As the end of the year (and the decade!) approaches, many of us are starting to think of New Year’s resolutions for ourselves. Around 60% of Americans make resolutions each year, but a mere 8% actually keep those resolutions. Why? Because it’s inherently difficult to change our habits — something that we’ve been trying to do for millennia! And here’s a fun party fact for you: the idea of a New Year’s resolution started around 4,000 years ago in Babylon, and people would make promises to the gods in hopes of good favor in the year ahead. The most common request? For the gods to eliminate their debts. So while New Year’s resolutions can be any number of things, from working out more to eating healthier to spending less time on your phone, there’s historical precedent for setting resolutions around your finances as well!
In this article, we’ll help you with some ideas for financial resolutions that you can actually keep.
But in order to avoid being one of the 92% of people who don’t keep their New Year’s resolutions, let’s start with some tips around the mechanics of effective goal setting.
How to Set Financial Goals You Can Actually Keep
Most of us know from personal experience how difficult it is to change our habits. So the low rate of success with New Year’s resolutions isn’t that surprising. But, there are ways to set goals that you have a good chance of actually adhering to. Here are a handful of tips that will help you beat the odds as you tackle your resolutions in 2020.
1. Set SMART Goals.
This may seem trite when developing financial goals, but there is a reason so many people use the “SMART” standard. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely and are the criteria we should apply when creating a resolution.
Specificity is the difference between “I want to save more” and “I am going to increase my savings by $50 per week”. Measurable means your goal must be trackable. “I want to feel better about my finances” is difficult to objectively measure. On the flip side, “I want to pay off my credit card debt within 6 months” is a lot more measurable. Achievable and Realistic relate to each other but are slightly different: achievability refers to your ability to complete a task, while realistic is how a goal will fit into your larger plans. For most of us, writing in a journal every day would be achievable, while becoming a professional athlete usually is not. Timely applies a timeframe in which you want to complete your objective.
2. Try to Focus on Short-Term Goals.
It’s difficult to stay focused on long-term goals — life has a way of throwing us curveballs. Creating short-term goals helps us stay focused on the short-term while slowly working towards the long-term. For example, if you’re wanting to run a marathon as your long-term goal, a good short-term goal would be to run three times this week. It’s attainable, and ultimately makes it easier to stay motivated when you’re just focused on this week.
3. Track Your Progress.
Tracking and monitoring behavior is proven to help us succeed more than just reviewing our results. Did we run three times this week? Did we save $100 this week? Progress towards a long-term goal can be slow, so monitoring behavior keeps us motivated.
Your Personal Capital dashboard allows you to safely track all of your finances in one place, so for financial goals, make sure you’re regularly logging in to see how you’re doing. Not a dashboard user yet? It’s totally free to use, and you can sign up here.
4. Keep Yourself Accountable.
Getting an accountability partner (like a friend, partner, coach, financial advisor, etc.) increases your odds of success and the likelihood that you’ll stick to your goals. Positive peer pressure works!
Ideas for Attainable Financial Resolutions
While your Personal Capital team can’t be out there every day making sure you’re tackling your other resolutions, we do have a handful of resolutions to consider to get your finances in order.
1. Get Organized.
While it may not be the most exciting resolution, getting organized is the first step towards improving your finances. I grew up in the kitchen with my mom, and was always taught the principle of Mise en place, which is French for “everything in its place”. We would clean the kitchen and prepare all the ingredients before cooking: chop the vegetables, make the spice mix, measure out the ingredients. You can do the same thing with your finances by using our dashboard to consolidate all your assets in one place. This could also include consolidating your old accounts like 401Ks for old employers or that extra savings account with a few hundred dollars. These types of accounts just become clutter, and it’s often worth combining them to keep things simple.
2. Pay Yourself First
This is another oldie but goodie when it comes to getting your finances in order. It’s a simple rule that works far better than “I want to save more” because it depicts HOW you are going to save more. More often than not, if you spend your money and save what’s left, you aren’t going to have anything to save. The best way you can ensure you stick to the plan is to automate a savings goal and set up recurring contributions into your savings or brokerage account for the day after you get paid. Your future is your most important bill to pay so make sure you pay that first, then spend whatever you have left. Call your Personal Capital advisor to see how you can set up a recurring contribution.
3. Track Spending
Spending is the area of people’s finances in which they tend to have the least understanding, even though it’s one of the biggest variables in financial well-being. It’s not rocket science that the less you spend, the more you can save while working. Once you get to retirement, the same is true. The less you spend, the smaller the portfolio you need to support your lifestyle. Getting a better understanding of how much you are spending also makes planning a much more effective exercise and will give you a better understanding if you are on track.
4. Pay Off Bad Debt.
I relate paying off debt to financial cardio — it helps your finances become leaner and more energized. Once you don’t have the drag of interest payments on your cash flow, you can then use that cash in other ways. Now, this is specifically referring to bad debt because there is a place for good debt. Bad debt includes high rate credit cards (which is almost all of them), personal loans for discretionary purchases, or payday loans. Good debt would include student loans, mortgages, or low-rate car loans.
Two common debt payoff methods include the avalanche method and the snowball method. The snowball method is when you pay off the smallest loan first and then take the money you would normally have used on that payment and pay down the next smallest loan. The avalanche method pays off the highest rate debt first and then works your way down to the next highest rate. Each method has its merits, but it comes down to qualitative and quantitative aspects. Quantitatively, the avalanche method means you would pay less in interest but often takes longer to feel like you are making progress. Qualitatively, the snowball method usually means that progress takes place very quickly and accomplishments are made early. This can be motivating and help you stick to your plan. Finally, paying down debt can also do wonders for your credit score.
Financial resolutions are some of the most common resolutions people make, so we hope these tips help you set and keep your financial goals for 2020 and beyond. Your Personal Capital dashboard can help you track your progress and stay accountable for your resolutions, and if you have a Personal Capital advisor, make sure you reach out to them to share your plan. We’re here to help you achieve your goals, whether it’s simply getting organized and setting up savings plans, or establishing a debt paydown goal.