Save more, spend less and pay off debt are popular New Year’s resolutions, and perhaps the ones most likely to disappear a few weeks into the year when reality sets in and expenses derail plans. But an early-year setback, like your health insurance deductible or credit card bills after an expensive December, doesn’t have to derail you.
After all, you made those decisions, so you can change them. And making more specific resolutions that are easier to keep than just giving up can put you in a better financial position next year. Here’s how to get back on track.
MAKE YOUR GOALS MORE CONSCIOUS AND LEGITIMATE
Broad resolutions like “I want to save more this year” can be a useful starting point, but they make it difficult to track your progress. Having a specific goal in mind, such as a wedding, paying off debt, or buying a house, puts a dollar amount on your financial goals and gives you something concrete to work towards.
“My goals are more tangible this year,” says Yasmeen Alshabasi, a clinical research assistant in Los Angeles. “They’re measurable and quantifiable, instead of the symbolic plans I’ve made in the past, like gaining more financial freedom.” She has a precise savings goal for the year and plans to use Excel spreadsheets and a tracking app to monitor her weekly budget.
Also, make sure the goals are within reason and won’t cause additional stress. It can be tempting to set an ambitious savings target, but stay within a range that makes sense for your income and regular expenses.
“Setting achievable goals is really important to me,” says Clayton Becker, Ph.D. student at the University of California, Los Angeles. He and his fiancee set their first financial goal together: to save for their wedding in the spring of 2024.
CREATE REGULAR CHECKS
Getting an official check-in on your finances only once a year can be overwhelming. Setting up mid-year, quarterly, or even monthly meetings with yourself or your financial planner (if you have one) can help keep you on track and adjust your goals if necessary.
Becker and his fiancee, for example, plan to conduct special inspections every six months.
“Knowing it’s coming takes a mental toll,” he says. “We’re trying to save a relatively significant amount, but not so significant that we can’t make adjustments if we find we’re behind mid-year.”
Choose a check-in interval that makes sense for you to regroup; long enough to make progress, but not so long that there is no time to turn around if necessary.
DOWNLOAD PART OF THE WORK
Tracking your financial progress throughout the year can add an extra mental load to your plate. Consider implementing some automation for your money goals, such as a monthly account transfer that you can set and forget.
“We set up automatic deposits into our joint savings account,” says Becker. “That way we don’t have to make proactive decisions every month about what to save.”
For credit card debt, you can schedule monthly payments that are higher than the minimum. Taking that responsibility off your hands in advance can reduce daily financial stress and increase the likelihood of achieving your goals.
Hiring an expert to manage large investments can be well worth the cost. Look for a licensed, registered fiduciary, preferably fee-only, meaning they don’t make commissions by selling you financial products. Finding a certified financial planner or CFP is a good place to start.
“It’s worth it to me to pay a wealth management team to manage my investment portfolio, especially given the economic climate,” says Ashley Porras, business development manager for a Cambridge, Mass.-based biotech firm. His main financial goal this year is to preserve his savings during the current market downturn and minimize future losses.
If you have a small portfolio and an uncomplicated financial situation, the need for a personal advisor may be: an automated financial advisor can help you manage your portfolio and offer guidance at a much lower cost.
It can be tempting to make drastic changes every January and make extreme resolutions for your finances. But a less strict, more forgiving approach can be more sustainable, especially when unexpected costs arise.
Consider setting monthly limits on “wants” and rolling over discretionary spending to the next month if you go over the limit instead of eliminating the wants entirely. Most importantly, don’t give up on your goals after failure. Overspending by $100 is still better than overspending by $1,000, and the effort adds up.
“Flexibility and adaptability are key,” says Porras. “Especially with factors beyond your control, it’s far better to understand the variables and work toward solutions than to be passive and admit defeat.”
Dalia Ramirez is a writer for NerdWallet. Email: email@example.com.