Financial resolutions can be some of the toughest to keep. Sure, it’s easy enough to cut back on chocolate or call your mom more often. But so many resolutions involve your finances to begin with, and maintaining a budget is such a year-round struggle, it can be easy to throw in the towel by February.
Help start the year off right by avoiding these mistakes. Your financial goals will thank you.
MISTAKE NO. 1: YOUR GOALS ARE TOO BROAD
The more specific you are, the better. If you want to spend less on food and entertainment this year, but that’s the only instruction you give yourself, it’s going to be difficult to make real, continued progress because you’re working in the abstract.
Instead, create tangible guidelines. Look at your spending over the last few months, then decide exactly how you want to change it. Instead of saying you’ll spend less, say, “I’m going to spend $100 less on eating out,” or “I’m going on one fewer social event a week.” At the end of your first month, you can check on these concrete goals and make sure you’re sticking to them.
MISTAKE NO. 2: YOU SET AN UNREALISTIC TIMELINE
We’d all like to wake up tomorrow with our finances in perfect order, but the truth is, change takes time. And the bigger your goal — paying off $30,000 in student loans, building up six months’ income in your emergency fund — the longer it will take.
So if you can’t meet your own deadline, it’s easy to feel like you failed and ditch the goal altogether. Instead, sit down with your finances and decide on a reasonable timeline based on your income, spending and saving targets. And don’t be discouraged if that timeline’s longer — it’s better to make steady progress than to burn yourself out too quickly (see Mistake No. 3).
MISTAKE NO. 3: YOU TAKE ON TOO MUCH TOO SOON
There’s nothing like a new year to get us fired up about all the things we’re going to accomplish (Perfect finances! Work/life balance! Regular exercise!) And that excitement usually leads to extreme measures.
If your goal is to save money, you may decide you have to cut out all your discretionary spending right away — no more lunches out, bye-bye daily latte and definitely no happy hours. But depriving yourself isn’t sustainable, nor is it recommended, and you’ll soon find yourself giving up on your goal or rebounding hard in the form of a spending binge.
Instead, introduce small habits, one at a time. Maybe you start with packing your lunch four days a week. Let yourself adjust to this change and once it becomes second-nature, introduce another. Once all these changes start adding up, you’ll find you’re saving a lot more than you would have by trying a quick fix.
MISTAKE NO. 4: YOU DON'T MAKE IT MEANINGFUL
When you’re a few weeks into your resolutions, eating your fourth sad desk salad of the week, it may be hard to remember why you’re doing it. Sure, you want to save money, but what does that *really* mean?
To snap out of it, attach meaning to your goal — why are you doing it? Maybe you’re padding your emergency fund so you can quit your day job and finally freelance full-time, or accelerating your student loan payments so you can put that money toward the down payment on your first home. Whatever the reason, remind yourself of it. Switch your computer background to a photo of a beautiful home in your ideal neighborhood, or put a quote about working for yourself on your bathroom mirror.
MISTAKE NO. 5: YOU SET IT AND FORGET IT
While this is a great way to make sure your credit card and student loan payments are made on time each month, it’s not such a great method when it comes to your goals. If you make your resolutions in January and then never check in on your progress, chances are good you aren’t making any (or at least not as much as you want to).
Schedule regular check-ins with yourself (or with your partner if it’s a joint goal) to go over your finances. The frequency depends on you and how long you have to reach your goals — if you’re working on a long-term strategy, you may find quarterly check-ins sufficient, or if you’re saving for a vacation in three months, more frequent status reports may be better.
This way, you can course-correct more easily than if you waited six months to realize you weren’t making the progress you thought you were. And looking back on everything you’ve accomplished so far — how much smaller your credit card balance is or how big your emergency fund has grown — can give you the boost you need to keep up the hard work for the rest of the year.