We are now 14 days into 2013 and I got to thinking about how many of us are still going strong on our New Year’s Resolutions. We all make them with the best of intentions. So why does it seem that most New Year’s resolutions end up fizzling within a few months, and by summer are nothing but a distant memory? It’s easy to vow never to eat junk food again when our stomachs are full and we’ve just finished stuffing our faces with dozens of Christmas goodies. But when that sugar buzz fades and our stomachs are empty, there is a pretty good chance we will want another cookie. Maybe you overspent this Christmas and the bills are just starting to roll in. You vow to improve your finances this year. So what’s going to stop you from overindulging again next year when the holiday lights sparkle around every Sale and the Christmas music has you in the mood to be generous? Here are five tips to either restart your resoution (if you gave up) or keep it going strong!
- Keep resolutions simple and specific. Successful resolutions are specific and will require some planning. If you say you want to get better at managing your finances, then figure out what that actually looks like for you. Will you pay off debt? Build up a cushion of savings? Get more organized? If you want to have more money in savings this year, then decide how much you want to save and by when. Be realistic. Then, map out a plan that includes specific actions to move you towards achieving your goal. Your plan might include setting limits to your flexible spending and less fancy lattes or meals out so you can afford to set money aside to savings. It might also include opening a new savings account and then setting up an automatic transfer each month to have a specific amount set aside to this account. You will be much more likely to achieve your resolution if you develop specific concrete steps to reach your goal.
- Set a schedule and track your progress. It’s always important to recognize those small victories as you inch your way towards the greater goal. One of the main reasons that people abandon their New Years Resolutions is that they get discouraged when they don’t see any positive results fast enough. Changing any habit or behavior isn’t easy and it requires sustained effort and commitment. You must be willing to do the work and take action and also be able to recognize when you’ve made progress along the way. Try writing your goals down along with a list of the steps you will take to achieve them. Your plan might also include keeping a spending/saving journal so you can track your progress.
- Don’t let a set-back ruin your whole plan. How many of you have vowed to never use a credit card again only to have your car break down before you have a chance to build up any savings? Or maybe this year you set aside your whole tax refund to save for a vacation and then had to spend it all repairing your furnace. When life throws you a curve ball, don’t let your whole plan cave in. Keep in mind that this journey we call life generally includes 2 steps forward and 1 step back and that’s okay. Don’t give up! When you experience a set-back, recognize it as a bump in the road and keep going!
- Reward yourself. Don’t try to accomplish too much too soon. Keep in mind that you have all year. Behaviors and habits that are changed gradually have a greater chance of becoming permanent. Every good choice you make is moving you closer to achieving your goal. Be kind to yourself and reward your efforts and hard work. I often remind clients that the number one way to fail at budgeting is to deprive themselves of all “extras” or all fun. If you spend too much money dining out, then make the commitment to trim down in this area as opposed to cutting it out completely.
- Enlist additional support. Goals are always easier to achieve when you have someone in your corner. Talk about your resolutions with a friend so they can celebrate your progress with you and hold you accountable. Find a “budget buddy” or someone working towards the same or a similar goal as you. Working together with another person can provide you with that extra motivation, support, and help to keep you focused.
And don’t forget that LSS Financial Counseling is always here to support you along the way. Do you need some help creating a plan to ensure you stick with your financial resolutions this year? If so, then give us a call at 1-888-577-2227 to schedule free debt and budget counseling. Or, even easier, START ONLINE COUNSELING RIGHT NOW. Calling us and setting up a phone or face-to-face appointment isn’t for everyone. Enter in your budget information online and a counselor will respond within days. Let us help you make 2013 the best year of your financial life!
Author Mary McKeague is a Certified Financial Counselor at LSS.