Feeling bad about how your 2022 turned out? You’re not alone. As a matter of fact, it seems as though many Americans made the same mistakes this year — according to Credit Karma, 76% of people surveyed feel they made a financial mistake in 2022, and another 35% admit that they developed a bad financial habit. In everyone’s defense, the last few years have been rough on everyone. This year, especially, inflation hit hard, and our income just isn’t keeping up. When your financial output can’t keep up with your income, it’s bound to lead to making big financial mistakes or developing unhealthy financial habits.
It gets more interesting, though. That same Credit Karma report showed that the top bad financial habits picked up in 2022 were both food related! Those habits included ordering food for delivery or dining out instead of cooking at home (46%), and buying groceries but then letting them go to waste (37%). Guilty as charged!
While knowing you’re not the only one certainly can’t fill the hole you’ve dug, at least you know that you’re in good company down there. If you stress-ate your way through the last three years, you’re undoubtedly feeling the effects of that not just in your waistline but your pocket. Take heart. It’s quite American (maybe even human) to turn to food for emotional support during times of trouble. And given that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, it makes sense that we’d have that support delivered. It has cost us majorly, though.
Perhaps 2023 is the year for financial resolutions? Here’s how experts say you can start on a fresh financial foot.
1. Audit your finances.
“This is the very first step you should take before tackling your finances,” says Credit Karma’s consumer financial advocate Courtney Alev. “In order to see how much money you’ll be able to set aside in savings, you need to have a good understanding of where your money is coming from and where it’s going. Once you dig into your spending a bit, you may be able to see if there are any areas where you can cut down. For instance, cutting a couple of unused subscriptions can really add up over time.”
She’s not wrong. If you’re paying the base price for Netflix, it’s $6.99 a month. If you’re not using it and can cancel, you’ll save roughly $84 a year.
2. Start an emergency fund… again.
Many of us started 2020 with an emergency fund, even if it was considered “small.” Thanks to all of these “unprecedented times,” those funds have long since disappeared. Alev says your next step to financial recovery is to build up that fund again. You know… for the next pandemic.
“Once you have a firm sense of your money obligations, consider how much money you have remaining at the end of each pay period and how much of that you can reasonably put towards savings,” says Alev. “Your goal should be to have at least one to two months of living expenses saved up, but economists suggest between four to six months is prudent during times of recession. Emergency funds are important because they provide a financial buffer that can help keep you afloat should your financial situation take an unexpected hit and help you avoid having to rely on high-interest loans.”
3. Set micro goals.
“Many of us start the year making new year’s resolutions that usually fall by the wayside a few weeks later; one workaround is to set small – I’m talking micro – goals for yourself,” suggests Alev. “If your goal is to pay off your debt, consider starting with one line of debt you wish to pay off and your plan for how you wish to do that. Remember, you want to show a history of on-time payments; even if you can’t pay your statement in full, it’s better to make a portion of the payment than no payment at all.”
Have more than one credit card? There are several lines of thought on which debt to pay off first. For your first micro goal, start with the one that’s the easiest or smallest debt. That first fast and easy win will have you eager to keep it up on other debt.
4. Make a plan for your money.
What big purchases do you need to make this year? What debt is hanging over your head? What “extras” are non-negotiable? Take time to really look at what you need/want for the next year and try to plan for anything you could possibly need. For instance, you can look at your tires and know if you need to prepare for a new set in the next month, quarter, or year. Alev says that plans can help you stay on track and can always be adjusted.
“Take a look at the upcoming year and make a realistic plan to stay on top of your finances,” says Alev. “Take account of any major purchases you’ll need to make, along with any debt you plan to pay down. From there, you can create a realistic budget for yourself. Accounting for these purchases can be a plan for next month – see how it goes and adjust from there. Budgets are all about finding what works best for you. If you start out too strong and need to make changes, that’s OK too!”
5. Don’t forget to make your holiday returns.
“If you’re like me, making returns often falls to the bottom of your to-do list,” Alev says. “Don’t let that happen this holiday season. Instead, make sure to return any gifts you don’t end up giving or no longer want and put that extra cash toward saving and/or paying down debt. Remember, if you wait too long, you may miss the return window, which could result in a loss of savings.”
6. Consider consolidating your debt.
“If you’ve racked up debt across multiple accounts, it might be a good idea to consolidate your debt into one monthly payment with a balance transfer card or personal loan – these are lower or no interest options to pay down debt,” says Alev. “Alternatively, if worse comes to worst and you’re worried about being able to make payments on your bills, it doesn’t hurt to call your creditor and see if you can be placed on a more conservative payment plan. The worst thing they can say is no.”
A note: Make sure you’re using a line of credit with a lower interest rate and that your new payment is affordable and on a reasonable timeline. Sometimes consolidating makes sense. But if your new “one and done” bill is more than you make in one weekly paycheck, you could be setting yourself up for failure. Some debt consolidation firms can help you for free, and many churches offer similar services or financial classes.
7. Make a plan for your refund.
It’s easy to see that refund amount as a “treat yo-self” moment, but that may cause more stress in the future.
“If you’re someone who racked up debt during the holidays and you’re expecting a refund this tax season, consider putting a portion of your refund toward paying down debt,” suggests Alev. “This will help you jumpstart your debt repayment and limit the amount of interest accrued.”
8. Treat yourself, but with intention.
“As life returns to something resembling normalcy for many Americans, it’s tempting to sign up for every single trip, concert, and friends’ night out after missing out on so many of these delights over the last couple of years,” says Alev. “While it’s important to allocate some of your money to experiences that spark joy, make sure you’re being intentional: instead of immediately saying yes to every expensive trip or activity, take a moment to reflect on how you’ll feel about the expenditure in a few weeks, months, or years, and prioritize those where you’re confident they’ll be worth it.”
When it comes to concerts, remember: Hardly anyone ever actually “retires” for good. If it means that much to you, go. But don’t be surprised when that same old band is back at it, again, in two years… when you might still be paying the credit card bill on those pit tickets. *cringe*