New Year, New You: 15 Ideas for 2015
The holidays are done — you survived, congratulations. Now it’s time to focus on you. Some may call it a “resolution,” but that term can be intimidating. Instead, let’s call it a to-do list of tweaks that can help improve our lives — whether it’s today, tomorrow, or twenty-two Tuesdays from now.
So feel free to pick a few items and knock ‘em out of the park, or go gung-ho and take on the entire list. Either way, we’ve got your back, and we’ll be delving into some of these topics a bit more throughout the year. And, as always, our highly rated providers are waiting in the wings to help you with any project along the way.
1. Fix up your finances
If you’re dreading the onslaught of holiday bills, consider how a financial planner can help you devise a budget for the future. “Get a holistic financial plan that covers every situation in your life,” advises certified financial planner A.W. Abel, owner of highly rated Abel Financial Strategies in Powell, Ohio. “Getting net cash flow, managing assets, retirement planning, college planning, long-term care, tax planning, survivor planning — all of these are a part of holistic planning.”
Make sure you seek the services of a CFP, indicating he or she has passed the industry exam, meets continuing education requirements and adheres to a strict code of ethics. “I think the primary reason people struggle with a financial plan is they’ve never done it before and don’t know who to trust and don’t know who to hire to help them,” Abel says. “Angie’s List is a great way to find a financial planner.”
2. Organize your house
You don’t need a Type A personality to recognize the importance of keeping your home organized. But knowing and doing are two different things. “Start small,” says Jennifer Finch, owner of highly rated Ultimately Organized in California, Kentucky. “Pick out one room in your home that makes you the most anxious. Focus on one corner of that room first. Once that’s done, move on to the next. Don’t get inundated by the enormity of the project.”
After you set your goals, be sure to schedule enough time to accomplish them, says Katherine Trezise, owner of highly rated Absolutely Organized in Cockeysville, Maryland. “If you have trouble making decisions about what to do with your things, you may find yourself looking at the same items over and over and mixing trash with treasures,” she says. “Having a supportive person with you gives you a sounding board for decision-making and keeps you motivated to stick with the project.”
3. Plan your dream remodel
Are you champing at the bit to finish your basement or build that new family room? A few things to consider: Whatever your budget may be, you’ll most likely exceed it. Meet with an architect, structural engineer or interior designer to determine the scope of your plan and develop a realistic budget and timeline. Revisit your financial plan to make sure you have the funds to see the project through to completion. Financing a remodel is also an option, but depending on your current financial situation, it may or may not make sense to do so.
4. Give your house a checkup
Just like your body, your house needs a once-over at least once a year. Look for obvious signs of damage or distress, but take note of the little things that might lead to bigger issues down the road. “In general, a homeowner’s worst enemy is moisture,” says Alan Chase, owner of highly rated Chase Home Inspections in Knoxville, Tennessee. “Outside, all roof shingles should be examined periodically for any signs of loose, damaged or missing shingles that could produce a leak. All siding should be examined for signs of moisture intrusion that will develop into rot. All gutters and downspouts should be examined to assure adequate roof drainage away from the foundation. All surface cracks on driveways, sidewalks and patios should remain well-sealed to eliminate moisture.”
5. Eat healthy
The word “diet” triggers thoughts of deprivation, and who wants to endure that? Instead, let’s resolve to eat a little bit healthier this year. Take the time to plan a weekly menu, read labels when you grocery shop (you’ll be surprised at how many items contain sugar!) and make the healthier items easily accessible in the kitchen. Want a fun challenge? Just shop the perimeter of the grocery store, where the freshest items are sold, and avoid the aisles of processed food. Then brainstorm with your family for tasty meal ideas.
6. Pick a color, paint a room
A little paint goes a long way, doesn’t cost a lot of money, and can give your house some pizazz. If you don’t want to make a total color commitment, select one wall as an accent wall to display your favorite hue. If you’re unsure how to get started, you can always select a color based on your personality (really!), or one that will complement what you already have displayed in the room. Grab some smaller, sample-sized cans of paint for a trial run and see what excites you.
7. Evaluate your insurance needs
Did you get engaged? Buy a boat? Build a pool? It might not be the sexiest task to tackle, but reviewing your current homeowners policy is critical for optimum coverage. “It is important to assess your insurance needs annually because your needs continually evolve and change,” says Archie Litaker, owner of highly rated Litaker Insurance in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Insurance products also continually evolve and change as well. The most common thing that people omit in their insurance planning is an umbrella liability policy. We always recommend an umbrella liability policy to expand your limits and fill in possible gaps in coverage.”
8. Schedule a physical
They say if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. And I’m sure most of us would agree. Growing up, we see the doctor every year, but perhaps lately we’ve gotten out of the habit of an annual exam. No time like the present to make an appointment. And while you’re at it, you might as well schedule all the age-appropriate exams too, like a colonoscopy or mammogram.
9. Take a vacation
OK, sign me up.
“When we take time to explore beyond the boundaries of our immediate lives, we gain a new perspective of life itself,” says Tina Erskine, owner of highly rated Tina’s Travel Network in Pflugerville, Texas. And yes, she says, despite the overwhelming amount of Internet travel sites, people still seek out the services of a travel agent. “The power of an agent’s relationship goes deep into the community of suppliers and hotel management to offer added values such as upgrades, amenities and priority room placement over the online sites.”
If you’re saving up for an elaborate trip, Bob Malmberg of highly rated Malmberg Travel in Boston, recommends opening a dedicated savings account and depositing a modest amount of money each week. “Taking out a bank loan is not a good idea,” he says. “If you cannot afford the travel products offered, we can offer less expensive ones, but keep in mind that there is a price to pay for economy in terms of quality, quantity and duration.”
10. Revive that weed-laden lawn
Weeds and taxes — they just don’t go away. Or do they? You can rid your lawn of weeds and make it the lushest on the block with a few simple steps. First, manually pull out the weeds and make sure you dig out the root. It might sound time-consuming, but it’s the only sure-fire — and most eco-friendly — way to eliminate them. Also, make sure you mulch the flower beds to prevent weed growth. If you need to, disperse grass seed — if you have a tightly knit lawn of grass, there won’t be room for weeds to grow. Water if necessary (when it’s permitted) and fertilize in the spring and fall.
11. Write a will
Have you written a will? If not, you need to. If you have one, now’s a good time to review and update it if necessary. Regardless of your age, it’s important to have the proper steps in place should something happen to you. Depending on where you live and what assets you have to bequeath, you might decide to set up a trust instead of a will. Make an appointment with a highly rated estate planner or an estate attorney to determine what’s best for your situation.
12. De-clutter the garage
It’s kind of a catchall space, isn’t it? Filled with old paint cans, tools, holiday decorations, toys, sports equipment and perhaps a refrigerator or two, in some cases the garage holds everything except the cars. One of the most practical ways to approach organizing such a space is to drag everything out into the driveway, take inventory and categorize the various items. Determine what fits best where, throw out items that are damaged or unusable and recycle the old paint. Build or install shelving for storage, and don’t be afraid to hang items from the walls or ceiling.
13. Relax. Take time to play
Everyone’s busy, and almost everyone is stressed or worried about something. But if you don’t build in time to take a breather, it can be detrimental to your well-being. “Taking the time to enjoy leisure activities gives our body a chance to recover from those daily stressors,” says message therapist Brandy Frayer, owner of highly rated Meeting Your Kneads in Burke, Virginia.
Frayer says scheduling a massage at regular intervals is a good way to keep relaxation on the calendar. But on an everyday basis she suggests the following: “Drink plenty of water and stretch; both are very important in maintaining healthy muscles and mindset,” she says. “Take a hot bath, go for a walk, and practice some deep breathing exercises or meditation. Take a few minutes out of each day to do something you enjoy, like reading a good book. If you work on the computer, do shoulder rolls backwards; slowly move your head in all four directions; do wrist rolls.”
14. Keep up with your car
Regular maintenance is key to keeping your car in tip-top condition. If you take care of it now, it won’t strand you later. Every manufacturer will have a different recommendation on what to do when, so familiarize yourself with your particular make and model. Universally, car owners should keep track of service records to provide accurate information to their mechanics and avoid those “You need a new air filter vs. No I just bought one” debates.
15. Try a new app
If you haven’t already, make 2015 the year to embrace technology. You don’t have to take it to the extreme, but why not try something new? “You can’t survive these days without a smartphone, an email address and some kind of computer,” says Gregg Steiner, owner of highly rated GadgetSOS in Sherman Oaks, California. “There’s no getting around it.” With that in mind, Steiner says his favorite apps include Kayak (for travel) and Mint by Intuit (for bookkeeping).
Russ Dehlinger, owner of highly rated RD Cutting Edge Tech Solutions in Woodridge, Illinois, says his favorite apps are Google Chrome, Facebook and Twitter. “To have access to so much information is really powerful,” he says.