Are you ready to overhaul your spending patterns, start funneling more money into your bank account and buy better (and safer) products in 2014? If so, you've come to the right place. We've rounded up our favorite money stories to give you the bite-size nuggets you need to get your financial resolutions in place. Here are 25 ways to improve your finances in the new year.
1. Start feeling good about money
If you have a "money shame," or something that embarrasses you or makes you feel badly about how you've handled money in the past, then make this the year to move on. Financial therapist Bari Tessler Linde says many people have trouble thriving in their current financial lives because they're still dwelling on past mistakes. "Most people need to understand their money story first," she says, which includes assessing strengths along with relationships to spending, earning and giving.
2. Create your own money roadmap
Simply asking yourself what your goals are can help set you on the path to achieving them, says Bart Astor, author of "AARP Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life," which is aimed at the 50-plus crowd. He recommends thinking big and pursuing your biggest dreams, even ones that seem overly ambitious. To help increase the chances of success, he also suggests sitting down with a spreadsheet to crunch some numbers and make sure you have money saved to fund your adventures.
3. Avoid unexpected costs of driving
Driving is convenient, but it can also be surprisingly costly. You can get into accidents through no fault of your own (and end up having to pay the deductible if the other person leaves the scene or successfully argues it wasn't his fault). Regular maintenance, including oil changes and repairs, along with registration fees and parking permits, also add up.
4. Recover from financial pitfalls
Climbing back from bankruptcy or paying off huge amounts of credit card debt are no small feats, and if you're in the midst of that kind of transition, you could probably use some support. Find friends who will help you stay on track with affordable activities and by serving as sounding boards. Keep your big goals at the top of your mind by posting them prominently in a place you look every day (like your desk).
5. Avoid dangerous products
With more than 400 product recalls a year coming out of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, it's hard to keep track of them all. Signing up for email alerts from the commission or downloading an app that alerts you about recalls can help. If you're buying used baby products, you'll want to be especially careful, since there's a high number of crib, stroller and high chair recalls.
6. Cut your spending in a big way
When Detroit newspaper columnist Brian J. O'Connor decided to cut his spending by $1,000 a month, he did it by focusing on recurring expenses. Starting with phone, cable and Internet expenses and continuing down to groceries and his mortgage, he managed to squeeze out continuing savings.
7. Take advantage of new shopping tools
An array of new startups, apps and Web-based tools make it easier than ever to manage your money while you're on the go. A report from Corporate Insight, which performs research for the financial services industry, found more than 100 new startups that aim to help people manage their finances, from learnvest.com to sigfig.com. In addition, new apps, including RedLaser, Shopular and RetailMeNot make it easier to track coupons and discounts while making purchases, so you're always getting the best deal.
8. Get better customer service
No one likes staying on the phone for hours only to get an unsatisfactory resolution from the company you're calling. To protect yourself, try to stick with companies that are known for their stellar customer service. Top ranked companies – based on research by the Temkin Group, J.D. Power and Associates, Forrester Research and Zogby Analytics in partnership with MSN Money – include Amazon, Lowe's, Trader Joe's and Marriott.
9. Bump up your savings rate
Automatic savings are often the easiest way to put money aside without too much effort; diverting money into pre-tax retirement accounts directly from your paycheck or setting up an after-tax savings account are two popular options. Vanguard founder John Bogle calculates that most people need to save at least 15 percent of their income to be on track for adequate retirement savings.
Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.