We’re half a month into 2014, so I am assuming that by now you have all dropped a couple of pounds, gotten your finances in order and stopped smoking.
No? That’s OK. No stones from me. I live in my own glass house full of broken resolutions.
But even if you didn’t start the year off with the bang you wanted, there’s no time like the present to start making some positive changes. Here are 10 things to stop procrastinating about in 2014.
1. Making a budget
You might think we’re harping on the issue. After all, we’ve recently told you how to budget your way to your financial goals, how to develop an effortless budget you’ll stick to and the reasons why your budget will never work for you.
There’s a reason we spend so much time talking about budgeting: It serves as the backbone for everything related to your finances. You won’t know if you can afford a new car payment if you don’t have a budget. You can’t be sure you’re putting enough away each month for retirement without a budget. And you risk racking up massive credit card debt if you don’t budget and somehow (surprise!) end up running short on cash each month.
For 2014, I signed up for PowerWallet to help make budgeting easier, but you can certainly use a spreadsheet, pen and paper or whatever other method you prefer.
2. Canceling subscriptions
While creating your budget, you might notice some subscriptions or services you no longer need. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones you plan to cancel every month but never get around to it. Stop procrastinating and stop paying for services you don’t use.
In my case, that means dropping Netflix, which we haven’t watched in months, and canceling the hot spot service on my cellphone that’s no longer needed.
3. Getting out of debt
You may feel overwhelmed by your debt, but avoiding it isn’t the answer. Every month you put off addressing your debt problem is another month you are falling further behind.
Maybe you think you’re doing OK because you can make your minimum payments, but this handy calculator provided by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System says otherwise. According to their calculations, making minimum payments on a $1,500 balance with a 19 percent interest rate will mean you’re paying on that balance for 16 years and spending $2,898 on interest.
Now, this calculator assumes a very low minimum payment requirement – only $30 – on this balance. If you were to bump up your monthly payment to $55 a month, you could be done with the debt in three years and pay only $480 in interest. Much better, right?
If you need more help digging out of that hole you’ve created for yourself, Money Talks News has a whole section on how to destroy your debt.
4. Saving for retirement
Another thing you don’t want to delay is saving for retirement. Because of the power of compound interest, every month you procrastinate could mean you’ll lose out on hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
We’ll use this calculator from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to illustrate. Let’s say you’re 40 years old and invest $10,000 in a retirement account that compounds interest once per year and earns 7 percent annually. Let’s also assume you never add another cent to that account. By the time you’re 65, your retirement account will be worth $54,274.
Not bad, right? Well, if you had invested that same $10,000, under the same conditions, at age 30, you’d have more than $106,765.
With retirement savings, lost time equals lost money.
5. Refinancing your house
As of this writing, mortgage rates are hovering around 4 to 4.5 percent. That’s about a percentage point higher than the historic lows we saw a year ago, but the rates are still good.
However, if you think you want to refinance, you should act quickly. Real estate website Zillow predicts mortgage rates will continue to rise throughout 2014 and hit 5 percent by the end of the year.
If you’ve been underwater on your mortgage and unable to take advantage of last year’s low interest rates, you may be in luck. According to information intelligence firm CoreLogic, home prices in November were up nearly 12 percent from the year before. Depending on your local housing market, that jump may be the boost you need to qualify for refinancing.
6. Planning meals
Meal planning might seem a little out of place next to refinancing and retirement savings, but stay with me for a minute.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the average household spent $2,678 on food away from home in 2012. That means that all those nights when you stare blankly into the fridge and then pack up the kids to eat out really add up. What’s more, you may find you are regularly eating breakfasts on the go and having your lunches out too.
So sit down and create a meal plan; it’s good for your waistline and your wallet.
7. Buying health insurance
It’s 2014 and that means the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is mandating that people have health insurance coverage. If you plan to buy it on one of the government-run exchanges, you only have until March 31 to sign up.
Procrastinate too long and you’re likely to get hit with a tax penalty. It won’t be much the first year: the higher of 1 percent of your annual income or $95 per person, up to $285 per family. However, it will eventually hit 2.5 percent of your income or $695 per person by 2016.
8. Buying life insurance
While you are thinking about insurance, go ahead and get that life insurance policy you know you should have. A 2013 study from New York Life estimates only 20 percent of Americans have adequate life insurance coverage, and among the study’s survey respondents, the average gap in coverage was $320,000.
That may sound like a lot of coverage to buy, but if you’re young and healthy, life insurance coverage can be really cheap. Check out term life policies or see if you can buy supplemental coverage through a workplace group plan. And if you think young and healthy people don’t need life insurance, my personal experience says otherwise. Just because you’re young and healthy today doesn’t mean you couldn’t be sick and dead next year.
9. Securing important documents
How many important documents are stored on your computer? What would happen if the hard drive were to crash and burn tomorrow?
Hopefully, you said it’s no problem because you have a backup of everything. If you didn’t, then it’s time to stop procrastinating and create a recovery system. You can use an external hard drive, or it may be more convenient to sign up for a cloud-based backup provider.
While you’re at it, make sure your paper documents are secure as well. That means birth certificates, titles and anything else that would be a massive pain to replace. Store items in a fireproof box or take them off-site to a safety deposit box.
10. Practicing gratitude
Finally, let’s wrap up this list with something nonfinancial: gratitude.
All the number crunching that comes with managing your money is apt to make you feel a bit out of sorts, especially if your finances are shaky. You may feel a bit green with envy over your neighbor’s bigger and better toys, or you could feel depressed that there is seemingly no light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
Make 2014 the year you don’t wait until Thanksgiving to count your blessings. Take stock of what you do have and make a point to be grateful for those things. In addition to feeling better about your situation, research suggests practicing gratitude can keep you healthier, give you more energy and help you attain your goals.
What are you procrastinating about in 2014? Tell us in the comments below or on our Facebook page.