Money #ResolutionFail? We'll Get You Back on Track


Now that we’re easing into the second month of 2016, you’ve probably noticed the gym is a lot less crowded as the number of motivated New Year’s resolutioners dwindles to a fraction of what it was in early January. Even your own willpower to give up dessert and resist those all-too-tempting impulse purchases may be waning.

Turns out, that’s pretty normal: The University of Scranton found just 8 percent of people who make resolutions actually keep them.

If you made a money resolution this year—and if you did, you’ve got plenty of company—and you find yourself faltering, it’s not too late to get back on track. (And if you didn’t make a resolution at all, it’s not too late to make one now!) The next 11 months are just as, if not more, important than the first when it comes to achieving money milestones you set for yourself.

Here’s how to give your resolutions a reboot.

Resolution #1: Save more money.

In a SurveyMonkey survey of 1,000 people commissioned on behalf of Grow, 37 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 34 ranked saving more as their #1 goal for 2016—making this resolution by far the most popular. If you’re in the same camp, but struggling to make headway, your first step is to turn this abstract goal into a real number.

“It’s challenging enough as it is to save money, but if you don’t have a specific savings goal, other competing desires can quickly chip away at what you intended to save,” says Colin Drake, a Certified Financial Planner in Sausalito, Calif. “Always pay yourself first, rather than wait to see what might be left at the end of the month.”

Better yet, he suggests having whatever amount you select automatically deducted from your paycheck—a tactic New York-based psychologist Ben Michaelis endorses, too.

“Essentially, we are all wired to think about the short term rather than the long term. Financial success, however, is all about the long-term,” he explains. “No matter how disciplined you are, leaving this process up to automation will help you to avoid temptation to skip the transfer.”

Resolution #2: Put more money toward retirement.

Perhaps you’ve resolved to up your 401(k) or IRA contribution in 2016, but you’ve yet to log into your account and change your settings. This task shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes, Drake says—all you need is the right kind of motivation.

“Whether it’s going to get your favorite coffee treat or allowing yourself to watch two back-to-back episodes of your favorite show, create a little incentive that prods you to get it done,” Drake suggests. “Or call a friend and say, ‘If I don’t report to you that I’ve increased my contribution by Friday, you are to come with a hammer and put a big dent in my car.’ As crazy as it sounds, do you think you are going to let Friday come around without taking care of business?”

According to Michaelis, incentives and disincentives work because they stress us out—in a good way. “For some people, telling a parent or a friend to keep them on point is a good strategy because they are sensitive to shame,” he says. “Knowing what triggers you into action is the best way to create an incentive that’s right for you.”

Resolution #3: Pay down debt.

Staying on track when you’re trying to pay down or zero out your debt—something 26 percent of millennials said was their top priority this year in our survey—can be tough. Unless you’re particularly sensitive to the stress of owing, once you’ve spent the money, you might not feel much of anything.

Make it painless by automating your payments. “Do what they did with the Showtime Rotisserie Cooker,” Michaelis says. “Set it and forget it until it’s all paid off.”

Another strategy? Make a game out of it. “You could get a certain number of ‘points’ for staying on schedule each month, [more] for extra payments and penalties for lower or missed payments,” Drake suggests. “Ahead of time, you set up milestone rewards—e.g., at 100 points, you get a massage or a special date night. If you don’t hit [your goal] within a certain time, you have a penalty, like having to clean out the whole basement.”

Resolution #4: Cut out unnecessary expenses.

If your resolution was to free up space in your budget by scaling back on unnecessary expenses, you may have vowed to skip your morning chai or the occasional Uber. But that might not be necessary to make a real dent. Not only are these small-ticket items, but it’s likely making the practice of sticking to a budget pretty painful.

For better results—mental and financial—flip this strategy and list out your expenses from highest to lowest. Then, starting from the top, explore ways to cut back.

“If you can cut 10 percent from an expense which costs you $25,000 a year—such as refinancing your mortgage—you’ve saved $2,500. It would take cutting back 500 lattes to have the same impact,” Drake says.