Writen by Taylor Schindler. Originally published in the Winter 2021 issue of Wake Living Magazine.
We’re officially in the fourth quarter of 2021, which means it’s a perfect time to look back on the past year and take inventory on your finances. Setting aside some time to notice what’s changed (economic shifts, your income, inflation, rising rent) and what hasn’t (gas prices, your HBO subscription, and those glass owls you love to collect).
It’s always important to gauge your budget and cashflow, especially at the end of each year, to see what needs modifying for the year ahead. Here are a few ways to improve your financial wellbeing before 2021 ends.
Check in with Yourself
Start introspectively. How are you feeling about your financial situation? Does thinking about it feel easy, or does it fill you with dread? If you feel like you’re drowning in money issues, carefully consider the reasons why. Are you an impulse spender, an emotional shopper? Were you raised to stress constantly about spending or saving, or perhaps to never think about it?
Write down your answers. Sometimes a bit of self-awareness can go a long way to start helping you improve your situation.
Update Your Budget
Priorities are always shifting, and your expenses tend to change with them. What’s new in your life that warrants revisiting your budget? Do any spending categories need to shrink? Maybe you’re not working from your office these days, so your clothing or gas budget can slim down. Or you’ve taken up cooking at home, and you can lower your takeout budget. Perhaps you’ve gotten married or added a new family member, which will definitely have its own financial needs.
Take note of what’s changed over the past year, and rewrite your budget to reflect those changes for the year ahead.
Revisit Your Goals
What did you accomplish financially in 2021? Did you pay off student loans? Raise your 401k contributions? Any kind of monetary wins can affect your overall financial wellbeing. For example, being debt-free brings new spending flexibility and higher 401k contributions can potentially mean a higher match from your employer.
See how you’ve progressed with your goals; if you haven’t, consider scaling back expectations to be more realistic.
Plan Early for Holiday Spending
Whatever your plans for the holiday season, it’s usually a time where spending spikes for most people. If you’re traveling, costs like flights, hotels, and pet sitters tend to be more expensive during the holiday season. Even if you’re not traveling, plenty of spending temptations abound. With gifts, decorations, Christmas cards, post office trips, holiday parties – the possibilities to shrink your wallet seem endless.
Prepare for your holiday spending now by setting a budget for the things you typically spend money on during this season. When you go shopping, bring a list and stick to it.
Understand Marketing Hacks
Knowing how to outsmart retailers and stick with your spending plan can make a big difference. Remember, retailers care more about their bottom line than they care about your wallet, so learning which sales hacks to look out for will make you a smarter shopper.
For example, next time you’re grocery shopping and you see products tagged with “Buy one, get one free!” know that you don’t have to purchase both items to get the discount. Just get one if that’s all you need, and you’ll get it half off. Mind blowing, right?
The biggest sales tend to run during holidays (think: Black Friday, Cyber Monday, post-Christmas). Watch for phony sales, though. Avoid any overpriced BOGO items. Be wary of “free” shipping as there’s usually a hefty spending minimum that comes with it. Limited-time offers might make you feel pressured to “Buy today!” but pay attention to fear-based spending decisions.
For online shopping, check out digital discount tools like Honey, Rakuten, or CamelCamelCamel for Amazon for price drops, price comparisons, and coupons.
Set Reminders for 2022
Experts advise preparing now for a unique tax season in 2022. Like last year, deadlines may change due to the pandemic. Note any annual charges or subscriptions, and birthdays (if budgeting for gifts and cards). Learn when open enrollment begins if you’ve had a life-changing event (marriage, divorce, new baby, etc.). Will you qualify soon for 401k contributions from your employer? Set a calendar reminder for each financial touchpoint throughout the year.
Congrats! You’re on your way to better financial wellbeing.
Easy enough, right? An end-of-year checklist doesn’t have to be daunting. Think of it as a positive task, like a periodic wellness visit with your doctor: it’s a small amount of time and effort with long-term benefits. In the end, you’ll be glad you did it.