Whether you want to ramp up your earning power, finally start a retirement savings account, or just stop feeling like you're wasting money, now is the time to put together your New Year's resolutions. We've pulled together 50 ways you can improve your financial life in 2011, based on the latest economic research and interviews with financial experts. These ideas, which focus on spending, saving, and earning, give you the tools for a complete financial makeover.
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1. Decide on your big goals. Do you want to have more money in your bank account? Take a five-star vacation? If you're having trouble putting your finger on it, ask the people who know you best. Brainstorming with your significant other, family members, and friends can help shake loose your own thoughts.
2. Share those goals with other people. Telling friends and family members about your plans will help you stick to them. But you don't necessarily have to share your goals with people you know. At 43things.com, strangers list goals such as "save 20 percent of what I earn" or "identify 100 things that make me happy (besides money)." The website MyLifeList.org can also help; after you make a list of your goals, you can share them with others and give and receive encouragement.
3. Do a little every day. Take small steps toward your big goals every day, even if it means spending 60 seconds checking out a relevant website before bed. If you want to launch a small business, for example, small steps can include purchasing your website name, interviewing Web designers, and reading a book or two on being an entrepreneur. The most successful savers profiled in Generation Earn started by automatically saving a small percentage of their income; Nicole Mladic, a 31-year-old communications director in Chicago, couldn't afford to put away a big chunk of her salary when she was in her mid-20s, so she started saving 2 percent. A few months later, she raised it to 3 percent, then to 4 percent, and eventually she reached her goal of 10 percent. Today, her net worth is more than $90,000.
4. Take time to reflect. Look back on 2010. What were your personal money highs and lows? What mistakes did you make and what challenges did you face? What financial decisions are you most proud of?
5. Get rid of junk mail. The website catalogchoice.org lets retailers know which customers no longer want to receive their mail. Participating companies agree to stop sending any more catalogs within three months. Signing up with 41pounds.org halts junk mail. The Direct Marketing Association (the-dma.org) will let its members know when people sign up to stop receiving direct-mail marketing offers. Junk mail piles up over time, so these fixes can really make a difference in the long run. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans receive four million tons of junk mail each year, almost half of which is never even opened. In addition to saving paper, you'll prevent yourself from spending needlessly by avoiding the temptations on those glossy pages.
6. Stop receiving E-mail sales alerts from your favorite retailers. Electronic junk mail might not carry the same environmental impact, but it can still convince you to spend money on items you don't need. Unsubscribe to retailer alerts to avoid the temptation.
7. Negotiate one big-ticket item each month. Often, big-box stories and department stores offer some wiggle room on their posted prices, especially when competitors offer a product for less. Before making any significant purchases, especially electronics, comparison shop and be prepared to ask the store clerk if their company can give you a better deal.
8. Get familiar with comparison and coupon websites. Websites such as PriceGrabber.com, BradsDeals.com, and Dealnews.com can help you pay less for items you buy often as well as splurges. Get in the habit of checking these sites before buying anything online or shopping in stores.