Click on Compact Fluorescents
Try changing all your lights now to energy-saving compact fluorescents (CFL). You'll need to do it by 2012 anyway, when incandescent bulbs will be phased out under federal law. With CFLs costing about $3 a bulb, the average household would pay $90 for the lighting makeover and save $440 to $1,500 on energy bills over the five-year life of the bulbs.
But because CFLs contain some mercury, contact your trash collector for safe disposal options. The future may hold mercury-free efficiency. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs), already jazzing up holiday lighting, may soon brighten homes. —Marianne Lavelle
Get Ready to Retire With A Roth 401(k)
Most people need to save more for retirement. Now there's another way to do it: The Roth 401(k), introduced in 2006 and starting to be offered by more employers (22 percent and growing), allows workers to save post-tax dollars in an account that will be tax free forevermore.
Fidelity Investments recommends the Roth 401(k) for two types of people: those who have accumulated a substantial balance in their existing, pretax 401(k)'s and younger employees who are earning less now than they expect to earn in the future.
Regardless of the type of account used, consider ramping up those retirement savings. A little scrimping now can make for sweeter golden years. —Kimberly Palmer
Get the Most Out of Your Donation
This year, give like Bill Gates—on a budget. Donor-advised funds offer the benefits of private foundations, minus the red tape. You donate assets such as cash, stocks, or mutual funds to a fund run by a community foundation, financial-services firm, or other nonprofit. You recommend which charities should receive grants, and the fund dispatches a check.
With donor-advised funds, you can claim an immediate deduction. And if you donate stocks or funds that have appreciated in value, you can deduct the full market value of your shares (and avoid capital-gains taxes). Donation minimums vary. Fidelity and Schwab require $5,000. But some community foundations let you get started for as little as $1,000. —Katy Marquardt
Catalog Your Clutter
Everyone should inventory his or her possessions in case disaster strikes. Right. "It's the unusually prepared person who has done an inventory," concedes Michael Barry of the Insurance Information Institute. But Hurricane Katrina and the California wildfires are spurring people to action. Getting ahead of disaster is as easy as walking around the house with a camera. Then send the pics to a safe place outside the home. That bare minimum can help reconstruct belongings after a fire, flood, or burglary.
The $30 Quicken Home Inventory program makes it easy to import photos, then add details: descriptions, prices, and purchase dates. The Insurance Information Institute offers more tips at KnowYourStuff.org. —David LaGesse