The beginning of a new year is a good time for consumers to look at where they’ve been in the past year and what they’d like to change.
Here are some things to look at to get more of what you want as a consumer in 2014:
1. Review your goals, if you have them, or make a list if you don’t.
Thinking about your goals will help you put your resources and energy toward what you want to accomplish. If you have a partner or a family, have a meeting and discuss goals together.
2. Develop a budget to help you meet your financial goals.
Be sure to include savings in your budget. If you’re not saving money every month, tune in to Suzi Orman’s show or watch other family finance programs that offer information on how to cut spending each month so that you can save. Save monthly for an emergency fund if you don’t have one. Look at having a certain amount taken automatically from your checking account each month and placed in a savings account. Consider setting up a software program on your computer that helps you track your finances.
3. Make sure your finances are in order.
This includes having a will. In many states, if you die without a will, your parents and siblings will share in your estate. This could be to the determent of your family. Pay off your debts, especially high interest credit card debts. Spend less. If you don’t have investments, get started. If you have investments, check them regularly to make sure they fit in with your retirement planning.
4. Get organized.
This includes organizing your office or where you keep your financial papers. Keep a list in your office of how long you need to keep financial records. Make sure your important legal documents, such as your passport, birth certificate, and deed to your home, are located in a safe place, such as a fireproof safe or safety deposit box.
5. Compare prices.
This time honored tip for consumers is easier these days with smartphones and tablets. Don’t be shy about bargaining. Many stores will meet sale prices if you bring in proof of what others are selling the item for. Ask for money off, if you’re making a major purchase.
6. Take action on health.
Diet and exercise are so important. Cut out sugary drinks including juice, soda, and sports beverages. Cut down snacking, especially on weekends and holidays. Watch alcohol consumption. Eat healthy food such as grapes and apples and have more water available. Set up an exercise program, if you don’t have one. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Find a tracking program that will report on your progess in your diet and exercise programs. Review your health care insurance annually. If you don’t have it, sign up under the Affordable Care Act. Make sure you have a Living Will and review and update it regularly.
7. Review your retirement plan.
Are you saving enough to retire when you want to? Use calculators from websites that aren’t selling services to see how long your retirement funds will last or seek the help of a financial planner if you don’t have retirement goals or aren’t meeting them.
8. Tackle personal problems, if needed.
Some people are stuck in their relationship or job and just continue on. Don’t be afraid to seek out a counselor if things are difficult at home or at work. You can make changes in the way you think about things and act, even though others are stuck and don’t have any interest in improving the situation.
9. Watch out for scams.
Make sure that you follow recommendations about Internet security such as changing passwords regularly. Some recommend every three months. Watch out for scammers in your e-mail, on your cell phone, and in texts. Fraudsters target seniors, so if you’re older, be aware that if you begin to get caught up in scam offers, you’ll be targeted by other scammers. If you have parents who are seniors, make sure that they’re aware of how to avoid scams.
10. File consumer complaints.
If you have a problem with a company or government agency, file a consumer complaint. Very few consumers do. It’s important so that companies and the government know what’s going wrong. Many times, you can get money back or a replacement product if you file a complaint with a company.
Best wishes in 2014. I hope you make great progress in achieving your goals.