Believe it or not, the New Year is here. If you’re trying to wrap your head around everything that’s ahead, one of the best things you can do is prepare yourself financially. Here are a few tasks you can get started on right away.
Look Back at 2021
Depending on how in-depth you want to go, this could take a couple hours or more. That said, ask yourself these questions: Did you spend as planned? Where do you want to adjust, increase or decrease spending thresholds? What kind of unexpected expenses came up? How did you handle it? Think about what you’ll do for the upcoming year. When it comes to money, the cliché “hindsight is always 20/20” will often ring true.
Tackle Your Debt
If you want 2022 to be the year you become debt free, it can happen. We’re talking about consumer debt, not your mortgage, rent, car payments or any other necessities. A good strategy is to make a list of your credit cards, balances and interest rates. Start with the account balances that are the highest and create a payment plan, then move down the list until you’re finished. Balance transfers to cards with zero interest (for a limited time) are a smart idea, too. Then freeze your spending for 30 days, or however long you need. It might take some time, but these days, financial freedom is well worth it.
Increase Your Retirement Funds
Good news: the maximum contribution limit for your 401(k)s increases by $1,000 in 2022 compared to 2021, for a total of $20,500. If you’re 50 or older, the limit is $27,000, which is great for those closer to retirement. If you can’t max out your contribution, just increasing it by one percent can have an incredible effect. According to calculations from Fidelity Investments, if you’re 35 and earning $60,000, this tiny bump could yield an additional $85,000 to your retirement fund over a 32-year period. That’s equal to putting aside $12 per week (how easy is that?), assuming a 5.5 percent return and consistent salary growth.
Create a Back-Up Plan
This probably isn’t something you want to think about, but it’s necessary should something happen to you. Take few minutes to update your beneficiaries on all your financial accounts, including retirement, investment and benefits accounts. Next, make sure you have a durable power of attorney, someone you trust to take care of all your monetary affairs. After this, designate a health-care proxy or power of attorney, who can speak for you if you become incapacitated. Finally, update your will. Decide who will inherit your assets. If you have children, you can even assign guardians for them. In the long run, if the worst-case scenario unfolds, you’ll save your loved ones a lot of time and trouble.
Carve Out Time for a Life Audit
This task might sound big, but it’s necessary if you want to achieve your dreams – financial or otherwise. Start with a pen or pencil, about 100 sticky notes, a journal and a large space, perhaps a door, board or wall. Turn your phone off, then get started. Look back at your life. Assess where you’ve been, where you are and where you’d like to go, then brainstorm. Do you want to save a certain amount of money this year? Put away some cash for a dream trip? Learn a language? When you think you’ve finished, then organize your goals into three categories: personal, work/career and money. After that, further divide them short-term and long-term goals. Take a photo of your notes and keep it near to remind yourself of what you’re trying to accomplish. More often than not, your dreams involve money, which is directly related to your priorities and how you budget.
Budget for 2022
Now that 2021 is in your rearview mirror (and perhaps you’ve even done a life audit), take what you’ve decided upon and create a budget you can live with. Then, download a budget app to keep you on track. If last year’s budget worked well and you’re already on your way to living your dreams, just hit “repeat.” If not, make necessary changes. That said, no matter the status of your finances, it might be a good idea to increase your emergency fund, given all the uncertainty we’re facing in our world.
If you think about it, taking time in January to look closely at your finances is kind of like going to the doctor for your yearly checkup: You want to make sure there are no red flags you need to address. After all, your fiscal health might be as important as your physical health.