10 steps to an upgraded financial life

The beginning of the year offers a great opportunity to take stock of your financial situation and make any necessary changes to build a bigger nest egg or cut back on unnecessary spending. If you're ready for a financial upgrade but aren't sure where to start, click through the slideshow for suggestions that will move you in the right direction without requiring too much sacrifice.

10 Steps to an Upgraded Financial Life
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10 steps to an upgraded financial life

1. Choose a better bank.

If you find yourself constantly paying fees for using out-of-network ATMs or running out of cash when you're on the road, now is the time to find a bank that better fits your needs. FindABetterBank.com has a comparison tool that can help, as can Bankrate and Google Compare, which focuses on credit cards. Larger banks tend to offer more ATMs for frequent travelers, while smaller banks and credit unions might be less convenient but offer lower fees. 

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2. Upgrade your credit card.

Many people use credit cards that aren't matched to their needs, which means they pay too much in fees or miss out on rewards. If you carry debt, you'll want to find a card with the lowest annual fee possible. But those without debt can maximize their rewards. Comparison sites such as IndexCreditCards.com and CreditCards.com make it easy to search for the right fit.

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3. Download money-saving apps.

Dozens of apps aimed at reducing your expenses are available for your smartphone, including BillGuard for help monitoring your accounts, Key Ring for storing discount cards and RetailMeNot for coupons. Because these apps go with you whenever you bring your phone along, they’re more convenient to use than paper-based coupons or plastic cards in your wallet.

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4. Conquer paperwork.

If you're drowning in bank statements, retirement account paperwork and health insurance forms, consider moving as much paperwork online as possible, and creating a three-ring binder and filing system for the rest. Having a shredder on hand to quickly and safely transfer personal documents to the trash can also help.

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5. Stop paying for cable.

Many television shows are available online for free – viewers need only watch a short commercial beforehand. Hulu, iTunes and network websites make it easy. If you're looking for a specific show, try a simple Web search; just be sure to avoid the spam sites that pop up.

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6. Take a free vacation.

A combination of credit card rewards, airline miles and hotel membership programs can generate enough rewards to fund a getaway for two around the world. Just be sure to keep track of all paperwork, and look for opportunities to layer deals and giveaways on top of each other. And don't forget to read the fine print, especially when it relates to expiration dates and restrictions.

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7. Spend less on food.

Cooking more at home, keeping an organized fridge and shopping more frequently but buying less can help cut down on food waste. Even restaurant trips can become more cost-efficient if you bring your own doggie bag and ask the server to pack up the bread for you if you don't plan to eat it.

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8. Find your number.

Most Americans haven't yet calculated just how much they'll need to save for retirement, but free online calculators make it easy. Bankrate, Fidelity and Transamerica offer calculators that are easy to customize with specific rates of returns, tax rates and inflation rates, among other factors.

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9. Seek frugal fun.

Successful parties don't need to break the bank. Stick with email invitations to save on paper and postage costs, and focus on a few special touches, like cucumber water, to add flare. Gifts for special occasions also can be more meaningful and less expensive when they include gifts of time, such as a coffee date.

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10. Protect yourself online.

If your password is a common name or phrase, a hacker could guess it. Make your online accounts more secure by not using the same password on multiple sites and sticking with longer, hard-to-guess words or sentences. Intersperse some numbers and symbols for good measure; just be sure to remember what they are through mnemonic devices or a password-locked list.

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Once you've run through this list, you'll be better poised to stay on top of your money throughout the year – and that's something worth celebrating.

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

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