You Voted: Nicole Lapin Is Your 2015 Money Idol

The votes are in, and you’ve selected your favorite #MoneyIdol in the fifth annual Best Money Expert competition. GOBankingRates’ competition, presented in collaboration with Ally Bank, invited readers to vote for 12 finalists who represent the best and brightest money experts of 2015. These finalists were chosen by the GOBankingRates editorial team with input from editors at top financial outlets.

Throughout December, GOBankingRates highlighted the finalists’ best money advice to build wealth and get financially fit in 2016. Many of the experts shared tips on how to manage, invest, and save money, while others focused on increasing income and pursuing employment opportunities. All of them agreed, however, that this year is the time to take your finances to the next level.

Readers had a chance to vote daily for their favorite #MoneyIdol from Dec. 1 through Dec. 31, 2015. For the first time, GOBankingRates also allowed readers to double their daily votes by sharing their picks via social media. With the final vote tallied, the finalist whose advice was most valued by readers earned the title of Best Money Expert of 2015.

Nicole Lapin Named Best Money Expert of 2015

GOBankingRates’ readers cast their votes in December to name Nicole Lapin the Best Money Expert of 2015. She garnered 39.3 percent of the total votes cast for the 12 finalists. Runners-up in the competition include entrepreneur and 2014 Best Money Expert Josh Felber in second place and Kyle Taylor, founder of popular personal finance site, in third.

Lapin is the author of bestselling book “Rich Bitch: A Simple 12-Step Plan for Getting Your Financial Life Together…Finally” and has also shared her money insights as an anchor on financial news programs. She currently serves as host and judge of the CW’s “Hatched,” a reality competition show for young entrepreneurs. She shares advice to help people break out of a consumer mindset and challenge common beliefs about money that are holding them back.

How Her Straight Money Talk Can Empower Others

When asked how she feels about being the “Best Money Expert of 2015,” Lapin said her straight-talk financial approach is just what many people need.

“I don’t speak in jargon,” Lapin said. “I didn’t work at a bank. I didn’t get my MBA. I’m just a girl who grew up in an immigrant family and learned the hard way because she got herself into debt and needed to get out of it.”

Lapin tries to put money advice in the same terms she would use if talking to a friend, without sugarcoating the topic or selling a message that managing money is easy.

“Money can be a taboo subject, so I share my own stories and all the ways I’ve messed up along the way,” Lapin said. “Through being open and honest, I hope people feel more willing to open up about their own stories, talk about their own situation and ask for help.”

Related: 8 Ways to Bounce Back From a Financial Setback

Growing up, Lapin said, she was never taught about finances and was terrified of conversations about money. “I would break out into hives looking at The Wall Street Journal,” she joked. When money came up in a discussion, “I tried to hide my fears by ‘smiling and nodding,'” she added.

Lapin said a major turning point for her was realizing that she needed to learn how to speak the language of money. “Once I not only learned the language for myself but became fluent in it as a financial journalist and ultimately spoke it to the world as a news anchor, I wanted to make sure that my former self, the girl who kept ‘smiling and nodding,’ could finally join the conversation and feel empowered,” she said. “And to do the same for others is my mission above anything else.”

Nicole Lapin’s 5 Steps to Better Financial Health in 2016

With the new year comes a fresh start for your finances. As a former news anchor on finance-centered programs like CNBC’s “Worldwide Exchange,” Lapin has reported extensively on the world of finances and knows how money works. She takes a common-sense, can-do approach to finances.

Her practical outlook is reflected in the advice she provided to GOBankingRates’ readers. Here is her advice for how you can do more with your money in 2016.

1. Negotiate Everything

Lapin’s biggest piece of advice for 2016 is a challenge for consumers to negotiate bills and charges. “All it takes is a little guts. Whether it’s a medical bill … or utilities payment, you should always ask for a better rate,” she said.

Negotiating is an empowering way to take more control over your financial health in the new year. “The worst thing they can say is no,” she said. “And they usually won’t.”

2. Make a Sustainable Financial Plan

Being realistic about your finances is key to successfully setting and sticking to money goals. “Financial confidence and building wealth starts with creating a plan you can actually stick to,” Lapin told GOBankingRates. “Too often, people try to cut spending cold turkey when they set out to get their financial lives in order.” That’s a mistake, she said.

“If you cut out all fun purchases in hopes of reaching financial freedom, you’ll crash and burn. It’s not sustainable,” Lapin said. She suggested making a spending plan to inspire yourself to make long-term lifestyle changes. Including small indulgences and fun expenses in your spending plan can help preserve your willpower for those big money choices that matter most.

3. Buddy Up for a Better Budget

Team up with other friends who are working toward better money habits. “Create [a] friendly competition around who is doing best at cutting expenses,” she said. “Share how you were able to talk your cell phone provider into giving you a reduced rate or how you played your credit card companies against each other to cut your interest rate in half.”

As you talk about your financial wins, you’ll learn from each other, get new money-savvy strategies and stay motivated to take your money further. “As money issues become more intense, a like-minded community will keep you sane and moving in the right direction,” Lapin said.

4. Find ‘Free Money’ for Financial Goals

Whatever your financial resolution for the new year, you can accelerate your progress by putting extra money toward your biggest financial priorities. “Try to curb enough of your other expenses to put extra funds towards your goals,” she said, and look for other ways to get “free money,” like reselling little-used items.

Another source of extra money many Americans can count on in coming months is a tax refund. File taxes as soon as you can, Lapin recommended, then “use the refund to pay down your debt, or, if you have a good handle on that already, use it to invest.”

5. Target High-Interest Debts

Lapin is a big believer in getting rid of debt, especially balances that are racking up high interest charges like credit card debt. “The important thing here is to make sure that you’re tackling your debt first and as aggressively as possible so that debt doesn’t eat into future savings,” she said.

“When it comes to your debt, you need to prioritize to pulverize,” Lapin added. “That means you want to pay off your highest interest-rate debt first.” She suggested targeting credit card debt first, followed by car loans and student loans, with mortgages prioritized last.

Keep Reading: 6 Strategies to Get Out of Debt