By Kimberly Palmer
If the new year has you feeling motivated to up your financial game, then you've come to the right place. Below, you'll find our 25 best personal finance tips from the year rounded up into bite-size pieces, ready for you to apply to your life. They'll help you save more, spend smarter and keep your money safe.
1. Protect Your Phone
Our phones hold an incredible amount of personal information about us, including financial details. To make sure yours doesn't fall into the wrong hands, be sure to activate password protection, disable your phone from automatically connecting to public Wi-Fi hotspots, avoid announcing that you're on vacation publicly via social media and stay away from online stores (and people) that aren't familiar.
2. Use Apps Wisely
Many of us use apps for everything from tracking our fitness routines to checking the weather. They can do a lot to boost our finances, including helping us find the best deals and tracking our money. But they can also make it too easy to shop mindlessly from bed, waste time scrolling through Facebook (FB) updates and put our private information at risk if we don't take steps to protect it (see previous tip).
3. Launch a Side Business
Given the lack of job security that many Americans face, one of the best ways to augment your current income -- and increase your overall financial stability -- is to earn a second stream of income. One way to do that is by launching a side businesses. Websites such as Etsy, Fiverr, Elance and Freelancer.com make it easy to set up an account and offer your products or services to paying customers.
4. Join a Credit Union
While more than 96 million Americans use credit unions, which tend to offer higher savings rates and lower fees than traditional banks, many people who are eligible still opt to park their money in traditional banks instead. You can check your eligibility at mycreditunion.gov, and shop around for your best options.
5. Think About Your Future Self
If you think about your future self, then you're more likely to put money aside for that future self to one day use. That's one insight from the research of Oleg Urminsky, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He also suggests stopping yourself before splurging, even on small luxury items like a cup of coffee, to ask yourself if you would prefer to grow that money in a retirement savings account.
6. Cultivate Patience
Being impatient isn't just rude, it can also be costly. Research by Stephan Meier, a Columbia Business School associate professor, has found that people with less patience also tend to have lower credit scores, which can make it more expensive to take out loans. Your future self comes into play here, too: You can cultivate a greater degree of patience by thinking more about the long term than the short term and focusing on long-term values and goals.
7. Help Others With Their Money
Whether you're at the stage of helping your aging parents handle their finances or coaching your children how to manage money (or perhaps you're facing both tasks simultaneously), you might benefit from simply having more conversations about money. Children who talk more frequently with their parents about saving tend to practice better financial habits when they're older. Similarly, adult children can help their aging parents by asking them key money questions about their long-term care and retirement plans.
8. Save More Money
Having enough emergency savings stored away to handle unexpected expenses, from a root canal to a car accident, can prevent those kind of events from sending you deep into credit card debt. To begin building your nest egg, start small by saving just $5 a day and slowly ramp that up over time. To make it easier, consider automating transfers into savings accounts each month.
9. Calculate Your Retirement Number
Most people don't bother crunching their retirement number -- the amount they need to save by retirement to maintain their lifestyle -- but doing so can be helpful and may provide motivation to increase monthly savings into retirement accounts. Online calculators make it easy to generate an estimate; you can also multiply your current salary by 12 for a quick ballpark figure.
10. Protect Your Children's Privacy
Children aren't always aware that the accounts they create and photos they share on social media could stay on the Internet forever. Parents can help them with techniques like sticking to fake names and limiting photo postings. Setting ground rules about what is and isn't appropriate online is an essential conversation to have before your child makes his or her first Facebook, Twitter (TWTR) or Instagram post.
11. Trim Your Tax Bill
Putting money into tax-advantaged accounts, like 401(k)s and 529s, is one of the easiest ways to reduce your tax burden.These accounts also have the added benefit of boosting your overall savings rate. Launching a business also opens up the possibility to deduct certain expenses, and parents can claim certain child care-related tax deductions. Certain medical expenses, charitable contributions and mortgages are also tax deductible.
12. Avoid Common Tax Mistakes
Many taxpayers forget to update their household status, file on paper instead of electronically, file late and make math errors on their returns. Those kind of mistakes can lead to refund delays and even overpayment. Filing electronically can reduce the chances of some of these errors, and careful double checking can help with the rest.
13. Reduce Your Energy Costs
To make sure you're minimizing your heating costs in the winter and cooling costs in the summer, check up on your home's insulation and plug any holes. Keep shades closed in the summer so the sun doesn't heat up the room, and use an adjustable thermostat in both seasons so you can pay less while you're out of the house. You'll also want to get regular professional checkups of your air conditioning and heating systems, and clean filters once a month, too.
14. Avoid Buyer's Remorse
Buyer's remorse -- that unwanted feeling of regretting a splurge -- is relatively common when purchasing expensive and luxury items, but research published in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests ways to avoid it. Most importantly, paying more attention to price, and even heightening attention to it by counting out bills ahead of time, can help, along with thinking more about the potential long-term value of the item.
15. Get Smart About Credit Cards
Making sure you have the best credit card for you starts with some comparison shopping. Websites such as IndexCreditCards.com, Bankrate.com and CreditCards.com makes it easy to compare the relative pros and cons of each piece of plastic. Consumers should pay attention to extra perks, including extended warranties, travel insurance and rewards points, but anyone carrying debt should opt for a card with a low interest rate to make it easier to pay off that debt, and minimize fees and interest over time.
16. Share Money Decisions with Your Partner
If you don't enjoy tracking spending or investing, then it might be tempting to hand off financial management duties to your partner. But research suggests that couples are more confident and satisfied with their finances if they share responsibilities, instead of handing them off to one person. One problem with handing the reins to just one person is that in the event of death, the survivor may struggle to catch up, in addition to managing grief.
17. Make Your Paycheck More Meaningful
Looking for work that resonates with your personal values early on in your career can help you find satisfaction in the work world. Sometimes, a commitment to workplace satisfaction might mean leaving a comfortable job for a position in a different field, even if it means starting over again at a lower salary.
18. Trim Your Monthly Costs
Some of the easiest costs to trim include dining out and personal care expenses like hair cuts. Clothing is another prime target. Other monthly expenses ripe for trimming include gym membership fees, cable, your landline and any unused entertainment subscriptions, like Netflix (NFLX).
19. Check Your Credit Score
It's never been easier to obtain your credit score for free. You've long been able to access your credit report once a year through AnnualCreditReport.com at no cost, but now you can also get your credit score through a variety of commercial websites, including Mint.com, CreditKarma.com and CreditSesame.com.
20. Light an Abundance Candle
Flames and a pleasant smell might not exactly end cash flooding out of your bank account, but some financial experts say that simple rituals, including lighting a candle or creating a "money magnet jar" to gaze at, can help you make better financial decisions. At the very least, it helps remind you of your financial goals.
21. Spend Less On Your Kids
It's no secret children are expensive, but some of those costs can be minimized with careful planning. Buying gender-neutral toys and clothes can make it easier for siblings to share, for example, and sometimes it's possible to borrow big-ticket items, such as cribs and toddler beds, from friends or relatives.
22. Boost Your Financial Literacy
Many Americans struggle with even basic financial literacy, including calculating compound interest and understanding the benefits of using tax-advantaged accounts like 401(k)s. Educating yourself about some of the basic principles, including always earning more than you spend and diversifying investments, can pay off.
23. Buy Life Insurance
While taking out life insurance can be a burdensome and lengthy process, complete with a health care checkup, it's an essential one -- especially for anyone who has dependents like children. For young, healthy professionals, the cost of life insurance is relatively low, and locking in a 30-year rate now on term life insurance can be a smart financial move.
24. Go On Cheaper Dates
Romance doesn't have to be expensive. Taking advantage of local community events, free museum days and urban hikes can all help keep the price down. Instead of a movie and dinner, pack a picnic or frequent local food trucks. For a third or fourth date (or for married couples), you could even cook at home.
25. Embrace frugality
Cooking at home, shopping at grocery stores on Wednesdays to get first access to new deals, checking coupon apps before buying and using price comparison tools like browser add-ons are just a few of the ideas suggested by the U.S. News Frugal Shopper bloggers. Putting a little effort into research before making any purchase can significantly cut down your costs.
By Kimberly Palmer