Whatever financial problem you're having now -- vanishing savings, growing bills, total overload -- these simple tactics will give you one more reason to celebrate this year.
By Candace Braun Davison
1. Problem: You're Focused On The Red And The Black
Lesson: Try this exercise with a hard copy of last month's bank account statement: Highlight only the items that brought you extreme joy. We're guessing there's still plenty of white space. Manisha Thakor, CEO of MoneyZen Wealth Management, LLC, encourages her clients to take a hard look at anything that didn't make the cut. Most people leave about 20 percent of the page blank, she says, and it's not all bills. From gym memberships you don't really use to regular dinners with snarky friends who only bring you down, noting the things that don't lift you up can help you cut them out. "You have to sort out the noise from the joy, so the happy areas in your life can shine all the brighter," she explains.
2. Problem: You Pay More To Talk Than You Do to Eat
Lesson: One in five people spend more on cell phone payments each month than groceries, a 2012 Harris Interactive survey found. If you're in this camp (and want to enjoy more Surf and Turf), there are a number of plans that can help you cut costs: Sprint's new "Framily" plan allows you to open a shared account with your friends and not be responsible if they miss a payment; T-Mobile will pay up to $650 per line to get people to switch to their no-contract service; companies like Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile also offer month-by-month, no-contract plans.
3. Problem: You Only Save On The Hotel
Lesson: We've heard that most flight sales take place on Sunday or Monday night, but if you want an even better deal, you'll have to get on the phone -- at 1 a.m. on Wednesday. That's the time when most airlines' computer systems are flooded with the discount tickets that haven't sold, and the salespeople at the airlines are willing to make a deal that the computer won't, CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg told Quartz. The caveat: It should be 1 a.m. in the time zone the airline is based in, which may not necessarily be your time zone. And unless you're flying on a major holiday, the absolute lowest prices can usually be found 45 days before takeoff, Greenberg says.
4. Problem: You Check Your Credit Right Around Tax Season Each Year
Lesson: We all know how important it is to know your credit score, but when it comes down to it, many of us only check it once a year. These days our credit card information gets swiped, typed or auto-filled in everywhere, making year-round monitoring all the more important. Thakor suggests getting one credit report every four months (instead of all three free annual reports at once). For more round-the-clock coverage, there are two other programs worth checking out: If you shop at Target, you may qualify for a free year of credit monitoring through Experian's ProtectMyID, provided that you sign up before April 23, 2014. Also, in February, Discover announced that it would start listing cardholders' credit scores on their monthly statements for free. If you're not a Discover card user, you may want to check with your credit card company to see if they plan to offer a similar service.
5. Problem: You're Buried in Information
Lesson: When it comes to where you put your money, the options (and terms and conditions) can be overwhelming. Having a simple framework to view it all through can make things much easier, which is why Thakor recommends that people keep a Carl Richards sketch in mind before making any financial decisions: It's a Venn diagram, where one circle represents "Things That Matter" and the other represents "Things You Can Control." "Focus on what overlaps; you can't control the market, but you can control whether you pay an extra $10 per month on your credit card's minimum payment," she says. Identifying your priorities—be it buying a house, saving up for a new car or whittling away the $29,400 the average person owes in student loans -- can help you zero in on the little-by-little steps you can take to achieve that goal.