Want more wealth in 2015? Most of us do, but we're not sure how to get there. To help us figure it out, the finance site GOBankingRates compiled one piece of advice from 11 top financial wizards for the coming year, and invited readers to vote for the best. If there's a consensus among the experts, it seems to be this: Invest in yourself and your own smarts; be conservative everywhere else.
That makes a lot of sense. This is the age of the entrepreneur, but with continuing economic uncertainty this isn't really the time to splurge. You can see the full list of expert tips (and vote for your own favorite) here. Meantime, here's a look at the high-profile experts' advice:
Keep it simple.
The best places to invest are in the things you know best, according to legendary investor Warren Buffett. "If you don't invest in things you know, you're just gambling," he told CNBC. It's one reason he's never invested in the tech sector, for example.
In his 2014 shareholders letter, he explained more fully: "You don't need to be an expert in order to achieve satisfactory investment returns. But if you aren't, you must recognize your limitations and follow a course certain to work reasonably well. Keep things simple and don't swing for the fences."
And don't be misled by lofty promises, he added. "When promised quick profits, respond with a quick 'no.'"
Get back to basics.
Many people want to improve their financial outlook but aren't sure how to go about it, according to Jeanette Pavini, two-time Emmy-winning consumer reporter. Many of her viewers write and tell her that they're overwhelmed by the numerous options and resources out there. "They feel as if they are never going to dig out of the hole, so they become discouraged and simply give up."
Don't let this happen to you. Improving your finances isn't rocket science, Pavini says. It begins with understanding exactly where your money is going, writing it down, keeping track, and looking for opportunities to cut costs. "Learn what areas in your budget you actually have control over," she says. "Have a plan and keep it simple." And don't be fooled into thinking only major changes make a difference, she adds. "No savings is too small. They all add up."
Make a plan.
"If you're going to win with money, you have to be intentional," says Rachel Cruze, co-author with her father, Dave Ramsey, of Smart Money Smart Kids. That means having a budget so you can stay out of debt (or pay off existing debt), as well as an idea of how your money will work for you.
Get a buddy.
Like a weight-loss or exercise regimen, you'll likely do better at managing money if you have an accountability partner to support you and keep you honest. That advice comes from Tiffany Aliche, "The Budgetnista," and author of The One Week Budget. "Money management is a team sport," she says.
Get out of debt.
That one-sentence tip is author Ramsey's best tip for 2015--and for every year, he says. Though this can be tough advice for someone starting a company to follow, it's wise to keep your debt as low as you can without crippling your business. And keep your personal debt nonexistent if possible.
Pay off those credit cards.
You don't need a financial expert to tell you that carrying credit card debt over time is never a great idea, especially if it's personal debt as opposed to debt from your business. But if you've been carrying balances for a while, making them go away should be high on your list of resolutions for the coming year--and the sooner the better.
That's because the Federal Reserve has signaled its intention to raise the prime lending rate this year, and credit card interest rates will rise at the same time, according to author and TV host Suze Orman. Although eliminating credit card debt should always be a primary financial objective, she warns, "now it is urgent, as anyone with credit card debt in 2015 is likely to see their borrowing costs go up."
Put money in a Roth IRA.
Your smartest strategy is to save for the future by putting as much money as you can into an IRA, according CNBC's Sharon Epperson. "One of the best things you can do in 2015 to set yourself up for financial success in the future is to be strategic with your savings," she advises. "Save as much as you can in a Roth IRA."
Most employees can contribute to a traditional IRA, and if you're self-employed, you also have a SEP IRA as an option. Those can be very tempting because the contributions you make are tax-deductible when you make them. On the other hand, you will pay taxes on that money when you withdraw it from the IRA. With a Roth, the contributions you make are not tax deductible--but when you withdraw that money it will be tax free. You'll be glad you chose a Roth if your business takes off and you find yourself with more income (and thus a higher tax bracket) in your 60s than you had in your younger years.
Set specific goals.
You'll have a harder time meeting your financial objectives if you don't know exactly what they are. So spend some time determining your goals, such as having money set aside for emergencies, putting your kids through college, or having enough saved to retire at 65, advises Kiplinger contributing editor Cameron Huddleston. "Your needs will take precedence over your wants, with short-term needs being the top priority," she notes. "Then you can set goals to meet those needs--and fulfill your wants."
Most Americans fail to set specific financial goals, she adds. They might have a vague notion of what they want. "But they haven't set actual goals and figured out the steps needed to achieve them."
Give yourself a raise.
If you're like many people, the first step toward financial health is increasing your income. So do what you need to make that happen, advises Emma Johnson, who writes the Wealthy Single Mommy blog.
"This might mean mustering up the nerve to ask your boss for a pay increase, starting a side business, or increasing your billing if you already have your own company," she says. Once you've increased your income, make sure you're saving at least 5 percent of it, she adds.
Invest in your own development.
"Make 2015 the year that you choose to invest in your personal self-development and hop out of your comfort zone," says personal finance author and TV personality Farnoosh Torabi. "Learn something new, travel, take risks, and practice your negotiating skills."
Investing in your own development is a solid idea at a time when the income gap between those with education and marketable skills and those without is growing greater. "Rather than react to the changing times, plant some seeds now so that you can be proactive and stay in control of your career and remain competitive," she says.
Don't act like a victim.
After years of economic upheaval, uncertainty over the recovery, confusion about Obamacare, and growing inequality, many Americans have started feeling like victims of the economy rather than participants in it. It's time for that attitude to stop, according to Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad Poor Dad. "A shift in mindset (from 'victim' to 'champ') and a decision to put your talents, your intelligence, and your strengths to work will set you up to take control of your life and your financial future," he says.
"Make 2015 the year you champion your life and take control," he adds. "Can't find a job? Challenge yourself to create one for yourself. Want to start generating passive income and building assets? Do it! Find a mentor. Start a blog or podcast. Write an e-book. License your killer salsa recipe."
Our financial futures are up to us, he adds. "Will you keep letting yourself fall victim to life's curve balls? Or will you hit it out of the park by putting the power of financial education behind every swing you take?"