It’s almost the end of the year—and while you may be thinking about holiday shopping, vacation travel, and how to budget for any unexpected year-end expenses, it’s worth taking a few minutes to ask yourself how you made your 2022 financial goals.
Over the past year, we’ve been giving you expert advice on how to make, keep, and adjust your financial priorities for 2022. Whether you were hoping to build an emergency fund, get debt-free, or start saving for your first home, we helped you learn how to set SMART goals, evaluate your progress and – in some cases – get back on track:
Now we’ll end our series with a look back. What should you think about when you reflect on your year? How can you evaluate your progress toward your financial goals? When should you cut back — and when should you invest in working harder?
We̵7;ll also offer expert advice on how you can use what you learn to set even better goals in 2023.
Be honest with yourself
The best way to start evaluating your financial goals for 2022 is by taking an honest assessment of your progress.
“Look back on the year and be honest about your progress toward your goals,” explains Jim Wang, founder of WalletHacks.
If taking this kind of assessment makes you feel uncomfortable—or if you’re a little hesitant to be truly honest with yourself—remember that you don’t have to tell anyone else whether or not you achieved your goals. You also don’t have to tell anyone else if you think you could have done more for some of your financial goals.
“The good thing about resolutions and goals is that you can keep them to yourself,” says Wang. “This gives you more freedom to be honest with yourself about how you did.”
If you achieved all of your financial goals for 2022, congratulate yourself—and ask yourself if you intentionally made your goals too easy. “Did you reach your goals too early because you weren’t ambitious enough?” Wang asks.
If you gave up on your goals halfway through the year, ask yourself if you deliberately made your goals too difficult. “Did you give up on your goals because they were too ambitious?”
Many of us will probably find ourselves somewhere in the middle. You might have made solid progress on one or two goals, for example—and if you made more than two financial goals, you probably decided at some point that some of those goals were no longer a priority.
This brings us to the next step in our year-end financial overview. Why were some goals more successful than others? What worked well – and what got in the way?
It’s time to take your honesty to the next level.
Evaluate what worked for you
Once you have an honest understanding of how you did financially in 2022, you can begin to evaluate why your year went the way it did. The best way to begin this process is to look back on your year and connect actions to results.
“The goal should be to find a method that works for you to help you achieve the results you want,” explains Wang, “given what you know about yourself.”
Let’s say you wanted to set aside a $1,000 emergency fund. What steps did you take to achieve that goal?
Were these measures successful? If so, what made them successful? If not, what went wrong?
Some people may have hoped to save the emergency fund in a few big chunks, for example – by putting away their tax refund or taking advantage of high interest rates by depositing an annual bonus in a high-yield savings account – only to find that whenever the time came to save the money there was always somewhere else to spend it.
Other people may have tried to save their emergency fund through a series of automatic monthly transfers from their checking to their savings account. You may have had some success with this method – or you may have found that your transfers were too high to be sustainable in the long term.
“If 2022 didn’t turn out as you hoped,” advises Wang, “ask yourself what you could have done differently.”
Focus on the process instead of the goal
Once you have a clear understanding of how your actions affected your progress toward your 2022 financial goals, you can begin to adjust those actions as needed.
“Focus on the process, not the goal,” advises Wang.
In most cases, not reaching a financial goal has less to do with willpower than with process management. If your goal was to save up a $1,000 emergency fund and you fell short, take a look at your goal from a process perspective.
Did you make enough money to realistically set aside $84 each month, given your other financial responsibilities? Did you create a budget that allowed you to put the money away and adjust your budget to meet the rising costs of inflation—or did you tell yourself you’d save $1,000 because it was a nice round number, although it may have been the wrong number to work against?
“Fixing the holes in your process,” says Wang, “makes you more likely to hit your savings goals.”
Some of these process holes are likely to be top-level problems – choosing a savings target that is too ambitious, for example. Other process holes are administrative. For example, if you don’t put money into savings each month, you can plug that hole by setting up automatic monthly transfers.
Many people will likely find that their biggest process hole is created by procrastination. You might tell yourself you want to save more money by cutting back on streaming services, for example, but you keep putting off the necessary cancellations.
By fixing these holes, you can set yourself up for financial success—and you don’t have to wait until 2023 to get started.
Make success the default condition
Now that you know how you fared financially in 2022, it’s time to set goals for your next fiscal year, whether it’s putting money into a retirement account, learning more about personal finance, working with a financial advisor, or finally getting a life insurance policy.
With that in mind, here’s another expert tip from Jim Wang: “Make success the default, and make failure something you have to enable.”
If you take one piece of advice from this entire series, make it this. By creating a situation where success is the default—whether that means buying with cash instead of credit, checking your budget app before every purchase, or setting up automatic transfers to move money into savings before you can spend it—you’ve built yourself up a process that makes it easier to succeed than to fail.
You’ll want to check your process throughout the year, of course — especially if you’re in a situation where your income or expenses change significantly. If you feel stuck, you can always reassess your progress using the steps you just learned. You can also reevaluate your process based on how well it helps you achieve your goals.
From there, you just need to keep doing what works—and keep tweaking what doesn’t.