumps (with enough left over for a first-class pair of running shoes), or an iPhone 4 with three months of unlimited service.
For men, that money could buy a pair of box seats at a Major League Baseball game or a Wii console plus three games.
Shedding a few pounds might save you a few bucks.
If you drop from overweight to the normal range, you'll pay $21 less per month for health insurance on average, according to eHealthInsurance. Go from obese to a normal weight and you'll save about $57 a month.
Just as with quitting smoking, your exact dollar savings will depend on your gender, starting weight and insurance carrier, says McLean. But on average:
- For a woman, moving the needle from overweight to normal weight will save about $31 each month in premiums or $372 annually. Going from obese to a normal weight will save about $41 a month or $492 annually.
- For a man, going from overweight to the normal range will net about $29 a month or $348 annually. Going from obese to a normal weight will save about $44 a month or $528 annually.
The money you save going from overweight to a healthy range could buy a megapixel digital camera, a stylish leather jacket or about two months' worth of free health insurance.
Cut the Fast-Food Lunches or Late-Night Junk Food
Nibbling in front of the TV at night packs on pounds and drains the wallet. If you go through a pint of ice cream or a bag of chips every evening, you're spending about $90 a month or almost $1,100 annually on junk food.
Pop your own popcorn, says dietitian Laura Cipullo, who has a private practice in New York. Switching to a high-quality, pop-it-yourself variety can trim the cost to as little as $140 a year. That can save $960 annually -- enough to buy a laptop, 13 months of unlimited smartphone service or more than eight months' worth of power bills (according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration).
Are fast-food lunches your vice? Packing a lunch saves calories and money. Eating out averages about $9 a day, Cipullo says. Pack your own turkey sandwich on whole grain with baked chips and a seltzer for about $4 a day, she says. The savings over a 50-week working year: around $1,250.
That money can buy six orchestra seats at a Broadway show, two round-trip tickets to London on British Airways (January through May), or 10 weeks of groceries for the average household (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Establish an Emergency Fund
What really saves cash is cash itself. Having an emergency fund eliminates the cost of borrowing in a financial crisis.
When people want to get their hands on a quick $2,000, two popular sources include:
Withdrawing from the 401(k), which has a big long-term impact, says Ted Sarenski, a CPA and member of the National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. To cover taxes and penalties, you would have to take out $3,000, he says. Over 30 years at 7%, that sum would be worth $24,300. Having cash, instead of withdrawing from the 401(k), saves $22,300 over 30 years.
That could pay for the down payment on a house, a new car, or two years of tuition at a state college, according to The College Board.
Taking a credit card advance, which often includes a 3% upfront charge, plus 16 to 20% interest, says Sarenski. The cost over two years of repayment: $421 to $516.
That $421 could buy more than three months' worth of power bills, 128 gallons of gas or four months of premium cable.
Fresh year, fresh start? If you want to get organized this year, get specific, says Peter Walsh, author of "Lighten Up: Love What You Have, Have What You Need, Be Happier with Less" and host of "Enough Already!"
"The problem in making a resolution like 'get organized' is it's so generic it doesn't mean anything," Walsh says. "The most important thing in making any resolution, especially in getting organized, is you have to be extremely explicit."
Get paperwork under control first, he says. Create a "very simple mail center" in your home. "Immediately put mail that needs attention" in a dedicated bin or box. "You know where your mail is, and you avoid losing stuff and incurring late fees -- which, with the people I work with, is a chronic problem."
He says: "Don't even let junk mail in the house." Tear anything sensitive into small pieces, then put half in the recycling bin and half in the trash.
You save money from late fees, missed payment fees, mail expediting costs and being overcharged or charged for items that aren't yours. You'll learn about any changes to your accounts. Plus, you save the time previously lost to disorganization.