Beginning of Year Money Checklist: 10 Steps To Level Up For 2022

Happy New Year Everyone!

I was brainstorming articles for kicking off the new year and what better way to do that than to give a checklist of “to do” items to get off on the right foot and level up for 2022.

Checklist for 2022

Here goes………….

Review 2021 Spending

The 1st step in any process is upfront planning (I know, the project manager in me! Lol 😊). An effective planning session requires looking back on past patterns to understand how our money is being spent.

The main goal is to answer the following question: Where is my money going?

By understanding where the money is going, we can look for trends to later determine if the spending aligns with our priorities and values. There are several ways to track where the money is going.

If you have been tracking your spending through an app (i.e., Cleo, Personal Capital, Mint, etc.), the process will be much simpler. All you will have to do is retrieve the annual spending from the app which will break down the spending into the pre-defined categories you already selected.

If you haven’t been using an app, another way to track annual spending is to download your bank account statements. Often, your bank will break down spending into automatic categories (i.e., home, travel, shopping, health, utilities, etc.). It is not as easy as using an app, but the job will get done.

A 3rd way that is more time consuming is to decide on some spending categories, scan thru your bank statements from the past year (if your bank does not already break it down into categories) and itemize your spending. It doesn’t have to be detailed and accurate. Just use the information to create a rough spending budget to baseline where the money is going.

When you have a good idea where the money is going, you’ll need to ask yourself:

  • Is this aligned to what I expect to spend this year? Will it be different this year?
  • Does any of the spending categories make me uncomfortable or ashamed where the money is going? Why?
  • Did last year’s spending align to my priorities and values?

Set Promises & Priorities For This Year

Once those questions are asked, this coming year’s promises and priorities can be set. You’ll first need to set your promises. Why? Because as I discussed here, a promise is a commitment to meet your objective and to follow through on your word.

Keeping promises is much more personal because only you can make or break them. The reason for this is making a promise usually involves hard work, commitment, and is taken very seriously.

A promise is more concrete and much harder to walk away from than a priority. Making a promise to yourself is essentially committing yourself to achieve the desired result. From this commitment, priorities and goals are created that will outline the plan used to achieve this commitment. If the plan falters or needs modifications, that’s ok because the underlying promise is still there. The only thing changing is the plan for achievement.

Setting priorities involves understanding what is important to you for the coming year and making it a primary use of your money. Priorities simply set the order of importance for our money in the coming year and gives it a purpose. Priorities are based off the promises we made to ourselves.

Here’s how it might work. Let’s say you make the promise to pay down debt this year and to increase retirement savings. By making this promise, debt reduction and increased retirement savings has just become the priorities for the coming year. This means other potential promises such as saving for house, educating yourself on finances, or going on an all-inclusive vacation just became secondary to the priorities set.

Priorities do not measure progress but rather set importance. Whatever money is left over after priorities are met can be used to take care of secondary things.

Align Priorities With Values

Ok, once priorities have been set, make sure these align with your values.


Your values are powerful enablers that lie at the deepest roots of your character. Values define who you are and what you stand for. Values directly affect your attitude and behavior towards yourself, others, and the world in general. Values define how you think, how you act, and your general attitude towards the outside world.

Values are what you hold to be important and divides the world into a continuum from good to bad that is specific to you. The prism of values decides for you what is right or wrong. Defining what is right or wrong also defines your boundaries or guardrails for living your life with the rest of the world.

When values are aligned, a person becomes focused, understand their boundaries, and character is strengthened.

Without knowing your values, priorities cannot be finalized and goals cannot be created. A person becomes lost like a rudderless ship floating in the water.

For example, if you value freedom then a promise might be to start the journey towards financial freedom. A priority might be to start a side hustle that could grow into your own business and achieve freedom from the 9-5 of corporate life.

If your priorities do not align with your values, re-assess the year’s priorities until aligned with your values. Do not progress until this step is completed.

Set Goals For The Year

After priorities and values are aligned, the next step is to set goals for the year. To be clear, a goal simply is a way to measure both progress and eventual success. That’s it. There is no rocket science behind it. Put another way, a goal is an idea how to successfully go from Point A to Point B.

Once goals are achieved, people tend to feel lost or off course. The simplest way to rectify this? Set a new goal.

Goals can also be a checkpoint. Once that checkpoint is achieved, set a new one, and keep progressing towards the new goal. Rinse and repeat.

When setting goals, make sure the goals are authentic. Authentic goals are much easier to achieve. Authentic goals are inherently rewarding and not necessarily money or expectation driven. The goals should be centered around an activity (i.e., a task, meeting a deadline, or creating something). Authentic goals create a sense of accomplishment and progress which will keep you going in the direction outlined.

When defining goals, it is helpful to consider how success is measured and defined. For example, if a priority this year is to improve your emergency fund, a goal could be to save 3 months’ worth of expenses. How much is that? Where is the money coming from? How much needs to be saved each month to achieve that goal? All questions that must be answered to develop the goal.

Check Credit Score

As I discussed here, having a good credit score is vital for achieving personal finance goals. Everything from getting a good rate on a car loan, applying for a job, and being able to rent an apartment all depend on good credit scores.

Fraud has become an increasingly large problem over the last 10 years. Fraud against your credit can negatively impact your credit score and hinder your future financial success.

When setting up your financial success for the coming year, it is also a great time to check your credit score and take steps to improve it.

For starters, you can get 1 free credit report a year from each of the 3 major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

If wanting more frequent credit reports, go to You can get a free credit report through April 2022 on a weekly basis.

A 3rd way to get a free credit report is through various personal finance apps such as Mint, Personal Capital, Cleo, Stash, etc.

When scanning your report check for the following:

  • Unauthorized credit inquiries
  • Credit accounts you did not sign up for
  • Erroneously assumed missed payments
  • Unauthorized purchases

Plug Money Leaks

Once goals are defined, the $10,000 question comes up: Where is the money coming from?

Level Up for 2022

Answer: Plug Your Money Leaks.

Plugging money leaks can free up a ton of cash that can be used to fund the coming year’s priorities and goals. We all have things we spend money on that are not used. Plugging money leaks helps us optimize cash flow and fund things you identified as most important to you.

Not sure where to look for money leaks? Here are a few examples:

  • Auto and Home Insurance – it’s needed but are you paying too much? Shop around for better rates.
  • Gym memberships and subscriptions not used – look for things you haven’t used in 12 months and get rid of it.
  • Cut back on eating out – Been eating out a lot? Think about cutting back and watch how much money you can save!
  • Adjust W-4 Exemptions – Getting a huge tax refund every year? How about adjusting your W-4 so that you get that huge tax break every month in your pocket and not the government’s pocket? That money could help you reach your goals much faster. Not sure how? Use the IRS Tax Withholding Calculator to figure it out.
  • Refinance Auto Loan or Lease – If paying more than $400 / month on that auto loan or lease, look for refinancing options to lower that monthly payment.

We all have leaks in one shape or form. The question that needs to be asked is: what’s more important to you, spending money on things that don’t benefit you or using that money to meet your objectives?……. Food for thought.

Review Retirement Accounts

After your money priorities and goals are set for the year, next you need to figure out how to pay yourself first. What is the best way to do that? No matter the goals set, retirement should be the #1 priority. Yes, you need an emergency account and should have some money set aside, preferably 6 months’ worth. However, when I started out, I didn’t have 6 months’ worth of expenses in savings. Instead, I prioritized retirement over 6 months’ emergency fund.


Retirement is the game of “beat the clock”. Your working life is finite. The sooner a person can achieve financial independence, the sooner freedom comes. When starting out, money must double several times just to get to a million dollars. Once that milestone is achieved, the easier the savings gets because fewer doubling periods are needed to achieve financial freedom.

Don’t get me wrong, you need an emergency fund, I’m just saying you can build both at the same time… I did and am glad I did.

As Robert Kiyosaki’s states in his book, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”, you ALWAYS pay yourself first. What better way to do that than ensuring retirement funds are maxed out?

At the very least, make sure your 401K is putting away enough money to take advantage of your company’s matching. This is free money you need to take full advantage of. Ideally, max it out.

If already maxing it out and have some money to spare, consider opening a Roth IRA. A Roth IRA allows money that is taxed today to grow tax-free, and more importantly, be withdrawn during retirement tax-free! A HUGE bonus!

Also, there are investment providers out there that offer Roth IRA’s that can not only invest in stocks, bonds, and ETF’s but also alternative investments such as stock options, real estate, cryptocurrency and much more. As I talked about here, you may want to investigate alternative assets in order to diversify your retirement portfolio… check it out! 😊

Review Workplace Accounts

An underrated aspect of retirement planning are medical costs. One of the big drags on retirement expenses (along with taxes and inflation) are medical expenses. It has been said that the average person can expect to spend $295,000 on medical expenses….. $295,000! That’s HUGE!

A great way to offset these future costs is to invest in a health savings account (HSA). An HSA account is a tax advantaged account that can be used to pay for current medical expenses and any surplus cash can be invested towards future medical expenses. Nice bonus!

But wait, there’s more, the invested money can also be used for other expenses during retirement. For example, let’s assume you were able to accumulate $500,000 in your HAS. You could budget $300,000 to cover future medical expenses and then use the other $200,000 to offset other retirement expenses….. check it out.

Also find out if your company offers a Flexible Spending Account (FSA). An FSA is money set aside each year to offset costs for prescription drugs, glasses, dental expenses, and so much more! FSA plans are restricted by each company so if your company offers one, investigate it. It has a lot of hidden benefits.

Create New Budget

Now that you’ve plugged money leaks and updated your tax-advantaged accounts, you’re ready to create the budget for the new year. Why so late in the process? The reason for that is you need to ensure all your ducks are in a row and that you’ve paid yourself first before you figure out how to live on the remainder of the available money.

Like I said before, you pay yourself first before paying off your other expenses. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s true. It’s akin to the analogy I heard once while taking off on a flight to Florida. The airline stewardess instructed us that if the cabin depressurizes to make sure we put the oxygen mask on ourselves first before we help anyone else out. Why? Because if you tried to help others first before yourself odds on 2 people would die, you and the person you are trying to help. Your finance and taking care of your family are no different.

Take your priorities and goals for the year and use that to drive your new budget. Tough choices may have to be made on a few things but that’s ok. It’s all part of the master plan for your life. Choices are good! 😊

Monitor Progress Throughout The Year

After the new budget is established, it is very important to monitor progress throughout the year. Periodically checking progress allows for adjustments to be made as needed to keep you on track to achieve your goals.

Level Up for 2022

There are several ways to check on progress. You can create your own tracking sheet that is updated throughout the year.

There is also a plethora of apps out there (i.e., Mint, Personal Capital, Cleo, M1 Finance, Stash, etc.) that can help you track progress and net worth throughout the year. It takes a little time to set up, assign categories, and link accounts. Once done, the apps work well except for the occasional account linkages breaking and must be reset.

Lastly, I created a budget tracker that you can customize to suit your needs and download here. Check it out and leave me comments here if you like it or have suggestions for improvement.

There You Go…….

10 steps you can enact tomorrow to put you on a solid financial foundation for 2022. Give it a try and leave me your comments here on what you think.

Until next time…….

Live The Life You Love, Want, and Deserve! 😊