How To Get Your Finances in Shape in 12 Months

The new year is here and you’re ready to make serious changes to your financial situation. Whether you’re buried in credit card debt, haven’t started saving for retirement or don’t currently have an emergency fund, you’re committed to turning things around in 2022.

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Of course, knowing where to start isn’t always easy — especially if you’re planning to work toward several financial goals.

Ryan Klippel, a financial planner at Optas Capital, a wealth management firm with offices in San Francisco and Austin, Texas, recommended starting by reviewing your 2021 living expense summary and net worth overview. The first thing he said to look at is whether you were cash flow positive or negative last year.

“If [you were] cash flow positive, great — now set a savings goal for 2022,” he said. “If [you were] cash flow negative, spend the time to determine what expenses were necessities versus luxuries and trim accordingly.”

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He said your net worth overview should also be used as a guide to help you decide which debts to conquer first and which savings goals should be prioritized.

When determining priorities for a one-year plan, Klippel said your objectives should be realistic, reportable and repeatable.

“Sometimes setting smaller goals to start is better than overly ambitious ones, he said. “For example, it is much more realistic and digestible to eliminate credit card debt for one card than five.”

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After setting realistic goals, he said you’ll want to have monthly or quarterly check-ins to assess your progress.

“Review how close you are to attaining your goal and make any necessary budget tweaks to stay on track — e.g. review your subscriptions and cancel any that you don’t regularly use,” he said. “Lastly, your plan should be repeatable, giving you the momentum to further improve your overall financial health into the future.”

Ultimately, Klippel said your progress should give you the confidence to set even more ambitious goals next year, building on the good habits you learned and implemented this year.

When it comes to which goals to set for the year, you’ll of course need to consider your unique situation. However, Mark Henry, founder and owner of Alloy Wealth Management, a wealth management firm based in Charlotte, North Carolina, shared six common financial objectives to get you started.

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1. Save More Money

No matter how much money you earn, Henry said finding ways to save more money by the end of the year should be your top priority.

“If you make $3,000 a month, and can find a way to save 10% of your income a month for ten years, eventually, even without a raise, you will have one year’s salary in the bank,” he said. “During that time, with compounding interest, you will have five years’ worth of your salary saved.”

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2. Focus On Retirement Savings

When facing competing savings priorities — i.e., saving for your children’s college expenses or saving for retirement — Henry advised putting aside money for your own retirement first.

“A good retirement salary is equal to your working salary after taxes and what money you set aside for savings,” he said. “In most cases, people want to do more in retirement because now they have the time to do the things they’ve wanted to do their entire life, and they need more money to sustain a new lifestyle.”

3. Don’t Let Money Control Your Life

It might sound counterintuitive for a financial goal, but Henry said money should enrich your life — not control it.

“Most of us thrive on instant gratification,” he said. “But when it comes to finances, gratification comes when you take control of your life and the power you get when you wake up and realize you have cash in the bank.”

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4. Boost Your Emergency Fund

If you don’t currently have an emergency fund — or the one you do you have isn’t large enough — Henry said it’s time to change that.

“The mistake I see many people making is prioritizing credit card debt over having enough money in their emergency fund,” he said. “Yes, the interest from credit cards is bad, but if you don’t have an emergency fund, you will be forced to use the credit card, creating a revolving door of debt.”

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5. Change Your Spending Habits

Having a plan for how you’re going to allocate your money is a must, Henry said. However, he said making meaningful changes to your spending habits won’t happen overnight.

“You can’t wake up tomorrow and be a saver,” he said. “Take time to discover and understand who you are first.”

Getting to the root cause of any spending problems is important he said, as a Band-Aid fix isn’t lasting.

“Like anything in life worthwhile, it’s going to be challenging, but the rewards will be phenomenal,” he said.

6. Pay Your Credit Card Bill in Full Each Month

They often get a bad rap, but Henry said the perks you can get from using credit cards — i.e., cash back and discounts — are great, as long as you pay the balance off each month. If you can’t do that, he said to stop using them.

“Take the cards and put them in a resealable bag with water and toss it in the freezer,” he said. “Hopefully, this will prevent you from making spontaneous purchases and suffering from buyer’s remorse.”

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This article originally appeared on How To Get Your Finances in Shape in 12 Months