Some Reading for a New Year: How to Set Financial Goals and Stick to Them

The end of the year is a time of hope … we look forward to next year, often with the intentions of making it better than the last. It’s also a time of reflection, and for those in control of their finances (like all of us in the Money Under 30 community), it’s an opportunity to especially think about how we fared financially in 2012.

Did you slash some of your debt? Did you cut back on spending? Did you pick up a second job for extra income?

I hope everyone can pat themselves on the back for at least one great step in 2012. Whatever efforts you were able to make, cheers and congratulations.

While this year wraps up, we’re setting our sights with hope on 2013 — whether it be setting a career goal, getting out of debt, or simply staying on track with the great financial habits we’ve been developing until now.

My financial aspiration for 2013 is to put myself in the best position possible to begin paying off my student loans when I graduate in June. I’d love to hear about all of your goals in a comment, too.

As we ponder what we want to accomplish this year, we may start to sift through lots of articles about New Year’s resolutions and financial planning. It can be overwhelming, so I’ve done a bit of reading and picked out some of the best ones. I hope you’ll learn as much from this round-up as I did.

1. On setting financial goals: Do you find it hard to make your financial goals seem doable? In this article from Fox Business, we learn it’s important to be realistic and look at the small picture. Instead of entering 2013 with huge worries on our minds (the fiscal cliff and unemployment, to name a few), we should see what we can do for ourselves.

Grab a piece of paper and a pen. As the article states, a good way to keep it in perspective is to write down all your assets and liabilities (what you owe). Compare that number to what it was last year, or two years ago. How are you doing? If the answer is “not well,” identify a few key areas where you’d like to stop spending, or a concept for how you’ll earn more. Just pick a few specific changes that are realistic … if your goals get too lofty, it’s harder to check your progress and easier to abandon them half-way through the year.   

2. On investing: As I’m still getting established, 2013 won’t likely be a big investing year for me. But if you’re in a position to start (or continue) investing, check out this article from MarketWatch about 10 investment ideas for 2013.

Suggestions include sticking with big, high-quality stocks, and possibly adding gold to your portfolio (which Merrill Lynch analysts have predicted could rise in value up to 20 percent next year).

3. On cutting back: Can you cancel a service you didn’t really use in 2012? Could you stop getting charged for ATM fees?

The year-end can be a good time to evaluate those little expenses that add up, as suggested in this article from USA Today. It offers 13 money-saving tips for 2013, and they’re all quick and fairly simple. My favorite was tip No. 9. It says people could be getting reimbursed for more medical expenses if they’re using a flexible spending account … on average each individual loses $138 unnecessarily.

Try some of these USA Today tips, and start 2013 with an eye on ways you’re spending (or missing out on) money unnecessarily.

4. On making our goals stick: No New Year’s resolution is worthwhile if it doesn’t last — honestly, that’s a reason I sometimes get discouraged from even making one. But instead of giving up or being too afraid to try, take a look at a few of these tips from a site called Dumb Little Man.

The article suggests sticking to what you’re passionate about and focusing: “A man who chases two rabbits catches neither,” it says. Other tips include “engage in the moment you are in” and “value your creativity.” I think those are good year-end reminders, whether your goals are financial or not.

What are your goals for 2013? Money Under 30 wants to help you get there. Let us know in the comments, and we’ll be sure to cover the topics that interest you the most.

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About Maria LaMagna

Maria LaMagna is a recent graduate of Northwestern University where she served as editor-in-chief of the university’s award-winning daily newspaper and studied for five months in Argentina. Before joining Money Under 30, Maria worked as a reporter for CNN and the Indianapolis Business Journal. Follow Maria on Twitter @MCLaMagna.


  1. For the investments point, I think that dividend growth will be an important indicator this year. A company that pays dividends is a good choice when the markets are a bit fragile.

    I also think that the third point is important. For example, my resolution for this year is to stop paying for things that I don’t use anymore. Keeping track of things like is not that hard but it can be a considerable expense.

  2. Last year I did not make firm goals but vowed to save more, spend less and reduce debt. This year I have made much firmer goals based on a new budget I spent a lot of December developing. Before I developed the budget I reduced expenses by negotiating with my communications providers and exchanging emails with my bank. Much money was saved and without much effort.

    I want to reduce my debt by $6000 this year. My income is low and $6000 is 18% of my net. Still 3 years to go before I am out of debt and focused on saving for retirement.

  3. My goal for the year is to get out of credit card debt (or at least get all of my cards under 20% utilization)! I’ve just set a goal into my budget, and set automatic payments that will take money out of paycheck and send it right to the cards. Here’s hoping that no emergencies come up that will force me to lower a payment. I should be debt-free by December!

  4. Well for me and the wife we paid all our debt off this month. Now we are focused on 6-8 months of EF. That being a mix of cash and some silver and gold bars. Well cash for sure not sure on the bars. But I feel bad as we stopped contributing to our Roth. We stopped contributing in Nov to pay off debt faster. Now it’s going to take me about 10 months to save for the EF. So that would be about a total of a year with no money going toward retirement. But we decided to do this after reading Dave’s Ramsey’s book. It works well seeing all are money goes to one set goal at a time.

    • You don’t need 6-8 months EF before contributing to your Roth IRA, because you can withdraw the principal from your Roth IRA with no penalty, you can use your Roth IRA as a backup emergency fund. I wouldn’t touch it until you have used up all your other emergency fund sources, but it will make sure you make your contributions. Once you pass up the contributions you can never get them back.

      • David Cole says:

        I thought that the reason to have a seperate EF account was so it was liquid assestes. This way I dont have to fill out some form, hoping that they will process it in time for me to need the money. Any one else have any input on this.