Saving money is easier said than done, especially when life's expenses get in the way. And while you've probably heard a million times that packing your own lunch or giving up your daily latte can help you bank major bucks, in reality, you don't necessarily need to give up your beloved little luxuries in order to improve your financial picture. In fact, here are three moves you can make next year that could put thousands of dollars back in your pocket -- and they're easier than you'd think.
1. Maxing out your retirement plan contributions (or getting as close as you can)
We all have no choice but to pay taxes, but the less income you fork over to the IRS, the more you'll be able to save. That's why maxing out your retirement plan contributions is a solid way to up your savings.
The money you put into a traditional IRA or 401(k) goes in on a pre-tax basis. So let's say your effective tax rate is 25%, and you earn $80,000 a year. What that really means is that you're taking home $60,000 of what you make and giving the IRS $20,000. If you put $10,000 of your salary into a 401(k), you'll get to keep that money tucked away for retirement, and you won't lose a penny of it to taxes. At the same time, you'll only be taxed on $70,000 of income, which means you'll pay $17,500 in taxes instead of $20,000.
If you're under 50, you can contribute up to $5,500 to an IRA in 2017 and $18,000 to a 401(k). If you're 50 or older, you have an even bigger opportunity to save: The IRS allows you to make additional "catch-up" contributions, so you can put up to $6,500 into an IRA and $24,000 into a 401(k). Even if you can't max out these limits, the more you contribute in 2017, the more of a tax break you'll get.
2. Claiming the right tax credits
There are a number of federal tax credits in place that could reduce your tax liability, but the key is to know which ones you're eligible for. One such credit is the Earned Income Tax Credit, which, if you're a low-income household, could save you up to $6,318 on your 2017 taxes. The actual amount you'll be eligible to save will depend on your income coupled with the number of qualifying children who live with you. It's estimated that 20% of those who are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit miss out on free money because they just don't realize they can claim it, so if you're a lower earner, it pays to see whether you qualify.
Along these lines, there are several tax breaks available to families with children. The Child Tax Credit, for example, could save you $1,000 per child in your household under the age of 17. There's also the Child and Dependent Care Credit, which offers a break to parents who need to pay for child care in order to work. Depending on your expenses and how much you earn, the Child and Dependent Care Credit could give you an extra $3,000 for a single child under 13.
These are only a few of the credits available to U.S. taxpayers, so do your research to see which ones you might be eligible for. Remember, a tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of your tax liability, so the more credits you claim, the less taxes you'll pay. And because some tax credits are refundable, if you play your cards right, then the IRS could end up paying you.
3. Using your bonus to pay off debt
Expecting a bonus in 2017? While you may be tempted to spend it on travel, electronics, or something else fun, you can save a ton of money by using it to pay off debt. Imagine you're carrying a $7,000 balance on a credit card charging 18% interest a year. If it takes you an additional three years to pay off that debt, you'll wind up throwing away over $2,000 as a result of all those interest charges. Use your bonus to wipe out your balance, and that's money you'll save by virtue of not having to pay it.
Of course, if you're really inclined to give up your latte or start brown-bagging your lunch on a regular basis, more power to you. But if you're looking for a simpler way to grow your savings in 2017, fund a tax-advantaged retirement account, go after tax credits, and use whatever extra money you have to pay down debt. These moves will work wonders for your finances not just in 2017, but for years to come.