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5 Hacks to Ensure You Stick to Your Financial New Year’s Resolutions

Nadav Shemer
Financial goals 2020

If you’re struggling to keep your New Year’s financial resolutions, know that you’re not alone. According to recent research, only about 8% of people are successful at achieving their New Year’s resolutions. 

Here are 5 hacks to help you keep your personal finance goals in the new year. Most of these steps can also be applied to non-finance resolutions like health or career goals.

1. One at a Time

Our society glorifies multitasking, but the evidence shows we do much better at dealing with one task at a time - particularly with complex tasks like fulfilling personal finance resolutions. 

In “How to Have a Good Day”, economist Caroline Webb notes that we can drive and chat with a passenger at the same time when driving along a quiet stretch of road. But as soon as that simple task becomes more complex, such as having a car suddenly pull out in front of us, driving becomes a complex task that requires conscious attention.

Likewise, tasks like creating a budget or building a plan to improve your credit score require conscious attention. Drawing on research from behavioral scientists, Webb suggests grouping or ‘batching’ similar tasks into consecutive timeslots. In other words, it’s better to work on personal finance tasks one after the other than go from personal finance to something else and then back to personal finance several times in the one day. 

2. Be SMART

S.M.A.R.T is a mnemonic tool used by project managers to help people set and achieve goals. It may also prove useful in helping you achieve financial goals.

S.M.A.R.T stands for:

  • Specific. Be clear about what you want to achieve.
  • Measurable. Quantify your goal with a number or numbers.
  • Achievable. Ensure the goal is realistic.
  • Relevant. Ensure the goal is worthwhile and that now is the right time for it.
  • Time-Bound. Set a deadline for achieving the goal.

These are not S.M.A.R.T goals:

  • I plan to get out of debt.
  • I plan to save money.
  • We plan to get this mortgage off our back.

These are S.M.A.R.T goals.

  • I will pay off 50% of my credit card balance in 6 months.
  • I will open up a savings account and set up a $20 direct deposit from my salary every two weeks. 
  • We will create a plan to pay down an additional $300 on our mortgage each quarter.

3. Share with Others

Let’s be honest: it’s harder accomplishing a New Year’s resolution when you keep it to yourself. 

Sharing your goals with a trusted friend or relative means there’s someone else there to make sure you stick to your goals. (Obviously, broadcasting your personal finance goals to hundreds of people on Facebook or Twitter is taking it a bit far!)

Taking it a step further, you may want to create joint resolutions with someone. If you’re married, in a long-term relationship, or have a business partner, then it’s only natural you would share financial resolutions with that person. But even if you’re living the single life, there’s a good chance someone close to you has similar goals. 

It doesn’t have to be super personal. It could be something as simple as both aiming to earn 10% more income this year or both setting savings goals. These tasks can suddenly feel a lot easier when you have someone at your side.

4. Gamify Your Goals

Gamification is the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically to encourage consumers to engage with a product or service. 

Marketers understand that gamification brings out the competitive side in us and forces us to focus on goals. If you’ve ever stayed up all night playing Super Mario (if you’re old school) or Fortnite, you’ll know what we mean. 

Gamification is everywhere. For example, Datacamp and Babbel encourage you to progress through different levels, like you would in a computer game. Exercise apps like Strava and mindfulness apps like Headspace send you push notifications to encourage your competitive side. And Starbucks has a rewards program where you earn stars and progress through levels based on how much you buy.

Here are some ways to gamify your personal finance goals.

  • Download an app specific to a personal finance goal, like SmartyPig for savings accounts.
  • Download a gamified productivity app like Beeminder that challenges you to keep your own custom-made goals.
  • Create your own game where you reward yourself for achieving certain financial goals (e.g. if you save $100, you get to spend $20 on something you want).

5. Reinforce Your Intentions

In How to Have a Good Day, Caroline Webb devotes a chapter to the importance of reinforcing your intentions before the day begins. The entire chapter (and book) is based on lessons from behavioral psychologists. The lessons in this chapter can easily be applied to pursuing New Year’s financial resolutions.

Webb outlines 3 steps to reinforcing your intentions:

  • Mental contrasting. Ask yourself: What is most likely to get in the way of you achieving what you hope to do? What can you do to reduce the chance that this obstacle derails you?
  • Priming. Ask yourself: What cues can you use to remind yourself to stay on track? Are there words or phrases that will help remind you of your intentions?
  • Visualize. Before sitting down to pursue a goal or goals, take a moment to visualize it going exactly as you hope. What will you be doing to overcome the challenges in your path? How will that look and feel? Can you recall a time in the past where you behaved exactly as you wanted in pursuit of a similar goal – and can you bring that vividly to mind?

Sticking to Goals Is Easier Than You Think

When it comes to setting and achieving financial (or other) New Year’s resolutions, what works for one person might not work for another. So remember: be realistic (or Achievable, as in the A in S.M.A.R.T) and select a method of pursuing your goals that works for you. 

Nadav Shemer
Nadav Shemer specializes in business, tech, and energy, with a background in financial journalism, hi-tech and startups. He enjoys writing about the latest innovations in financial services and products.