I was hoping to get one of those beefcake calendars for Christmas so I could have 12 months of a little muscular inspiration.
Alas, my only 2000 calendar doesn't have any men with rippling muscles. Instead I plan to hang up "Loose Change 2000," a calendar created by the Financial Literacy Center in Michigan.
"This calendar is a constant reminder of how important financial literacy is and how to become money-savvy," said Megan Connors of the Literacy Center, which creates and disseminates financial education material.
There's nothing new in the money-saving tips you get in this wonderfully illustrated and funny financial calendar. But, as my husband always says, a little common sense isn't too common.
You can buy the $9.95 (plus shipping and handling) "Loose Change" calendar by visiting hitflc.com on the Web. But here's an abridged version of the kind of tips you'll get each month:
January: Start the year with a financial plan and budget. Write it down. Use it. You can begin by gathering documents and organizing receipts so you can be ready for tax time.
February: According to the Federal Reserve Board, consumer debt more than doubled from 1991 to 1997, from $247 billion to $514 billion. Take time out this month to lighten your debt load. You know those high-interest credit cards? Pay them off. Cut them up. Cancel them.
March: Don't wait till next month to begin preparing your taxes (advice I should take myself).
April: Think of your savings as an "expense" that you need to pay just like other bills. Make it automatic by enrolling in direct deposit or payroll deduction. And here's the kicker. Put the money in a separate account and don't get an ATM card for it.
May: "Dollars do better if they are accompanied by sense." I love this month's quote. This month make a point of helping your kid or a kid you know learn more about finances. If you don't think they need it, ponder this. The National Endowment for Financial Education estimates that teen spending averages about $61 a week.
June: AAA says that the average daily food expenditure for a vacationing family of four is $104. The average nightly lodging rate is $95. There are ways to vacation for less. For example, try staying with friends or family when you travel. My husband and I visit Virginia Beach each year and we stay with my great aunt and uncle in nearby Portsmouth. In previous years we would stay in a hotel and spend a small fortune. But we realized (because they told us) that my auntie and uncle prefer that we stay with them. That way they get to see more of us and our children. And we get wonderful accommodations with great country cooking. Besides, we always go home with a batch of my uncle's homemade rolls and preserves.
July: Don't let inflation rob you of your purchasing power. Savings are a necessity, but if you want a chance at beating inflation you'll have to do a little investing too. Just remember you can lose money in stocks or mutual funds, so do your homework.
August: In the 19 years from 1977 to 1996, total costs at four-year public colleges rose from 12.7 percent of median family income to 17.3 percent. So how can you lower the cost of higher education? Maybe your kid can live at home and commute. And don't forget community college, at least for the first two years. Let your kid get all the basic courses out of the way and then transfer and get a degree from a four-year college.
September: Speaking of investing, here's one good tip worth remembering: It pays to think long-term. Most of us average folks need to focus on the long-term potential of our investments. Leave the daily ups and downs of the stock market to those gambling day traders.
October: About one out of 10 people can explain the difference between load and no-load mutual funds, according to the National Association of Securities Dealers. Take time out this month to increase your financial know-how. There are tons of free financial seminars and Web sites you can take advantage of, so do it.
November: It's so easy to overspend during the holidays. But you don't have to. The quote for this month: "To acquire wealth is difficult, but to spend it wisely is most difficult of all."
December: It's time to make a few New Year's resolutions. Review your financial situation. For example, are you putting in the maximum amount for your employer-sponsored retirement plan? Have you checked on your mutual fund performance or the asset mix in your investment portfolio? Instead of just vowing to lose weight, make plans to take care of your financial health, too.
Michelle Singletary's column appears in this section every Sunday. While she welcomes comments and column ideas, she cannot offer specific personal financial advice. Join her online to discuss today's column at 2 p.m. Tuesday at washingtonpost.com. She will also be discussing this column on the "Insight" program with Herman Washington tomorrow at 6:40 p.m. on WHUR (96.3-FM). Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.