Retirement Weekly

Opinion: 4 ways to get your finances on track in 2022

There are a lot of small steps that can make a big impact over time

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As we end one chapter and begin another, the holiday season is a time many of us intentionally pause. It’s a time to assess where we are, both personally and financially. We reflect on the last year and make specific resolutions on actions we can take to make our lives better, whether it’s trading the holiday cookies for a treadmill or eyeing a more major change.

Why not extend that energy to your wallet?

January is Financial Wellness Month: A chance to take a look at what went well last year and what we want to improve going forward. But don’t worry—while it may feel overwhelming to tackle your financial habits, there are a lot of small steps you can start with today that can add up for a big effect over time.

Here are some simple tips to help you start 2022 on stronger financial footing.

1. Get a clearer idea of your total financial picture

The good news is that you don’t need a degree in finance to make positive changes today: Rather, approach your money like a financial detective—investigating where your overall finances stand at the moment and looking for areas where you want to improve your position. You’re taking a snapshot: Your “before” picture.

Start with a few simple questions like these, and list out 1-2 answers for each one to help you get a clearer view of your wallet’s current status:

  • Where does your income come from? Jot down everything—paychecks, side hustles, inheritances, investments, etc.
  • How much do you spend to live comfortably each month? Do you have enough emergency savings tucked away to get you through 3–6 months just in case? (If not, consider making it a goal to build one this year.)
  • What do you need to spend money on, and what do you want to spend money on? What is the unnegotiable amount you must lay out each month on bills, basic necessities, medical expenses, and paying down debt? (That’s the start of your budget.)
  • What type of lifestyle do you want to live in retirement? What are you saving today? Retirement calculators can provide you with useful rules of thumb to estimate what you’ll realistically need and whether you’re on track.

2. Reach out to your resources

It can sometimes seem like we’re just treading water financially. To get further faster, you need backup: None of us can be our best alone. Reach out to your support network—while it can be difficult to talk about money, you may be surprised how many of your friends and loved ones are working on their financial goals and may have found worthwhile advice or trusted professionals to which they can refer you.

Many alumni and professional networks also offer financial educational seminars, networking support with local professionals, or discounts for professional services that you can use to help you organize your thoughts around your finances.

Also, don’t forget your biggest resource: Yourself. Replacing even one small habit or behavior can make a big impact over time—for example, it can be as small as making your own lunches to both save money and eat better. Or, start chipping away at a financial goal: While the pandemic caused nearly 3 in 5 U.S. employees to reduce contributions to savings accounts, you can take back control by setting up monthly auto-contributions. Even $10 adds up over time.

3. Make the workplace work for you

Your employer may also offer benefits that can help you build up your financial acumen and stretch your dollar—whether through overall wellness support like gym membership reimbursements or more focused financial resources.

Roughly 3 in 5 employees have either never thought to reach out to their company, aren’t clear if it is allowed, or believed the financial benefits don’t fit their specific issue. Luckily, we’re seeing more employees giving more attention their workplace financial benefits now compared with a year ago. If you haven’t already, reach out to your human resources department to find out about any benefits you may not be fully utilizing.

Many companies also offer financial wellness programs that include features like educational seminars or digital resources that can help you better understand personal finance topics and your own personal situation. Some also include access to financial coaching, financial planning, or other forms of financial education. Benefits like these can help you take better control of where you are today and reason through more balanced and realistic financial decisions moving forward.

4. Find a rhythm—and keep it going

As with any new habit, it’s key to find the right combination of tools and resources to make it work for you. Balancing long-term planning with short-term needs looks different for everyone. You get to decide your own goals and actions, so set a pace for financial wellness that you can stick with.

Your new financial habits will have a bigger impact the longer you stick with them, on many areas of your life. So don’t forget to take pride in the strong financial choices and progress you’re making each day.

Brian McDonald, managing director, is head of Morgan Stanley at Work

The data from the Morgan Stanley at Work State of the Workplace Financial Benefits Study comes from a survey of 1,000 U.S. employed adults and 600 HR executives. Quotas were set for both audiences to match representative distributions, including for company size, benefits status and seniority. The survey was conducted on behalf of Morgan Stanley at Work using an email invitation and an online survey between Sept. 21 and Sept. 28, 2021 by Wakefield Research. Wakefield Research is neither an employee of, nor affiliated with, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC (“Morgan Stanley”).

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