Budgeting for 2022 Is Easier With These Tips

Here’s a prescription for money happiness in 2022: Accept the fact that you’ll likely spend more money than you did in 2021. 

With inflation driving up the cost of food, rent and more, pressures are mounting on our wallets, so expecting your spending to stay in line with the past year is both unrealistic and a recipe for feeling guilt and self-recrimination. The key, financial planners and researchers say, is thinking ahead about where that extra spending will happen and quieting the voice in your head comparing your expenses from one year to the next.

“What’s going on right now that is so crazy is that no one even has an idea of what the baseline should be. The past may or may not be relevant to the future,” said Abigail Sussman, associate professor of marketing at the University of Chicago who studies how consumers make judgments. 

Financial experts advise that future budgets allot more to needs, such as higher rent, as well as wants, such as travel. Here are some ways to do just that.

Keep on Saving

You may have saved a lot of money in the past year, thanks to a strong labor market, rising wages and record-high savings rates. You can save more in 2022. 

Adding more to your existing savings can calm a lot of fears people may have about spending more money in other expense categories, said Sarah Behr, financial planner and founder of Simplify Financial in San Francisco. As you’re watching that savings account grow, you can relax knowing that should catastrophe strike, you have a cushion. 

Check in on your savings progress from the previous year. Are you happy with the amount you set aside? Do you want to increase your savings rate or maintain the current one? Even as you expand your budget, save first before spending on other things. You can set up regularly scheduled withdrawals to automate the process and eliminate stressful decisions. 

Stop Thinking in Dollars

Having frugal habits helps ward off lifestyle creep. Yet you may be hanging on to outdated ideas about how many dollars to spend in different areas of life. The past two years may have reduced your spending on travel, going out and entertainment, but those circumstances aren’t permanent. 

Spending more money than you have previously can lead to feelings of shame or embarrassment, Ms. Behr said. She’s previously talked to clients who have moved up from meager means and struggled to adjust to the new latitude more money affords them. 

“I’m the one saying, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, you can afford to go out to eat, you can afford a new car, you don’t have to drive your 2015 Prius,’” Ms. Behr said. “[Clients] are saving, and they’re squirreling away, but there’s no change in perspective.” 

Malik Lee, a managing principal and adviser at Felton & Peel Wealth Management Inc., recommends looking at budgets in terms of percentages of your overall income, rather than dollar amounts. 

He points to the 20-30-50 model, a tenet of personal finance that encourages putting at least 20% of your take-home pay into savings; allotting 30% for “wants” like travel and socializing; and designating the final 50% to fixed expenses such as housing and bills. 

“Thinking in percentages of income makes this a lot easier, and it makes it flexible,” Mr. Lee said. “As you’re increasing your income, that will ensure that your savings will increase with that, and the other ‘good’ categories will increase, too.” 

Pick Your Splurges

Most of us have practice downsizing budgets and cutting expenses. Fewer of us have spent time planning what we’ll spend more on, especially in terms of luxuries like travel or entertainment, what Ms. Sussman refers to as “pre-committing to indulgence.”

This doesn’t mean splashing out on everything, but thinking carefully about the spending that will have the most positive impact, such as setting aside money for a long-awaited vacation. 

Instead, consider the spending that brings you the most satisfaction, such as vacations, home-fitness equipment or some other priority. Allotting more money to items like those can make your budget feel rewarding, Ms. Sussman said, so that when you’re making trade-offs in other areas of your life—like cutting back on going-out expenses to put more toward your new, bigger apartment—it feels less like a loss and more like a pivot.

Allot money to those savings goals—“I’ll spend more on travel in 2022” or “I want to save for a bigger apartment”—by creating a separate bucket for these funds. Name it something fun in your preferred budgeting app or spreadsheet. This way, as you’re watching the money grow in the account, you can sprinkle some extra anticipation on the future fulfillment. 

Last, a Piece of Advice

Whichever budget works best for you, Ms. Behr warns against measuring your own spending or saving against peers’. 

“A lot of people ask me, ‘Do we spend too much money?’ or ‘How much do other people spend?’” she said. Worrying about spending is natural, but comparing the size of your savings with others is often unproductive, she added. “It’s like that old saying: ‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’” 


How are you approaching your finances in the new year?

Write to Julia Carpenter at julia.carpenter@wsj.com

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