Save more, spend less and pay off debt are popular New Year’s resolutions — and perhaps the ones most likely to fall flat a few weeks into the year when reality sets in and expenses derail plans. But an early-year setback, like paying your health insurance deductible or credit card bill after an expensive December, doesn’t have to throw you off course.
After all, you made those resolutions, so you can change them. And making more specific decisions that are easier to maintain, rather than just giving up, could put you in a better financial position next year. Here’s how to get back on track.
MAKE YOUR GOALS MORE SPECIFIC AND REALISTIC
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 — like getting married, 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 studies assistant in Los Angeles. “They can be measured and quantified, instead of the symbolic plans I made before, such as gaining more financial freedom.” She has an exact savings goal for this year and plans to use an Excel spreadsheet and tracking app to monitor her weekly budget.
Also, make sure the goals are reasonable and don’t cause additional stress. It may be tempting to set an ambitious savings goal, 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: saving for their wedding in the spring of 2024. “Trying to do too much too soon will only wear you out of the process — you’ll burn out.”
SET UP REGULAR CHECK-INS
Officially reviewing your finances just once a year can be overwhelming. Scheduling mid-term, quarterly, or even monthly meetings with yourself or your financial planner — if you have one — can help you stay on track and allow you to adjust your goals if necessary.
Becker and his fiancee, for example, are planning a dedicated application in the middle of the year.
“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 half way behind.”
Choose a check-in interval that seems reasonable for you to regroup: long enough to progress, but not so long that there is no time to pivot if necessary.
EXPLORE SOME OF THE WORK
Tracking your financial progress throughout the year can add an unnecessary mental burden 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,” Becker says. “That way we don’t have to make active decisions about what to save each month.”
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 day-to-day financial stress and make it more likely that you’ll meet your goals.
For managing large investments, hiring experts may be worth the cost. Look for a licensed, registered fiduciary, preferably one that pays fees only, meaning they don’t earn commissions by selling you financial products. Finding a certified financial planner, or CFP, is a good place to start.
“It was 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 in Cambridge, Mass., at the biotech company. Her main financial goal this year is to preserve her savings during the current market downturn and minimize future losses.
If you have a small portfolio and an uncomplicated financial situation, a personal advisor may not be necessary; an automated financial advisor could help you manage your portfolio and offer guidance for a much lower cost.
It can be tempting to make drastic changes every January and set extreme resolutions for your finances. But a less stringent and more forgiving approach may 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 exceed the limit instead of eliminating the wants altogether. The most important thing is not to give up on your goals after failure: overspending by $100 is still better than overspending by $1000, and the effort investment adds up.
“Flexibility and adaptability are key,” says Porras. “Especially with factors outside of your control, it’s far better to understand the variables and work to create a solution than to be passive and accept defeat.”
This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. The content is for educational and informational purposes and does not constitute investment advice. Dalia Ramirez is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: email@example.com.
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