Want to get your financial house in order in the new year? There are some tricks you can use to make sure you will achieve your goals this time around.
A study by the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) finds over two thirds (69 percent) of U.S. adults will set a financial New Year’s resolution for 2018. The most-common financial concerns in the poll, which was conducted online by Harris Poll of 2,165 U.S. adults, were:
- Paying off debt (40 percent).
- Home improvement and maintenance (33 percent).
- Transportation-related expenses (32 percent).
However, if history is an indicator, more than a third of those well-intentioned individuals will fail. Here’s how to make sure you’re not one of them.
10 ways to make your New Year’s financial resolutions stick
1. Get detailed and specific. Making goals without getting into specifics is a recipe for disaster, says Gary Ryan Blair, president of The Goals Guy Learning Systems, a training organization that helps consumers achieve personal and professional goals. “Getting out of debt” could mean paying off a $1,000 credit card bill or paying the final $10,000 on your car note. Unless you come up with a specific amount or percentage to pay off, you can’t create the plan to take you there. Flesh the goal out by writing it down so it becomes tangible, says Nicole Cutts, a clinical psychologist and success coach in Washington, D.C.
2. Give yourself a reason. If you say you want to save $5,000, but don’t know why this is such a great goal, your resolution will go down the drain the minute you see something else tempting you to spend the money on. If you want to save $5,000 so you can afford a larger down payment on a car, write that down when you write out your goal. Your reason for improving your finances can also be to avoid the sleepless nights that come with financial worries. “Pain, fear and discomfort can be massive motivators,” says Blair.
3. Make it realistic. Coming up with specific amounts and percentages can help you determine if your plan stands a chance. For example, if you need an extra $15,000 to pay off all your credit card debt, “that might not be a realistic goal if you make $50,000 a year,” says Cutts. Sometimes other obstacles can make a goal unreachable. For example, Kinelam Bolgaire, a social media expert in New York City, did not achieve his resolution of tracking his expenses on a weekly basis because, “the goal was not realistic for the amount of time I have available any given day,” Bolgaire says. A goal that requires an overwhelming amount of effort on your part, such as having to work three jobs to save a certain amount, should also be scaled back because it will be difficult to maintain. “Maybe instead of eliminating all of your debt, you can say you’ll reduce it by half,” Cutts says.
4. Learn from past failures — and successes. The Fidelity study showed that some consumers failed before eventually achieving a goal. “It takes some time to get into the habit and find what works for you,” says Ken Hevert, vice president of Fidelity Investments. Instead of beating yourself up about past failures, consider what went wrong and adjust your plan accordingly. Don’t forget to incorporate those aspects of previous plans that did work, says Cutts. You can also learn from the failures and successes of others, Cutts adds.
5. Build intermediate goals. People get a jolt of confidence when they make progress, says Blair. Rather than striving for one massive end-of-the-year goal, break your plan into daily, weekly and monthly mini-goals instead. For example, you might get your budget in order in January, then spend February organizing your records.
6. Check in frequently to measure progress. You can’t make a resolution and wait until next December to see how you did. For example, if you want to save $5,000 in a year, divide that by 12 and make sure you save $416.66 each month. A monthly check-in is best, says Cutts. If you check in too often, you could become discouraged over a lack of progress, while waiting too long gives you too much time to veer off track.
7. Think process, not results. “Highly successful people understand that the process is more important than the end result,” says Blair. If your goal is to save $5,000 by the end of the year, focus on the steps you’re taking each month to get there, such as cutting back on Starbucks and increasing your retirement contribution. In doing so, you re-program your habits. If you truly change your behavior, the result will take care of itself.
8. Make it automatic. You’re less likely to break your resolution if you automate it. When Elle Kaplan wanted to increase her savings, “I resolved to start saving at least 20 percent of my income,” she says. Her resolution stuck because, “I made it automatic each paycheck.” With those savings she started her own investment firm, Lexion Capital Management, with no outside financial support.
9. Get an accountability partner. It’s good to have someone around to help you stay committed to your goals, but if you’re trying to better your finances, you want someone who is good with money. Find a friend who is living debt-free or who has a healthy savings account to guide you. You can also seek professional help, such as a coach, money therapist or financial adviser, Cutts suggests. Finally, tell your accountability partner what you expect from them. For example, if you want weekly check-in calls, say so.
10. Don’t forget rewards. When you have small successes along the way, give yourself a pat on the back. “Reward yourself with something that will not take away from your goal,” Cutts says. While it’s probably not wise to spend your newfound savings on a trip to the Bahamas, “you can find something inexpensive and enjoyable to celebrate your success,” Cutts says.