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To Make Your New Year’s Resolution Stick — Aim Lower

Specific and actionable goals are more likely to be met. Setting a goal of “I want to earn more money.” isn’t as good as “I want to earn an extra $300 per month.” The second goal is specific. You can really start planning and acting on a specific goal which means you are more likely to succeed.

To make your New Year's resolutions stick, try aiming lower and get several small victories under your belt.
Improving financial budgeting is America’s third most common New Year’s resolution for 2014 (behind only losing weight and getting organized), according to stats from a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. Whether it’s to pay off debt, budget better, or simply save a bit more, 34 percent of Americans have a money-related resolution.

But we all know it’s easy to make resolutions and far harder to make them stick.

The study shows — on a whole — a measly 8 percent of those who make resolutions stick with them for the long haul. But here’s the good news: Among the under-30 set, the success rate jumps to 39 percent. It seems the younger you are, the more likely you’ll be successful with your resolution.

If you want to succeed at being better with your money (or any goal, really), you can’t rely on willpower alone, you need a system that will keep you on track, and you need to set realistic, achievable goals that will result in a number of little wins.

1. Be reasonable. Really reasonable.

If your annual income is $40,000, it’s not realistic to declare that you’re going to pay off $35,000 in student loans in a year. And if your take-home pay is $1,200 a month, it might be unreasonable to think you could save $1,000 a month extra — you’ll probably need that money to eat. But maybe you could save $25. Or you could resolve to picking up a side gig to earn $100 or $200 extra a month.

Thinking big for the long term is a great motivational exercise, but unrealistic short-term goals set you up for failure.

If your goal is debt payoff or to save more money, come up with a realistic monthly amount after you’ve set money aside for necessities, bills and yes, fun money — so you won’t feel deprived all the time. The less money you have to start with, the harder it is to set any of it aside. Make it easier for yourself to succeed by starting small.

2. Be specific.

Being specific is the first rule in S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting, a widely used management technique.

There is a reason why being specific or detailed with your resolutions is so important: you’ll know exactly when you’ve met your goal. Meeting a goal is empowering and builds the path for further personal growth and financial advancement. Instead of saying “I want to save more this year,” try saying “I want to save $5,000 this year”.

3. Have a plan to deal with failures.

Whether you’re dieting, quitting smoking, or trimming your budget, the chances are good you’ll slip up from time to time. What matters is how you deal with that lapse. The definition of a resolution is “a course of action determined or decided on”. A resolution is a journey; it’s a change to our current life.

Put reminders on your calendar at least once a month to check in with your goal and, if you have to, “reset” the clock on your resolution. If you use a Google calendar, you can set up an email alert so it will nag you in your inbox every so often and keep your goal top-of-mind.

4. Map out the baby steps to the bigger goal.

A year-long goal of saving $5,000 or losing 30 pounds is overwhelming, so it’s far better to break that up into more manageable chunks like saving $95 a week or losing a pound a week.

As I studied for the CPA exam, it helped me quite a bit to make a goal to complete each chapter of my book instead of taking on the daunting task of reading the entire book front to back. It’s like a small victory every time I reach the end of a chapter.

Some habits come and go, but read the biography of many successful people and you’ll find a common habit they nurture for life — the habit of improvement, education, and self-development. Keep working it, and you will make progress.

Published or updated on January 1, 2014

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About Amber Gilstrap

Amber is a twenty-something CPA from Kansas City, Missouri who loves writing, working out, and---of course---finding fresh ideas for saving money. Follow her on twitter @amberinks.


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  1. Greg says:

    Really important step…

    “Map out the baby steps to the bigger goal”

    Having BIG goals are great, but often times people get overwhelmed with the giganticness of their larger than life dreams that it paralyzes them from taking any action at all.

    Make BIG goals, but chop them up into bite-size chunks.

  2. Great tips! I think taking it step by step is the best way one can achieve his or her goals.

    Best of luck this 2014!

  3. Carrie says:

    @Ryan – That’s a great tip! And thanks for the good luck!! :)

  4. I would also add tracking mechanisms to measure your success. This is similar to your reminder point, but just a tad different. I also like that you added the SMART idea to the list as it’s a great one.

    Best of luck with your CPA and 2010 goals.

  5. These are some great tips to systematically accomplish your financial resolutions.

    P.S. I don’t think I could ever go back to living with my parents, but just imagine how much money you could save living with them eating Ramen every meal.

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