The truth about New Year’s resolutions is that they often get abandoned before they’re reached. Of 2,011 Americans who participated in a survey, 56 percent kept their resolution for less than a year, while 30 percent of those individuals made it less than three months. This doesn't mean resolutions don't work. It means too many people aren't doing it right. They make resolutions that are too broad or unrealistic, or they fail to set up a reliable process to keep themselves moving toward their goal. Instead of falling into those traps, set resolutions the smart way this year.Discover some steps to take now:
- Break up big goals. Three popular financial resolutions are saving money, paying down debt and spending less money. The problem is, these goals are way too general. As you start to think about your resolutions for next year, think smaller. For instance, if your number one financial goal is in the long term, like retirement, you obviously won't be able to complete it in a single year. The same goes for paying off your student loan debt or saving for a down payment on a house. To start tackling those large goals, consider the intermediate steps you could accomplish in a year — things that would get you one step closer to achieving the big goal. Although you may not be able to save 20 percent of your dream home for a down payment in 12 months, you may be able to save 5 percent. Making your goals realistic will help you feel like they are doable.
- Hold yourself accountable. What will you do if you achieve your financial goals in the new year? What will you do if you abandon them? Building a personalized reward system may help you to focus your energy. Say your goal is to save an extra $300 a month. Tell yourself on January 1 that if you stick with your goal all year, you will reward yourself every three or four months. A nice dinner or concert ticket may mean more when you feel that you've earned it. You also can set up penalties — perhaps denying yourself a favorite indulgence or doing some other unpleasant task — if you fail to keep up with your goal. And if you can't hold yourself accountable, consider telling a trusted friend or family member about your resolution, so they can help support your reward and penalty system.
- Use technology. One of the amazing things about saving money in the 21st century is that there are tools that can do it for you. Numerous smartphone apps and web services can automatically take money out of your bank accounts and set it aside. Some apps allow you to set rules: for example, your spare change is saved or you automatically save money each time you spend money on a guilty pleasure. If you splurge on ice cream on a hot day in July, for example, the app can automatically save a preset dollar amount for you. This way, you can passively keep your resolutions by outsourcing them to technology.
- Be honest with yourself. There are a few common resolutions that are bound to fail, such as cutting all discretionary spending from your budget and setting unrealistic standards for saving. As you work on your plan to reach your resolution, thinking about the "ideal" version of your spending habits will only make it harder for you to stay on track. If you regularly spend $50 a month on eating out, slashing that line item to $0 will be much harder than slashing it to $25. You can modify your habits and change your attitude, but being unrealistic and asking too much of yourself will set you up for failure.
- Work with a pro. Working with a financial professional is a smart way to find support and guidance. Think of financial professionals as a resource — one that can help you establish your goals and then create a roadmap to achieve them. They help with long-term goals, such as retirement, but they also can work with you on goals with shorter timelines. Plus, checking in with them a few times throughout the year may help keep your resolutions on track.
Two things you can do today
- Make a list of your short- and long-term financial goals. Choose one or two to focus on in the new year.
- Think about your previous New Year's resolutions, and consider why they were successful or unsuccessful. What could you have done differently?
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