By Julia Chang (at Northwesternmutual.com)
You’ve counted down to midnight, lifted your glass and sung a chorus of Auld Lang Syne with all your favorite people. That’s your cue to start thinking about the resolutions you want to tackle in the new year.
Nestled among the common top goals for 2019 like getting in shape, traveling and finding a new job is a financial resolution: saving more. And it makes sense — being financially fit is just as important as hitting the gym, and it can help you reach so many other dreams you have for your life, today.
The best way to help ensure success? Set some money-related resolutions you can actually keep. Here are five to get you started so that by this time next year, you can look back and be proud of all the goals you’ve accomplished — and the future ones you’ve already made progress on.
1. RESOLVE TO SET CLEAR GOALS
It’s great to want to do things like save more or get a new job, but to really improve your chances of successfully achieving your goal, break it down into steps. One popular way is the SMART method, which means you’re setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.
Using this method, a goal to save more could look something like, “I want to save $100 extra each month for the next six months to put toward my July trip to Europe.” Or a goal to find a new job becomes, “I want to apply to three jobs and attend two networking events by the end of March.” The more bite-size and specific you can be, the better.
2. RESOLVE TO ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE
It’s human nature to remember the bad stuff more than the good stuff — in behavioral science, it’s known as the negativity bias. But research has shown a link between feeling gratitude and achieving your money goals. Essentially, feeling grateful fosters patience, which in turn helps you control habits like impulse shopping that can get in the way of reaching financial goals. So kick that negativity to the curb and think about all the good things that happened last year, and that will continue to happen in the new year.
One way to do that is to start a gratitude journal, where you write down a few things every day for which you feel grateful. That could be the winter family getaway that you’re planning now, or the warm cup of coffee that starts your day. Being reminded of the things you’re thankful for can help you stay focused on your bigger financial picture.
3. RESOLVE TO MAKE YOUR BUDGET REFLECT YOUR PRIORITIES
A budget isn’t just about tracking how much is going in and out of your checking account. Think of it as a means to accomplishing everything you want to do. It doesn’t matter if it’s the big birthday trip you want to take this year or the house you’re saving up for, you should be taking those goals into consideration — as well as the things you want to enjoy today.
Your budget should account for things like your essential and fixed costs; your savings goals (an emergency fund, a dream vacation, retirement, your kids’ college, etc.); debt repayment; and your day-to-day spending. A budget shouldn’t feel restrictive, so factor in what makes you happy. For instance, if a twice-a-day latté is part of your routine, make room for that in your everyday spending. If you’ve been dying to go on a Napa Valley wine tour or want to take a sabbatical before moving onto a new job, earmark those as savings goals.
4. RESOLVE TO GROW YOUR MONEY
Whether you’ve got a 401(k) that needs some extra love or an investment account you’re planning to use to fund a future goal, consider upping your contributions by just 1 percent. Chances are you’ll hardly miss the extra amount, and you’re using the power of compound interest to help your money grow even more.
And if getting a new job is on your to-do list for the new year, then take a close look at the work benefits a potential employer would offer — a 401(k) employer match is one of the easiest ways to grow your retirement nest egg. Gunning for a promotion this year? Consider raising your retirement or investment contributions beyond that 1 percent — then set aside some of your newly padded paycheck for having fun, too.
5. RESOLVE TO TREAT YOURSELF
You heard right. New Year’s resolutions, including financial ones, shouldn’t make you feel like you’re depriving yourself. You can still make room for the things that make you happy (see Resolution No. 3), even if you’re tackling other goals like paying down debt.
For instance, are you on track to make a final payment on a student loan this year? Bake in a treat to congratulate yourself, like a road trip to visit your best college buddies or that must-see concert for your favorite artist. Did you hustle to find a more satisfying and better-paying job this year? Maybe a spa day or a bed-and-breakfast weekend is in order. These mini-rewards remind you of the progress you’re making — and help you celebrate what you’ve accomplished so far.
If you’re still unsure of how to set a budget with your priorities in mind, consider meeting with a financial advisor to help you work through the process. An advisor can help you put together a budget and financial plan that account for the goals you have — and may even help you discover new ones.