Most of us believe our physical and emotional well-being are essential to living a healthy, satisfying life. But are you also prioritizing your financial well-being? That’s equally important to living the life you envision, and it can impact on your physical and emotional health.
Even with the best of intentions, the busyness of life can make it difficult to prioritize yourself in the midst of the many responsibilities that compete for your time and energy. These 7 tips can help you move financial well-being closer to the top of your priority list in 2022.
1. Define What Financial Well-Being Means to You
Financial well-being can mean something different to each of us. For some people, it’s about achieving financial security. Others equate it with having a greater degree of freedom in making their life choices. Still others define it as gaining peace of mind about their finances, so they can sleep more soundly at night. Your definition is likely to depend on your financial situation, life goals, beliefs about money, and level of financial knowledge.
No matter how you define it, before you commit to making financial well-being a priority you should articulate what it means to you, as concretely as possible.
2. Aim for Small Wins
As with any aspect of life, if you set financial well-being goals that are big and broad, you may find it overwhelming to tackle them. To set yourself up for success, break down your goals into smaller action steps that are easier to accomplish and that position you to make long-lasting behavior change.
Let’s say one of your primary financial goals is to invest more money for retirement. A good first step to take action might be to review how much you’re contributing to your 401k and determine if you can afford to increase your contribution. If the answer is “yes,” the thing would be to contact your employer’s HR department to change your contribution percentage.
3. Categorize and Prioritize Your Action Steps
Once you’ve defined the actions you will take to improve your financial well-being, it’s helpful to categorize and prioritize them based on what each one will help you achieve. For example, you might categorize your financial well-being action steps into buckets like these:
- Steps that will have the greatest impact on improving your overall financial picture
- Steps that will be the easiest for you to accomplish
- Steps that are the most exciting or emotionally gratifying for you
When you evaluate your action steps in categories like these, it can make it easier to prioritize them…and that reduces the risk that you’ll become too overwhelmed to move forward.
4. Schedule Your Action Steps
We all know that the more time-bound our goals, the more likely we are to achieve them. We also know that the simple act of putting a to-do item on our calendar greatly increases the odds that we’ll complete it.
After you’ve broken down your major financial goals into smaller steps and prioritized them, schedule time on your calendar to complete those essential action items. Taking your job and home commitments into account, block time to work on your financial to-do items when you know you can focus your mental energy uninterrupted.
While some of your calendar items might be action steps, others might be deadlines and due dates that can keep you on track financially and help you avoid missing out on opportunities. For example:
- If you have young children, note the deadline for making 529 plan contributions for their educational expenses. Then back up about a month prior and set a reminder that the deadline is coming up.
- If you have college-aged children, take the same approach as above for the FAFSA deadline.
- If you’re self-employed, note the deadlines for your quarterly estimated tax payments.
- If you’re retired, set reminders about deadlines for taking your required minimum distributions from an IRA or 401k.
5. Turn Your Actions into Habits
During the pandemic, 43 percent of Americans started a new habit—and most plan to stick with it. You can use the power of habits to your advantage by turning any recurring financial well-being action steps into habits you engage in without much thought.
For instance, if one of your goals is to save more of your discretionary income, consider setting up automated investments from your checking account into a brokerage account or mutual fund. Or if one of your goals is to reduce your expenses, make a habit of reviewing your credit card statements against your budget on the same day each month to assess whether your spending is in line with your plans.
6. Boost Your Accountability by Sharing Your Plans
It’s well-documented that if you make a commitment and share it with someone whose opinion you value, you’re more likely to keep that commitment because you’ll feel more accountable. At the same time, you’ll gain an ally who is ready to motivate you when the going gets tough or offer positive reinforcement when you’ve achieved an important financial milestone.
Once you’ve developed action steps for improving your financial well-being, tell someone else about your plans. The more specific and concrete you are in describing your plans, the better. For example, “I plan to review my budget the last day of every month to make sure my spending is on track” is much better than “I intend to make better financial decisions this year.”
7. Reward Yourself
Making a commitment and seeing it through takes time and effort. So when you follow through on your financial well-being action items, you should reward yourself for the accomplishment. Your reward might be as simple as sleeping in on your day off or treating yourself to a small luxury that’s not normally in your budget. It doesn’t need to be large or extravagant, but it should be personally meaningful and gratifying.
The CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professionals at Marshall Financial recognize that scheduling specific, actionable steps is one of the most important ways to prioritize your financial well-being. That’s why we developed this downloadable financial planning calendar and checklist. It’s a great tool for mapping out a month-by-month plan to help you improve your financial well-being in 2022.