Money resolutions, like other resolutions, can be quite hard to stick to; somehow those big life-changing promises we make to ourselves never quite make it in reality. Some of the more common money resolutions you’ll hear people say are “I’m going to spend less this month” and “This year I’m going to save up for a trip”, but setting these financial goals is really not the difficult part, sticking to them is.
The reason why money resolutions are so hard to stick to is because people tend to focus on the outcomes they want, rather than the processes to get those outcomes. So as they go about their everyday lives with no sustainable plan to keep them grounded, falling back into old habits is completely natural. In order to improve our chances of staying on track with our resolutions, we would need to change how we set these resolutions in the first place.
It's time to make a fresh start and figure out ways to follow through on our goals, so here are four tips to help you set money resolutions that you can actually keep:
(1) Give your previous resolutions a second look
We’ve all made one form of resolution or the other in the past, whether they were money-related or not. Those resolutions may or may not have been successful but analysing how you performed in your previous goals is very important for your future chances of success.
How did you set those resolutions? How honest were you with yourself? Were you being too optimistic? Were the goals too vague to be managed? At what point did you lose interest?
Upon personal reflection, I noticed that a lot of my past resolutions were too lofty and vague for me to actually accomplish, eventually I’d lose interest and promise myself that "next year will be better" although it hardly ever was. Taking a step back to identify what I was doing wrong and when I started losing interest, helped me improve my future resolutions. Looking back with curiosity, not shame or blame, helps you plan for the future while being armed with more knowledge of how you operate and what helps or distracts you from achieving your goals.
(2) Pick one goal and break it down
If you want to change your lifestyle, don’t try to change the whole thing at once, that typically doesn’t work. Instead pick one part of your financial life you want to change and make it clear so you know exactly what change you’re planning to make.
Following through on your resolution requires you to be quite honest and realistic with yourself. A realistic way to set your resolution would be to break the one goal you’ve chosen, down to bite-size action steps that are within your means. This way you’ll no longer be focusing on the goal per say but on the process to achieve that goal.
“Focus on the process, not the outcome.”
For instance, rather than saying you want to buy your dream car this year, you should aim to set aside a specific amount consistently in order to be able to afford that dream car. A personal resolution of mine was to fund a business idea I had, but instead of leaving it at that, I decided to break it down further and save exactly 20% of my salary every month for a year in order to realise that goal. This method of setting money resolutions helps you transform your dreams and goals into very practical and achievable steps.
(3) Make your resolution journey more appealing
It can take a long time to reach your goal, leaving ample room for life and ‘adulting’ to creep in and veer you off track. However, a simple way for you to stay focused on your goal is to celebrate small wins and reward yourself as you achieve various milestones along the way to your goal.
What this “reward” will be is honestly up to you, it could be anything ranging from a nice massage to going to that restaurant you’ve wanted to try for a while. However, the reward should definitely not be to detriment of whatever progress you’ve made so far.
Also, how you set your reward milestones will depend on how you’ve chosen to break your goal down. Your milestones could be set on a monthly, biannual or yearly basis but what’s important is that you truly earn the reward, by achieving each milestone and not taking the easy way out.
“If you want a new habit, you have to fall in love with a new routine.”
After every successful month of saving, I rewarded myself with a nice dinner or movie, just to keep things interesting. Rewarding your small wins not only helps you stay on track but also helps keep you motivated by making the entire resolution journey more appealing.
(4) Anticipate challenges and stay flexible
Keeping your resolution can be challenging and life will usually present a few hurdles that you’ll need to overcome along the way, but accomplishing your goal is very possible with the right preparation.
A trick you could use is to write down all the possible challenges you could potentially face, visualise yourself in those scenarios and write down your solutions to the problems before they even occur. It’s especially important to make these plans when you’re feeling very motivated about your resolution, to make up for periods when willpower is low. Mapping out your path ahead of time in this manner will help you be more resilient to failure and increase your chances of staying on track.
However, in certain scenarios, some of these life challenges may render your original approach unsustainable and honestly unrealistic. If this happens to be the case, I would advise tweaking your approach a little, whether by breaking your goal down even further or revising your original number. For instance, I could have switched to saving 10% of my salary for my resolution, if saving 20% proved too difficult to do. It’s always better to revise your approach than to give up on your resolution altogether; perseverance is the key to success.
We, as people, are creatures of habit, so we are generally not built to make drastic or painful changes all at once. However, putting the right preparations in place and having realistic expectations for the process significantly increases our chances of following through on our money resolutions and achieving our goals. It’s important to note that new resolutions don’t deliver new results, new lifestyles do; and a lifestyle is not an outcome, it is a process.
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