COVID-19 financial protections are winding down. Prices are rising. And the economy is erratic.
But your finances don't have to be.
Planning is particularly important now that the job market, inflation and fiscal policies are so unpredictable, personal finance experts say.
To help you head into the New Year with confidence, Newsday has compiled a guide to setting and sticking to financial resolutions in 2022. We've included tips from financial planners and coaches, credit repair professionals and a debt relief attorney. We also sought pointers from Long Islanders who are poised to tackle everything from property taxes to food spending.
"Financial goals are absolutely achievable. It’s just a question of how you set those goals, and how you set yourself up for success," said Leslie Tayne, a debt relief attorney based in Melville. "Creating good financial habits is key."
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember that many people have financial concerns, especially in a region where the cost of living is as high as it is on Long Island, Tayne said. Working through these issues is part of life, she said.
See where you stand: Block out time to review your debt and spending habits, experts said. Download statements from your bank accounts, credit cards and money transfer tools like Venmo and Cash App. Use them to create a budget.
Create an emergency fund: Plan to build up savings to cover at least three months’ worth of expenses, said Brian Cohen, principal at Landmark Wealth Management LLC in Melville.
"You need to have some safe, liquid funds in case of a sudden job loss, unexpected large bill, or to help you better weather market volatility by knowing that if you need funds you do not necessarily need to sell investments at a period in time when perhaps market volatility is spiking up," he said.
Look to cut spending: Parse through your paperwork for ways to cut expenses, which will allow you to pay off more debt or bolster your investments, said Susan Quigley, a certified financial planner who runs SQuigley Financial in Garden City.
She suggested making small adjustments. Rather than pledging to never buy lunch, consider taking food to work with you a few times a week. Verify that subscriptions set to automatically renew are necessary. Research reward programs, Quigley said.
"The four-letter word I hate is the word 'only.' 'It's only $4. It's only $20,’" she said. "Nobody has respect for the small amount until they meet me."
Keep goals realistic: Most financial advisers suggest setting no more than three goals. Quigley said she often recommends clients set one short-term objective, a second focused on the next one to three years and a third long-term goal.
Put aside money each month: Promptly use paychecks to pay monthly bills. Then direct any extra money to accounts for specific purposes, such as financing a new car, holiday shopping or emergency savings, said Elissa Costanza, owner and founder of She Does Credit, a credit repair and financial literacy company. This will give you an accurate sense of how much disposable income you have, after accounting for your goals.
Make it hard to spend: Put obstacles between you and your money, Costanza said. If you’re feeling tempted to spend more than you should, ask your bank to add limits to your debit and credit cards — or give them to a trusted friend or relative, she said.
"Keep that goal in front of you," said Costanza, a Babylon resident. "Hang it on the refrigerator, put it on your door, make it your screen background."
Here’s a look at how Long Islanders are staying motivated to meet their financial goals in 2022:
Nurture a side hustle
Makeba McCain, an educator and entrepreneur, is teaching herself the ins and outs of running a business.
McCain, 31, of Bay Shore, wants to grow Gift'It Beautique, a digital store she launched in winter 2021 while selling mirrors with LED lights. She has added other types of decorative mirrors, embellished photo frames and gift baskets — and is eager to expand her merchandise.
"Eventually, I would love for it to become something bigger," said McCain. "I would love to have a boutique."
When schools closed during the pandemic, McCain, a teacher's aide, lost income. She supplemented her earnings from a second job by selling jewelry through Paparazzi Accessories, a national outlet that relies on independent consultants, like McCain, to sell its merchandise. The extra cash was helpful, but McCain wanted the creativity to design her own pieces and control the business plan.
She's now working full-time as a teacher's aide and attending classes to become a special education instructor. McCain spends evenings and weekends focusing on Gift'It Beautique.
"I can sit down, concentrate and really dedicate myself to it," she said.
She directs a portion of her paycheck to an emergency savings fund and to her business account. McCain has cut back on shopping and doesn't have an ATM card linked to her savings account, which forces her to physically go to the bank to access it.
"I make it hard for me to get the money," she said. "[Gift'It Beautique] is helping me really budget and save and look at things differently."
Be proactive about property taxes
Susan Serra, 67, prioritizes her property tax bills by intentionally forgetting about a portion of her income.
Last year, the Huntington resident had her bank transfer $350 to a specific account every week. She then used that money to pay her taxes. She found the experience so easy that Serra is thinking about upping her weekly set-aside to $400.
"It's been great because I forget about it," said Serra, who consults on kitchen design and imports Swedish rugs through her business, Scandinavian Made. "I was always scrambling to get the twice-a-year tax payment together. Taxes on Long Island are a lot."
Serra said she occasionally dipped into the reserves if her checking account ran low while she waited on a Social Security check.
"Sometimes I need to fill a gap of a week or a few days," Serra said, adding that overall, "I haven't been tempted because the reminder that this big chunk of tax being due — that is an overriding goal."
Get thrifty at the grocery store
Marketing executive Chae O'Brien is using her talents to tout home-cooked meals — to herself.
O'Brien, 34, and her husband, Andrew, of West Hempstead, are limiting how much they order takeout and trying to keep costs down at the supermarket. To stay motivated, O'Brien posts pictures of meals her family will enjoy on Pinterest, an image-sharing social media tool.
"You've got to find the best way to ingest the information," said O'Brien, founder of the Thought Bakery marketing firm. "I don't have a recipe box. I have a board that makes this all look really good."
She's also hunting for in-season ingredients, which are less expensive, and scoping out sales on grocery apps.
With their second child due in January, O'Brien and her husband wanted to hash out plans for their entire family's future. They met with Quigley, who is helping them assess their investments. O'Brien has a master's in finance, but she said changes in tax policies and trends that challenge traditional advice — for instance, the rise of cryptocurrencies — compelled her to meet with a financial planner.
"It’s never too early to start," said O'Brien. "The only way we’re going to know how to prepare for our future is knowing what we have to work with in our present."
They strategized about ways to cut costs and funnel more money into retirement and other long-term savings plans. O'Brien was surprised to see how much her family spent on takeout — and how steep delivery app fees can be.
"You might be ordering pizza from like 10 blocks away, and you're paying $10 or $15 extra when it's a five-minute drive," O'Brien said.
Save for renovations
AnnMarie Domanick, 39, of Commack, and her husband are replenishing their home improvement fund.
The couple recently used the account to renovate their basement. They want to redo a bathroom next. Adding another sink will help accommodate the pair and their two sons, she said.
"It's not a very large bathroom, so I can't do too much," Domanick said, noting that they don't have a specific budget for the project yet. "But you know what happens when you redo something? You find other problems."
Domanick, an analyst at a law firm, ran the project past Cohen, her adviser at Landmark Wealth Management. Earnings fluctuate for Domanick and her husband, a firefighter, because they sometimes take overtime shifts. After paying their standard bills, they funnel earnings into emergency savings and other accounts and put extra money into the home improvement fund, Domanick said.
Seeing their savings spruce up her home has been rewarding for Domanick. Thanks to changes in her basement, she has an office and no longer works at the dining room table, and everyone wants to spend time in a new living room area.
"Every penny spent is meaningful," she said.
Build personal wealth
Demitrius Douglas, 23, is digging into several endeavors.
The Central Islip man, who earns commission as a loan officer for a mortgage company, hopes to double his income. Douglas refined his routine this year and feels confident he'll land several deals in 2022. He also plans to research investment property opportunities and save at least 10% of his earnings.
"I'm in a goal-oriented mode, where I'm really trying to look into the future," Douglas said. "I hold my money tight."
Douglas has long been financially disciplined. He started working on his credit score early in college and got good at saving for trips.
He keeps a list of goals handy and works out a budget weekly. Douglas said he generally heeds rapper Jay-Z's advice: "If you can't buy it twice, you can't afford it." To limit online shopping, Douglas temporarily transfers money into a secondary account, which makes his main account appear to be running low.
"It's also always good to take care of yourself," said Douglas, noting that he tends to treat himself to sneakers. "Try to reward yourself sometimes."
A flexible mindset helps Douglas stay positive. He stressed that everyone is dealing with different circumstances and emergencies pop up, particularly during a pandemic.
"I always tell myself: If I'm not somewhere where I want to be, it's OK; I will get there eventually," said Douglas, who was out of work earlier in the pandemic. "I just know that I'm trying my best."