There is no time like the present to better yourself.
Today – not tomorrow – is the best day to set money goals, which came in a close second behind weight loss in a recent poll about the number one resolution for 2019.
While it’s great that so many people (37%) are focused primarily on improving their finances in the new year, it’s also true that 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February.
Although the specifics behind the failure of most resolutions is complicated, it boils down to the fact that it’s incredibly difficult to change our habits.
In fact, research suggests that it takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit.
The difficulty comes from the neurology behind habit formation. The stronger the habit, the more formed the neural pathways associated with it, just like a well-trodden mountain trail. Forming a new habit requires you to cut through all the overgrowth and form a new path, and it takes time to wear the new path down and for the old one to become overgrown.
With that being said, there are ways to make the process of forming new habits more manageable and to increase the likelihood of success.
And lucky for you, we’ve got you covered.
Keep reading to learn how to set New Year’s money resolutions that you’ll actually stick to.
Set Specific and Realistic Goals
The first step to setting New Year’s money resolutions that you’ll actually stick to is to make them specific and realistic.
Let’s start with specifics.
Too many people make vague resolutions, such as by saying they want to lose weight or save money. The problem with these goals is that you don’t really know when you’ve met them. The vagueness also makes them easy to slack on and ultimately give up on.
Being specific makes progress easier to track, lets you know exactly when you’ve met the goal, and makes it very clear when you’re slacking on the goal.
Setting a goal for working out 3 times a week, or for saving $100 a month, will be much easier to stick to.
Along with being specific, resolutions must be realistic if you hope to achieve them. Unrealistic goals will only lead to failure and disappointment because you had little to no hope of ever reaching them.
For instance, having a goal of saving 20k on a 30k salary is specific but almost certain to fail (it could happen but is highly unlikely).
It’s much more realistic to pick a goal that is more manageable, and something you can see yourself achieving.
It’s better to start small and adjust as necessary, which brings us to our next tip.
Start Small and Take Baby Steps
Starting small is a major key to setting New Year’s money resolutions that you’ll actually stick to.
Remember, you’re trying to change a habit and it takes time to wear out a new path. Starting small will allow you to begin wearing a new path with some success, which will help you stay motivated to keep going.
It’s also important to take baby steps. Just like a trail in the woods, the path will begin showing and then will become more visible the more you walk down it. It’s the same with setting goals.
If your goal is to save $1,000, you might start by saving $50 the first couple months, then $75, then $100 and so on. Plan out your steps and what you need to do each day, week, or month to get there.
Meeting a series of smaller goals is much less overwhelming and far more likely to result in feelings of success, even if you don’t quite end up meeting your overall goal in the time frame you set out for yourself.
Set Goals for Things Within Your Control
Another surefire way for your New Year’s resolutions to fail is to make them about things that you have little to no control over.
While we may want to make 10k this next year blogging or lose 2 lbs a week, we really don’t have a fail-proof way to make those things happen. Because we don’t have control over those goals, we open ourselves to disappointment and giving up if we don’t meet them.
Instead, we should set goals for things we have control over that will lead (hopefully) to meeting those goals. For instance, we could set a goal to put out one post a week with 1,200 words or more, or to send two emails a week to brands we’d like to collaborate with.
As for losing weight, we could set a goal to work out for 30 minutes 3 times a week or to eat no more than 2,000 calories a day.
Whatever it is, make sure your resolution revolves around something you have control over.
Tackle One Thing at a Time
Another key to setting resolutions you’ll stick to is to tackle one thing at a time.
Many people use the new year as a time to begin making changes to everything they see wrong with their life, and in theory having multiple goals is a great thing.
However, in practice trying to tackle multiple large goals can become overwhelming and may ultimately lead to failure.
While we think it’s okay to have several New Year’s resolutions, we feel the greatest chance of success will come from tackling them one at a time.
Remember habit formation and the 66-day rule? You need to give yourself some time to change one habit before you start another.
For example, say you want to both save money and get in better shape. You could either begin working out 3 times a week for a few months then add a goal of saving $50 a month, or you could start with saving $50 a month for a few months and then add in working out a few times a week.
Whatever order you do things in, tackling one goal at a time will allow you to start solidifying the new habit before adding others, which will increase your chances of success overall.
Track Your Progress
Yet another key to making New Year’s money resolutions you’ll actually stick to is to track whether you’re actually making progress or not.
I’m a special education teacher, and tracking progress is at the heart of what we do. If you set a goal and aren’t tracking progress, you have no idea whether what you’re doing is working or not.
If you want to meet your goals in a set amount of time, it’s imperative that you know where you’re starting from and how quickly you’re making progress so that you can make any necessary adjustments.
For example, say your resolution is to save $1,000 for an emergency fund in the next year. You begin saving money each month, but you have no idea how much you’re saving or what your total is. You begin to slack off because it seems like you’ve saved a good amount, but at the end of the year you realize you’ve failed to hit your goal.
On the other hand, if you’d been tracking your savings all along you would know whether you needed to bear down to reach your goal or whether you could have a few slack-off months.
You might even use your tracking to make an adjustment to your goal, which brings us to the next tip.
Periodically Revisit and Revise Your Goals if Necessary
One of the benefits of tracking your progress is that you’ll know if you’re blowing your goal out of the water or maybe need to back it off a bit to be able to succeed.
Life throws you curves, and changes in your life throughout the year may require you to revise your goals from time to time.
Remember, it’s not about meeting the goal you made on January 1st, it’s about building new and better habits at whatever pace you can maintain.
Say your goal was to save $1,000, but four months in you’ve already met it. Are you going to quit saving the rest of the year because you made your goal ahead of time?
Heck no! If you met it that easily you should revise your goal to save $2,000.
On the other hand, if you’re goal was to save $1,000 and after 6 months, your car has died and you’ve been laid off, adjust your goal to something more manageable like $500.
It’s okay if the goal changes because the specifics aren’t the real wins, it’s the change in habits and behaviors that we’re really after.
Ask for Support
Asking for support is another major key to sticking to your resolutions.
We’ve already established how hard it is for people to change habits, and chances are the people you spend most of your time with (family and friends) have similar habits. Changing habits is about much more than willpower, it’s about setting yourself up for the best chance of success.
Say your resolution is to save $1,000, but you also like to go out with your friends for happy hour every Friday evening. Instead of going and trying to resist buying anything, ask your friends if you can hang out at your house, or if you can cut the get-togethers down to every other week.
Enlisting the help of your family and friends will not only help you to stay accountable, it’ll help eliminate tempting situations and may even motivate those close to you to make changes of their own.
Making changes is hard, but it doesn’t have to be a continual state of sacrifice.
Earlier we talked about breaking a large resolution down into baby steps in order to slowly work your way up and to achieve more frequent successes, but the other part to that is celebrating those successes.
At our core we are motivated (or not) by the outcomes of events. If we do something and the result is good, we are more likely to do that thing again. Conversely, if we do something and the result is bad, we are less likely to do that thing again.
Of course, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, but in general this is how we as humans operate.
Because change is hard, and sometimes not pleasant, we are more likely to begin drifting toward things that make us feel good, aka, our old habits.
This is why it’s so important to take things in baby steps and to reward yourself for each milestone you achieve. We need to build in good outcomes for things that we may not really find pleasant so that we train our brains to see these changes as good, making us more likely to continue doing them in the future.
Met your saving goal for the month? Do something you enjoy as a reward (even if it means spending some money). Met your goal of working out 3 times a week for a month? Take a few days off and do something fun.
Whatever your goal is, it’s important to reward the little successes along the way so that you reinforce the new behavior, training your brain to begin seeing it as a pleasant thing along the way.
Go Easy on Yourself
This is perhaps THE most important key to making New Year’s money resolutions you’ll actually stick to because believe me, you will fail sometimes.
I repeat YOU WILL FAIL SOMETIMES, AND THAT’S OKAY.
Everybody fails sometimes, even for things we consider ourselves good at. No one is perfect, and no one is immune to the outside pressures we continually face. No one can completely control their emotions or avoid temptation.
And it’s okay.
The point of a New Year’s resolution is to change habits, not necessarily to meet the specific goal you set at the beginning of the year. There will be ups and downs, but any progress you make toward meeting that goal is a win.
Changing habits is kind of like the stock market. It ebbs and flows but as long as it’s trending up you’re doing okay.
Too many people use a temporary set-back as a reason to give up completely instead of recalibrating and trying again.
If you make a mistake, own it but don’t beat yourself up. Give yourself permission to be human, dust yourself off, and try again the next day.
As long as you’re trending up you’re doing well.
Last but not least, it’s important to be patient when making New Year’s resolutions.
We’ve already established that making changes takes time, and that habits take an average of 66 days to begin to solidify. By no means does that mean you’re through after 66 days, just that it’ll begin to get easier from there.
Making significant changes takes time, and you’ll often fail on multiple occasions along the way. Remember, the habits you currently have were formed over decades of time, so you can’t expect to do a complete reversal in mere months.
Be patient and give yourself time to make the changes you want to see. Track your progress, celebrate successes, and accept that you won’t always be perfect.
After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are your habits.
Moral of the Story
With every new year, many will take this time to evaluate the last year and make plans for the new one. Unfortunately, most New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February, and people revert back to the habits they want so desperately to change.
Much of this failure is in the nature of typical New Year’s resolutions, which tend to be vague, unrealistic, and all-or-nothing.
That is why we’ve compiled a list of tips to help you set New Year’s money resolutions that you’ll actually stick to.
Make sure you set goals that are specific and realistic, start small and take baby steps, and set goals about things that are within your control. Furthermore, tackle one thing at a time, track your progress, revisit and revise if necessary, and ask for support.
Finally, make sure to reward yourself for your successes, go easy on yourself when you fail, and be patient.
Making significant changes takes a lot of time and effort, and you will stumble along the way. Remember that you’re not just meeting a goal, you’re changing behavior and forging an entirely new path through the forest.
At the end of the day, it’s not about reaching the peak, but about the climb it takes to get there.