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22 ways to save, invest and get smarter with money in 2022

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This is an excerpt from the CNBC Make It newsletter. Subscribe here.

I don't know about you, but I'm feeling (20)22. 

Or at least, I'm feeling ready to make some changes to my money and financial habits. If you'd like to as well, this list is a good place to start.

You can think of these as financial resolutions, or as relatively easy financial to-do's to maximize your money next year. Not every task will apply to every person, but hopefully there's enough variety that you'll find a few that appeal to you.

Something else to consider: You don't need to check off every single item all at once. Bookmark this and come back to it throughout the year, or use it as a jumping off point to make your own list for 2022. (If you do make your own, I'd love to see it.) 

Without further ado, here are 22 ways to make the most of your money in 2022.

1. Picture your perfect year

As you're ringing in the new year, take time to reflect on 2021 and think about what, if anything, you'd like to do differently in 2022. What went well in 2021? What would you like to change in 2022? Is there anything you've been putting off that you can finally take strides toward accomplishing? Spend an evening considering what you want out of the year.

2. Track your growth

If you want a decent overview of your financial standing, calculating your net worth is a good start. This is essentially your assets (cash in checking and savings accounts, investments, real estate, cars, etc.) less your debts (student loans, mortgages, overdue credit card bills, etc.).

Try doing this at the start of each month in 2022 to see if and how you are progressing toward any savings or debt repayment goals. You can use an app like Personal Capital or You Need a Budget, or create your own Excel tracking sheet. I do the latter, tracking the balances in my savings account, checking account, 401(k), Roth IRA and brokerage account on the first day of each month. Currently I have no debt, but if I did, I would include those balances as well.

Comparing my December 2021 balance to early 2019, when I started, shows me how my monthly contributions have slowly grown my net worth, even if they don't feel like much in the moment. And if I see a drop from one month to the next, I figure out what's going on and if there's anything I need to do to get back on track.

3. Invest in an index fund

New to investing? Have a few hundred dollars you'd like to grow? Opt for an index fund. Yes, there are trendier options out there, but an index fund works for most investors, especially newbies, much of the time

Index funds are designed to track the entire stock market – rather than investing in only Google or Facebook, you can invest in both, plus plenty of other companies, too. This gives you diversification that can help hedge against market downturns. And it's a time-proven strategy for building wealth, which you can't say about buzzier products

4. Be careful with trading apps

Invest, yes, but be careful doing it through apps that make a game out of investing, particularly short-term investments and trades. Stock picking can be fun, but it's not a way for 99.9% of people to accrue wealth (see articles on index fund investing linked above).

If you are using trading apps or investing in high-risk assets, at least make sure that you have a sizable emergency fund held in an FDIC-insured savings account.

5. See a financial therapist

How's your relationship with money? If it's strained, consider an appointment with a financial therapist. These professionals combine financial planning services and mental health treatment, helping clients process their underlying feelings about money, while making plans for retirement, savings, investments and other goals.

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6. Monitor your accounts

In 2022, there's no excuse not to be proactive about cybersecurity.

To protect yourself and your money, first you need to know where all of your accounts are, including banking, retirement, student loans and credit cards. Then, at the very least, make sure you turn on multi-factor authentication on all of your accounts to provide an extra layer of security.

From there, there are a variety of safety precautions you can take. You can set up credit report monitoring, or freeze your credit accounts if you have no plans to apply for credit in the near future.

A password manager is also a smart idea. These products keep track of your usernames and passwords for your accounts across devices, making it easier to use different passwords for each account. Try LastPass or 1Password.

7. Find some inspiration 

If your goals are feeling a little stale, search for some new inspiration. 

Personally, I find subreddits like r/Anticonsumption, r/Bogleheads, r/FIREyFemmes and r/MoneyDiariesActive particularly engaging and thought-provoking. Depending on your interests, there are any number of online forums that might appeal to you. 

And I'm never not inspired by the people Make It features on Millennial Money. Spend some time with their stories, and I'm sure you will be, too.

8. Ask for what you're worth

One thing we're leaving behind in 2021? Being underpaid for our work. 

For many workers, the time has never been better to ask for a raise. Of course, this can be a nerve-wracking prospect. But Make It has plenty of advice on how to prepare for the talk with your manager and get the money you deserve.

9. Improve your credit score

If you want to raise your FICO credit score, the two most important things you can do are pay off your bills on time and in full every single month and keep your credit utilization rate under 30%.

Credit companies also take into account the length of your credit history, the last time you applied for a new type of credit and the mix of credit accounts you use. But paying your bills on time and keeping your balances low will have the biggest impact

10. Make a plan for your benefits 

Familiarize yourself with your employer's benefits this year. There could be things available you haven't been aware of, such as financial planning sessions, wellness opportunities or gym reimbursements. Taking a few minutes to go through your HR portal or reach out to your benefits manager directly can yield surprising results.

And remember, in some cases, if you rolled over FSA funds from the previous year, you need to spend them by a certain date. Don't let them go to waste.

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11. Do one task you've been putting off

We all have that one thing we know we need to do, yet keep finding ways to push off. Make an effort to finally check that one thing off of your long-term to-do list, whether it's finally assessing your investment mix and fees, making an end of life plan, or opening a 529 account for your child

12. Schedule a recurring life administration day

Whether it's once a week or once a quarter, dedicate a certain day to reviewing your finances and other life administrative tasks on a recurring schedule. Tasks could include checking on spending, rolling over an old 401(k), submitting receipts for reimbursement, returning purchases you don't plan to keep or culling subscriptions.

To make the most of this day, keep a list on your phone or somewhere else easily accessible of the tasks you need to accomplish, from reviewing your spending to submitting receipts to checking your net worth.

13. Learn about crypto

Look, you shouldn't throw all of your money into cryptocurrencies, but at this point, you should take time to learn about them and how they work. CNBC Make It is always publishing new explainers on the latest trends.

Be wary of learning only from people who profit off of crypto. This is true of anything, but it's especially important in a relatively new, largely unregulated and developing space. And never invest more than you can comfortably afford to lose, no matter what the asset is. 

14. Figure out your retirement number

Even if you're decades away from retirement, it's important to have an idea of how much you might need stashed away to support yourself after you stop working full time. 

This will look different for everyone, depending on your current income, family size, location, health, retirement plans, expected Social Security payment, and on and on. But you can use this calculator from CNBC Make It to get a basic idea of how much you'll need.

Remember: Things change. Get an idea of how much you need, but know that it will likely change over time.

15. Contribute more to your Roth IRA

Speaking of retirement, financial advisors love Roth IRAs, which let savers contribute money after they have paid taxes on it. Contributions and earnings grow tax-free (assuming investors follow the withdrawal rules), making them particularly powerful investment vehicles for workers in lower tax brackets. Essentially, you pre-pay your taxes.

Investors under 50 can contribute $6,000 to their IRAs in 2022 and those 50 and over can invest $7,000. For younger savers, that comes out to $500 per month, though if you can max it out earlier in the year, even better.

A 25-year-old who contributes $6,000 a year until they are 65 would end up with almost $1 million, assuming a 6% annual return (and keep in mind: the contribution limit is likely to increase in the future).

So if you don't have one (and meet the income limits), then open one up in 2022. And if you already have one, try to contribute more than you did last year.

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16. Increase your savings rate

Your savings rate is the percentage of your income that you keep each month, versus the amount that you spend (here's how to calculate it). Increasing it, even slightly, will put you in a better overall financial position. You'll have additional money stashed away for a rainy day, or to put toward your other goals, whether that's buying a house or investing more.

There are a number of ways to increase your savings rate: Up your 401(k) contributions, try to max out your Roth IRA or boost your automated savings each month.

The harder question is how to find the money to make those adjustments. Financial experts recommend starting small: Increase your 401(k) contribution by 1% at the start of each year or cut out one monthly subscription you don't need, and send that money to your savings account instead.

17. Cut down your expenses

Another way to save a little and ensure you're spending on what's important to you is to rank your expenses.

Do this by making a list of all of your non-essential expenses for the past three months. Then, rank them and try cutting out or reducing spending on the least important or necessary. Consider the money you'd save on those expenses, and what it would look like to put it toward one of your goals instead.

18. Prepare for student loan repayments to resume

After a nearly two-year reprieve, federal student loans payments for around 41 million borrowers will resume Feb. 1, 2022.  

To prepare, financial experts advise checking your balance to understand how much you owe each month. Once you've done that, you can work out how to fit it back into your budget. Additionally, you'll want to make sure your contact and payment information are up-to-date with your lender.

19. Make your money count 

Consider where your money has gone over the past year or so. Are you happy with how and where you're spending it?

If not, make some changes in 2022. That could mean shopping more at local small businesses, cutting out massive retailers like Amazon or looking into sustainable investing. No, your personal expenditures aren't likely to change how the entire world operates. But in many ways, your dollars are your voice. Exercise them with care.

20. Stop timing the market

When the stock market starts getting rocky, it's natural to want to pull back to "save" money. But that's the worst thing to do, and it costs investors a lot when everything is said and done

Rather than letting your nerves get the best of you, think of a down market as a buying opportunity. At the very least, don't get spooked and pull your money out of your investments. Your bottom line will thank you.

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21. Talk it out

Schedule time with your significant other to get on the same page about your finances and goals. It can be uncomfortable if money is a stress point in your relationship, or if you have different relationships to money, but ultimately, it will help you grow closer together and ensure you're progressing toward what you both want. 

Not partnered up but still want to talk it out with someone? Try hosting a money salon — it can be on Zoom — with friends.

22. Invest in yourself

Last week during a Twitter Q&A, I was asked what people should do if they receive a year-end bonus. Naturally, the "responsible" personal finance classics came immediately to mind: Pay down debt, put it toward your Roth IRA, stash it in a savings account for a rainy day. 

But after the past two years, I think we could all use something a little more, well, fun. So this year, if you're able to do so, use some of your money to invest in yourself in a way you've always wanted to but could never justify before. Maybe that's by taking a class for a completely new field or hobby, or finally taking the plunge to move to your dream city

Whatever investing in yourself means to you, make a pledge to actually go for it in 2022. You deserve it.

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