Eight Savvy Ways to Upgrade your Finances and Lifestyle in 2012

(ARA) – People always look forward to a new year, whether it’s a chance to start over from a tough year, or an opportunity to build on something great that happened the last year. Either way, upgrading from one year to the next is an important start.

Upgrading our finances is the place most people want to start, according to MarketWatch personal finance columnist and lifestyle expert Jeanette Pavini, but even more Americans are looking to upgrade their lives in some way. According to a new Harris Interactive poll, commissioned by the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, 93 percent of respondents want to upgrade their lives in 2012.

“It’s all about making small changes that don’t feel like you’re cutting back, and then adding a small indulgence to make you feel good,” says Pavini. “Whether you want to feel better about your relationships, your health or your career, focus on small changes that can turn an average experience into a sensual, enjoyable, satisfying one.”

Pavini offers some financial and lifestyle tips that can help you upgrade your 2012 and get the year off to a great start.

1. An easy way to start saving money is to stop going out for lunch every day. The average deli lunch is close to $9 per day, while making that same sandwich, lunch and drink at home can cost less than $2. “Upgrade the experience by including a piece of premium chocolate,” Pavini suggests. “You’ll add a bit of glamour into your everyday life, while saving a lot of money.” Follow this as often as you can and you can save up to $1,800 per year – perfect to use to start saving for a relaxing vacation somewhere luxurious.

2. Look for easy ways to indulge. Our busy lives can often make it challenging to indulge in a nice meal or vacation, and according to a recent Harris Interactive survey, 63 percent of women and 54 percent of men say they would spend more on premium chocolate when they felt like indulging. Adding a premium chocolate bar to your bag lunch or after a nice dinner at home is one way to indulge without breaking the bank. Ghirardelli Gourmet Milk, the newest line of milk chocolate made for the connoisseur, is one way to do that with three new flavors: Gourmet Milk Creamy Devotion (32 percent cacao milk chocolate), Gourmet Milk Sea Salt Escape and Gourmet Milk Coconut Rendezvous.

3. Cook extra. Another way to save is to cook extra food at night when you make dinner and bring the leftovers for lunch – or keep them in the freezer when you’re in a pinch. Casseroles, soups and chilies freeze well and keep their taste when reheated. Most cooked dishes will last for two to three months in the freezer. Cooking meals on your own ensures that you have the best ingredients and no hidden calories.

4. Indulge at home. A night on the town can be costly but don’t let that discourage you from having a romantic date night. Turn your kitchen into restaurant with a white tablecloth, good dishes and candles.

5. Think long term when it comes to saving money. For most homeowners one extra mortgage payment a year can shave about eight years off their mortgage. It may not seem like a lot at the time, but over a lifetime, that can mean tens of thousands of dollars in savings.

6. Check the benefits of membership. Many museums sell family memberships for a discounted rate, which can sometimes include free or discount admission to hundreds of other museums, aquariums, zoos and science centers.

7. Nothing can add to romance like a relaxing massage. Check out local massage schools for deep discounts. Students who are about to graduate need to get their hours in, and you can benefit by getting a professional massage at a fraction of the cost.

8. If you love a high-end dining experience, eat out for lunch instead of dinner. Many of the same dishes are offered at half the price. And instead of paying for dessert and coffee, which can add another $25, have a Ghirardelli Gourmet Milk chocolate bar waiting at home or the office for a perfect finish to a meal.