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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What Are Intrusive Thoughts & How Do We Manage Them?
TW: some depictions of intrusive thoughts may be disturbing for readers.
Have you ever caught your mind drifting off to entertain the most disturbing scenarios imaginable? Maybe you can’t stop thinking of all the ways a loved one could pass away or worrying that you left every candle lit in your apartment to which you’d return to a home in ruins. If distressing ruminations like these have crossed your mind, you may be experiencing an intrusive thought.
What Are Intrusive Thoughts?
Intrusive thoughts are unwanted or distressing thoughts, images, or impulses that pop into your mind without your control or consent. These thoughts can be repetitive, unsettling, or even violent in nature, and can cause anxiety and frustration for those who experience them.
“Generally they're unwanted thoughts that come up in our head that interrupt what we're doing or thinking, and can feel very foreign,” says Adia Gooden, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and host of the Unconditionally Worthy podcast. “It’s any thought that intrudes or interrupts what you are doing. They can be distressing and upsetting for us because it feels like we are not in control of them, and they're coming up out of nowhere and aren’t in line with how you normally think.”
What Causes Intrusive Thoughts?
Certain trauma or stress can contribute to the development of intrusive thoughts, so having a challenging experience from the past or current life situations may trigger them to form. “An intrusive thought could come in the form of a flashback, image, or a thought about something that's happened to you,” Dr. Gooden tells xoNecole. “When it gets to the point where you feel like you can't function or make clear decisions, that's when intrusive thoughts become really challenging.”
While some of the 1 billion videos found under the #intrusivethoughts hashtag on TikTok would lead you to believe that these thoughts are nothing more than casual displays of our imagination going untamed. Intrusive thoughts are more than sticking your hand in a soap dispenser, wanting to cut all your hair off at 3 a.m., or having a random impulse to eat fake bread in public.
The Anxiety & Depression Association of America reports that approximately six million individuals, equating to roughly two percent of the American population, encounter intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are often linked with obsessive-compulsive disorders, but they can also manifest in individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or anxiety.
Examples of Common Intrusive Thoughts
Because of the explicit nature of intrusive thoughts, they tend to cause shame and internal conflict in those who experience them. Although these thoughts can differ from person to person, these ideation can consist of:
- Violent or aggressive thoughts towards oneself or others, such as harming or killing someone;
- Sexual thoughts that are unwanted or inappropriate;
- Repetitive thoughts, such as a song or a phrase that keeps repeating in your mind;
- Contamination or germ-related thoughts or the fear of contamination and getting sick;
- Religious or blasphemous thoughts, such as questioning one's faith or having thoughts that go against religious beliefs;
- Doubts or uncertainty about one's own actions or decisions, such as fear of making a mistake or fear of not doing something right.
Intrusive Thoughts and OCD
That’s why Dr. Gooden encourages everyone to understand the difference between our fleeting thoughts and impulses and true, intrusive thoughts. “What level of distress does it cause and is it something you would never consider,” she says. “If you're finding that these thoughts are getting in the way of you living your life and that you're controlled by the thoughts, those are some signs that it would be good to get some support in navigating it.”
She also emphasizes the importance of understanding that while we may not always have control over our thoughts, we can control our behavior. “On TikTok, people are sort of blaming intrusive thoughts on their behavior, and our behavior is always a choice,” she says. “If we are in our right mind and we're not having a psychotic episode, our behavior is our choice — we are not obligated to follow any given thought that we have.”
Are Intrusive Thoughts Normal?
With intrusive thoughts, it’s natural to question whether these thoughts are “normal” to have. However, these thoughts are not meant to define who you are as a person but simply indicate that you have a functioning human mind with automated thoughts that you, or any of us, can’t control. These thoughts may come, but they don’t have to be acted upon, nor do they define who you are.
“I've worked with clients in the past who say, ‘Why am I thinking these things? What's wrong with me?’ But if you're not acting on the thought, then it's probably not a huge issue,” Dr. Gooden says. “If you are thinking a harmful thought towards yourself or someone else and you are making plans to act on that thought, then yes, we need to do something about it.”
How To Manage Intrusive Thoughts
If you are struggling with managing unwanted thoughts, Dr. Aida suggests taking these tips to help manage your mindset when they occur:
- "Recognize that it's a thought and thoughts are just thoughts. We often put a little bit too much weight on our thoughts, and that can create a lot of distress. But remember that thoughts are not facts."
- "Having a thought that's disturbing or upsetting doesn't make you a bad person, and it doesn't mean that you are suffering from a mental illness."
- "Sometimes the best thing you can do is say, 'Huh, that was an interesting thought. I'm going to let that go. That thought is not helpful for me right now."
- "Ask yourself: is this helpful? Is it helpful for me to buy into this thought and believe this thought? Asking that question can be really helpful because we are not at the mercy of our thoughts. If it's not helpful, you can let it go."
Intrusive thoughts can feel bizarre and foreign when they come up, but they aren't inherently "bad." Our minds can sometimes be filled with random and inappropriate thoughts, but that's what our stream of consciousness does: it thinks. Fortunately, we can release those thoughts at any moment; you don't have to follow through with them.
And ultimately, not every TikTok diagnosis is one that we should label ourselves with.
"It's important for people to acknowledge what they're experiencing but not run too quickly to diagnose themselves with some mental illness or disorder," Dr. Gooden advises. "It ends with confusion, and we miss the opportunity to understand the people who really do have that mental health challenge."
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