Eat healthier. Lose weight. Get more sleep. Save more money. Any of those New Year’s resolutions sound familiar? That last one definitely should — this year, 32 percent of people plan to make a financial resolution for the year ahead, according to Fidelity’s tenth annual New Year Financial Resolutions study. Nearly half of all financially resolved folks — 48 percent — plan to save more, 29 percent plan to pay down debt, and 15 percent expect to spend less. Millennials are the most eager to turn things around financially, with an overwhelming majority of them — 94 percent — making financial resolutions for 2019, according to data from Principal Financial Group.
But here’s the thing: Just 8 percent of us manage to create lasting change from the resolutions we set for ourselves. Breaking any habit can be incredibly difficult, and when that habit is spending money, then your savings goals can slip through your fingers quicker than you can scan Apple Pay. Thankfully, there are some solutions for the 92 percent of us who don’t want to go down without a fight.
YOUR RESOLUTIONS ARE NOT PUNISHMENT
First and foremost, you should never view your resolutions as a punishment for not having saved more or been more financially responsible in the past, explains Shelly-Ann Eweka, CFP, and a Denver-based financial director at financial services firm TIAA. Rather, you should view them as a form of self-care. You owe it to yourself to improve. Because of that, you shouldn’t beat yourself up try to throw your entire plan out the window if you slip up and overspend once in a while.
And don’t feel like you have to exist only in the extremes. The question shouldn’t be “Should I spend or save,” rather, it’s “How can I be thoughtful about doing both?” says Jerry Patterson, senior vice president, Retirement and Income Solutions with Principal Financial Group.
SET MANAGEABLE GOALS
To help yourself, instead of setting a broad (and seemingly insurmountable) goal like “improve my finances,” set smaller milestones for yourself such as “save an extra $50 this month.” Bite-sized resolutions can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed. “If you’re the kind of person who struggles to make weekend plans, never mind financial ones, you’re not alone,” Eweka says. “Goal-setting can send some people into cold sweats. But setting goals is a critical component and important first step to making long-lasting financial changes.” Similarly, it’s okay to take a gradual approach toward financial adjustments. For example, instead of eating out for lunch every day, you can bring your lunch two days a week, Eweka says. Over time, you can work towards making a packed lunch your habit, and going out to lunch a treat.
Although it’s okay to start small with your goals — it’s not okay to procrastinate, she says. Even though retirement may feel like a lifetime away, the best time to start saving is now. “For every 10 years you delay saving, you’ll need to save three times as much to catch up,” she says. The habit is more important than the amount. “If money is tight, even starting to save something as small as a few dollars a month now, can reap large, long-lasting rewards over time.”
Finally, don’t create too many goals. In other words, focus on the quality of your goals, not the quantity, says Conor Richardson, CPA and author of “The Millennial Money Makeover”.
USE STRATEGIES TO STAY ACCOUNTABLE
You’ll want to use strategies to keep yourself accountable for your goals. If you’re a visual person, put a picture of your dream vacation on your bathroom mirror or on your desk at work. Writing down your goals and tracking how you’re doing on a weekly or monthly basis is another helpful tactic. Go through your 2019 calendar and mark down financial check-ins so that you have time set aside to focus on your money matters. “This facilitates tracking your performance over time and gives you the necessary space for reflection and feedback,” Richardson says. It may also help to rally the troops. Working toward a goal with a spouse or partner or sharing your goals with a friend who can motivate you to stick with it are other proven ways to stay on track.
USE TECHNOLOGY TO HELP YOU SUCCEED
Finally, technology that can help you put some of your financial resolutions on auto-pilot can be a godsend. Set up an automatic contributions, both to your savings account, and to your retirement account, to ensure that money is saved and not spent, suggests Kristin O’Keeffe, assistant vice president, community banking officer at Tompkins Mahopac Bank. “After a month, it’s a good bet that you won’t miss the money. It will become part of your financial routine.” And while you’re at it, increase your retirement plan contributions by just 2 to 3 percent. This will automatically cause you to spend less and save more for retirement, Eweka says. “And you’ll barely notice the slight difference.”