As Boyz II Men once famously said, ladies, we've come to the end of the road. It's almost time to say goodbye to 2021 and hello to a new year. Though there's only less than a week until we all ring in 2022, you can still get started right now on your end-of-year money checklist. Get those finances in order or at least set a up a plan for next year in order to get yourself on the right track.
Start with these six steps to build the plan to reach your financial fitness goals:
1.Create (or review) your budget.
This might sound redundant but some of you needed the reminder. If you've never even looked at your bank statement, are afraid to face your money issues, or just don't want to feel like your life is being stifled by financial boundaries, you definitely need a budget. At best, it's just a great way to be fully informed about where your money is going. At worst, it is the tough love you needed to finally stop living check to check, or working multiple jobs.
And if you've had any major changes such as a new job or job loss, marriage or major move, or a new addition to your family, you definitely want to review your budget now to be sure that you're adjusting if needed. It's always good to get ahead of any issues that might come along and have a plan for addressing them. (Here is a great resource, for example, if your finances have been drastically affected by COVID-19.)
Experts at WalletHub, a leading personal finance website, say a budget can be "as simple or complex as you want it to be," but it must at least keep track of inflows and outflows of money, including your income and expenses. (Check out our guide on how to start a budget as well as more on other women who have tried versions of budgeting like this and this.)
2.Think about places you're leaving money on the table—or worst, wasting.
Even on the heels of the world reopening after the pandemic lockdown of 2020, a recent survey found that people spent $765 more per month this year than they did last year. Another survey found that 99% of business owners are leaving "significant wealth on the table." And in a bit of more-telling research, women still make 82 cents on the dollar, and Black women, in particular, make even less.
That being said, there are clearly a few places where we're either ignoring extra money or savings or we're totally throwing it away. Ask yourself a few questions here. Are there money-back advantages to any of the credit cards you use? Are you getting the best rates on your loans or other accounts? Could you be missing discounts and savings offered to you as an employee of your company or as a student? Does the management company of your apartment complex offer incentives or other gifts throughout the year for doing things like referring new tenants or writing a good online review?
What about that side hustle you never followed through on? Is it time to finally advocate for yourself and ask for that raise or to get a new job where you've negotiated for better benefits? Is it time to utilize that HSA or those pre-tax benefit add-ons?
Are there subscriptions or memberships that just no longer serve you or that you don't even fully use? What about the extra fees for ATM usage or add-on purchases that are not necessary or are excessive? (It's like the $50 difference between a "deluxe" pedicure with gel varnish versus a "basic" one with the old-school regular polish. Are your feet really that crusty three times a month?) We're not telling you to get rid of the salted caramel foam in your Starbucks order, but really put things in perspective.
3.Look at that credit report.
You can request credit reports for free at least once per year, but you can also track your credit scores more frequently via various platforms or via your bank. Even with "good" credit, you want to at least have a sense of what's on there and whether everything listed is accurate and up to date.
And if you're in debt and dread even the thought of sifting through those reports, you can at least put your heart at ease by ripping the Band-aid off to find out what exactly you owe and to whom. Sometimes, we're still holding on to the shame of years ago when we were denied a car loan or Bloomingdale's card and found out our score was less than perfect. In reality, maybe your score is higher today or there are easy corrections, adjustments, or payments that can be made to boost the score. You won't know until you know.
4.Prepare for filing taxes.
Again, a great way to approach this is to look at it from a half-full mentality versus the "what if I owe" terror. With all the legislation tied to COVID-19 relief, there might be tax breaks that you're still eligible for that could put money back in your pocket (or at least lower what you have to pay Uncle Sam.) If you're an entrepreneur or self-employed and you haven't gathered your receipts for filing expenses or at least talked with a tax preparer or trusted financial adviser, now might be the perfect time to get on their books. Go digital to make this year's filing much more seamless and less frustrating, and either read up on or ask about ways you might save this year. Get to those calculations early so that you'll get a sense of what you might potentially owe (Try a tax calculator like this one or this one).
This year's deadline for filing taxes is April 15, so go ahead, and if the last quarter of 2021 taught you one thing, that should be time waits for no one and it sure does fly.
5.Invest in technology and use it to your financial advantage.
Life can be a lot easier with tech (as long as you know how to use it and it serves your needs.) If you have a hard time keeping up with your spending, tracking savings goals, or knowing where your money is going, there are apps for all three of those problems.
Automatic savings apps like Acorns and Chime will round up your purchases and put the extra money in your savings account. Online browser extensions like Honey and Capital One Shopping are add-ons that auto-generate coupons and discounts when you shop. (Your laptop might even already have this included, like Microsoft Edge Shopping, for example.)
Another great idea, especially for saving, is opening an account at an online-only bank. Many have awesome rates, are covered by the FDIC, and offer less fees especially when using your cards internationally. Having a web-based account will also provide just the barrier you need for the temptation to make frivolous withdrawals. (While you can indeed access your money, it's not the one-step process of just going to the ATM or visiting your local teller. For most, you have to transfer money or have direct deposit set up in order to add to these accounts, or you'll have to search for retail or bank locations that actually allow withdrawals).
Experts say to use these accounts to start that emergency or travel fund that you need to set and forget. (True story: I had a web-based account that I forgot about. Years later, I tried to open a whole new account with the same bank and found out that I not only had a dormant account, but the account had a couple thousand dollars just sitting in there. God works in mysterious ways because that money came right in handy at the time!)
Bonus tip: Set up alarms or calendar alerts that remind you of your goals, money promises, or inspiration that will keep you pumped and motivated. It can work wonders!
In the same way that you'd go to a hairstylist, makeup artist, or personal trainer to get your look together, go get the help you need for managing your finances. Many financial advisers actually offer free consultations, and there are also resources right under your nose at your own bank. If the idea of taxes overwhelms you or you're missing out on tax breaks every year, let the experts handle it and stop using those DIY online platforms.
There are even money coaches, financial therapists, and portfolio managers who can help you get to the bag, especially when you have a specific goal in mind like early retirement, property ownership, estate planning, or business expansion.
Come on, ladies! We're thinking big and doing big things in 2022, so you'll need that all-star team behind you to ensure you can not only obtain wealth but maintain it.
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