The new year is a time for setting intentions and hitting the ground running. One way to do that is with a financial checklist, which can set you up for success not only in January but for all of 2022. Not sure where to start? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Review old financial goals and set new ones
We often start the year with a fresh new set of money goals, which can be a great way to build momentum. But before you do that, give yourself a chance to look back at your 2021 goals and all the progress you made. It’s OK if you didn’t hit every milestone you aimed for — just be honest about what went right and what went wrong. That way, you can better identify what you want to work toward in 2022 and how you can meet those goals more effectively.
It’s also a good idea to assess any big life changes you may have had in the past year, such as welcoming a new baby, getting married or buying a home. These events may prompt different goals to become a priority for you. You’ll also want to make sure you have enough life insurance in place if you did grow your family or take on a mortgage.
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Review your budget
Once you’ve landed on your goals for the year, make sure your budget is in good standing to reach them. To create a budget that’s effective, you need to know how much you’re bringing in each month, as well as how much you’re spending.
Start by looking at all your bills and credit card statements from the past few months. One guideline for your budget is to dedicate 60 percent toward fixed and essential costs, 20 percent toward goals, and the remaining 20 percent toward your discretionary spending. How far off is your budget from these guidelines? Do you have anything left over from your take-home pay after all bills and spending are accounted for that you can put toward goals?
Readjust your budget as needed
After you’ve crunched some numbers, see if there are any areas where you might need to cut back to free up more money to fund your goals. That doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself of the things that matter to you, though.
When you revisited your budget, you probably found a few places where it makes sense to scale back. For instance, if you’ve been gravitating toward one or two streaming services, having a cable package may no longer feel like an essential. Or, if you dialed up your cooking skills over the past year, maybe your food bill isn’t as high as it once was. Those cost savings could be re-allocated to other goals that are more important to you.
Once you have a better sense of how your budget has shifted, you can make your goals both specific and measurable. So rather than saying, “In 2022, I want to build a house down payment fund,” instead you would say something like, “In 2022, I'll transfer $250 a month into a high-yield savings account dedicated to my down payment fund.” Scatter some realistic deadlines throughout your calendar to help make sure you’re on track.
Make a debt management plan
While it’s easy to focus your efforts on spending and saving, don’t forget to have a plan for any debt you may be carrying. If you’re feeling stuck with where to start or need help prioritizing your payments, a good debt management strategy is to tackle any high-interest debt first, known as the debt avalanche method. If you want to be more aggressive and pay your debt off faster, consider allocating a portion of any future windfalls (like a tax refund) or any leftover money in your budget toward your balances. Your debt payments are part of the 20 percent of your budget that goes toward goals.
Check your credit report
If you haven’t reviewed your credit report recently, add requesting a free copy from each of the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) to your to-do list. If you’re looking to give your score a boost, making consistent, on-time payments, paying off your balance and keeping your older credit accounts open can all help. Also, keep an eye out for any errors on your report. If you do find a mistake (which can happen), report it to the bureau in question so your score doesn’t take an unnecessary hit.
Start planning for tax season
While it’s understandable to avoid thinking about taxes until you absolutely have to, the beginning of the year is a great time to give this annual task some extra thought. For one thing, it’s much easier to secure an appointment with your tax preparer now rather than in March. But you’ll also be giving yourself time to make any final retirement contributions, which can help lower your taxable income. If you have an IRA, you can make contributions of up to $6,000 ($7,000 if you’re over 50) for the 2021 tax year until April 15, 2022.
You can also start your tax-season prep work by simply getting organized. Starting to gather your tax-documents, including W-2s, 1099 forms and receipts for any tax deductions, now can prevent last-minute scrambling.