The problem with New Year’s resolutions is that they’re so hard to keep. That’s especially true for money resolutions. But if you can find a way to keep those resolutions, you’ll not only improve your financial situation, you’ll be more optimistic about the future.
So here are eight ways to make sure you stick to your financial guns in 2017, based on advice from some savvy experts:
1. Set specific goals. Instead of saying to yourself, “I’m going to pay down my debt in 2017,” pick your credit card with the highest interest rate and focus on paying that one off by the end of 2017. If that’s not possible, aim for paying it down by 50 percent.
Finances are emotional. Even making a small dent will make you feel better about your financial health.
— Ken Hevert, Fidelity Investments
Lilly Alvarez, 58, of the Twin Cities area, says she and he husband tally up all the interest they paid on credit card debt and the mortgage in the current year and then set a goal to reduce that amount by 25 percent in the coming year. “Even if we don’t meet that goal, and we almost never do, we actually do wind up paying less in interest year after year,” Alvarez said.
2. Break giant goals into smaller, more realistic and attainable ones. For example, if you have $20,000 in credit card debt and plan to slash that down to $10,000 by the end of 2017, consider what this really means. It means not only reducing your debt, but not adding new debt. So be honest with yourself and resolve to make resolutions you won’t have to abandon.
3. Get your family, or at least your significant other, involved. This helps keep you accountable and helps explain why certain household expenses may need to be curtailed.
Beth Karpinski, 74, of south Florida, talks regularly to her sons and her adult granddaughter about her finances, especially since the passing of her husband of 28 years. “It’s better if everything is just out in the open,” she said.
4. Make financial resolutions that aren’t about saving more, spending less or reducing debt. “You can also focus on more administrative tasks, like making sure you have the right beneficiaries listed on assets such as your retirement account,” says Ken Hevert, senior vice president of retirement at Fidelity Investments.
5. Take advantage of resources that can help you make good on your resolutions. For example, “your credit score and credit report are two things you should look at, at least once a year,” said Nancy Bistritz, director of public relations and communications, Global Consumer Solutions, at Equifax.
You’re entitled to get a free annual copy of your credit report from the major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) by going to Annualcreditreport.com. “Becoming financially educated about yourself, such as learning what your debt to credit utilization is, can help you better understand where you are financially,” noted Bistritz.
Another tool that can help: an automated alert from your credit card letting you know when you’ve charged, say, $100 or more. “Not only is this a good budgeting exercise, but it can also help with identity theft,” said Bistritz.
6. Resolve to address the financial problem that’s stressing you out most. Maybe it’s the fear of being able to handle an unexpected emergency. Or too much credit card debt?
“Finances are emotional,” Hevert said. “Even making a small dent will make you feel better about your financial health. At a minimum, you should identify goals and then find out where you stand in relation to them so you can then implement steps.”
7. Take the emotion out of investing. To do this, make saving and investing a habit in 2017 not something you’ll feel guilty about not doing. Said Brian Barnes, CEO of the M1 Finance roboadviser: “The easiest way to do that is to automate it. A platform that automatically rebalances your portfolio based on your retirement goals, for example, can help you from making bad decisions.”
8. Reward yourself for your success. Once she made sure her financial house was in order after her husband died, Karpinski decided to do something she and her granddaughter used to do a lot. “We’re going to Disney,” Karpinski said. “I deserve it!”