Following the flurry of holiday gift giving, many consumers look to January as an opportunity to set their sights on savings.
Across all generations, 31% of Americans we recently surveyed* are looking to build up their emergency fund in the new year, far more than those that are saving to buy a home (9%), purchase a car (15%), or even host a wedding (8%).
Although 27% of Americans said they plan to get their finances in order in 2023, only 6% said they plan to consult with a financial advisor, and 10% planned to invest more in stocks and bonds.
Why Set Resolutions?
Setting resolutions is valuable to progress. However, it’s inherently difficult to change our habits. In fact, we’ve been trying to do so for millennia. Fun party fact: The idea of a new year’s resolution started around 4,000 years ago in Babylon, when people would make promises to the gods in hopes of good favor in the year ahead. The most common request? For the gods to eliminate their debts. So while new year’s resolutions can be any number of things — from eating more greens to getting outside more in 2023 — there’s historical precedent for setting resolutions around your finances.
Below, we’ll dive into some top financial resolutions that you can actually keep.
But first, let’s start with some tips around the mechanics of effective goal setting.
How to Set Attainable Financial Goals
Most of us know from personal experience how difficult it is to change our habits. So the low rate of success with new year’s resolutions isn’t that surprising. However, there are ways to set goals that you have a good chance of actually adhering to. Here are a handful of tips to help you beat the odds as you tackle your resolutions in 2023.
1. Set SMART Goals
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely; these are the criteria we should apply when creating a resolution.
Specificity is the difference between “I want to save more” and “I am going to increase my savings by $50 per week.” Measurable means your goal must be trackable. “I want to feel better about my finances” is difficult to objectively measure. On the flip side, “I want to pay off my credit card debt within six months” is a lot more measurable. The concepts of achievable and realistic relate to each other but are slightly different: achievability refers to your ability to complete a task, while realistic is how a goal will fit into your larger plans. For most of us, writing in a journal every day would be achievable, while becoming a professional athlete usually is not. Timely applies a timeframe in which you want to complete your objective.
2. Focus on Short-Term Goals
It’s difficult to stay on track with long-term goals — life has a way of throwing us curveballs. Creating short-term goals helps us stay focused while slowly working towards the long-term. For example, if you want to run a marathon as your long-term goal, a good short-term goal would be to run three times this week. It’s attainable, and ultimately makes it easier to stay motivated when you’re just focused on this week.
3. Track Your Progress
Tracking and monitoring behavior is proven to help us succeed more than just reviewing our results. Did we run three times this week? Did we save $100 this week? Progress towards a long-term goal can be slow, so monitoring behavior keeps us motivated.
Your Personal Capital dashboard allows you to safely track all of your finances in one place, so for financial goals, make sure you’re regularly logging in to see how you’re doing. Not a dashboard user yet? It’s totally free to use, and you can sign up here.
4. Keep Yourself Accountable
Get yourself an accountability partner, like a friend, significant other, coach, or financial advisor. This increases your odds of success and the likelihood that you’ll stick to your goals. Positive peer pressure works!
Ideas for Attainable Financial Resolutions
While the Personal Capital team can’t be out there every day making sure you’re tackling your other resolutions, we do have a handful of suggestions for helping your finances in order.
1. Get Organized
Sure, it’s not the most exciting resolution, but getting organized is the first step towards improving your finances. I grew up in the kitchen with my mom, and was always taught the principle of mise en place, French for “everything in its place.” Before cooking, we would clean the kitchen and prep the ingredients: chop the vegetables, make the spice mix, measure out the ingredients.
You can do the same with your finances by using our dashboard to consolidate all your assets in one place. This could also include consolidating your old accounts like 401k accounts from old employers or that extra savings account with a few hundred dollars. These types of accounts just become clutter, and it’s often worth combining them to keep things simple.
2. Pay Yourself First
This is another oldie but goodie when it comes to getting your finances in order. It’s a simple rule that works far better than “I want to save more” because it speaks to how you are going to save more. More often than not, if you spend your money and save what’s left, you aren’t going to have anything to save.
The best way you can ensure you stick to the plan is to automate a savings goal and set up recurring contributions into your savings or brokerage account for the day after you get paid. Your future is your most important bill to pay so make sure you pay that first — and then spend whatever you have left. Call your Personal Capital advisor to see how you can set up a recurring contribution.
3. Track Spending
Spending is the area of people’s finances in which they tend to have the least understanding, even though it’s one of the biggest variables in financial well-being. The more efficiently you spend, the more you can save while working.
Once you get to retirement, the same is true. The less you spend, the smaller the portfolio you need to support your lifestyle. Knowing how much you are spending also makes planning a much more effective exercise and will give you a better idea that you are on track.
Read More: How to Master a Household Budget
4. Pay Off Bad Debt
I think of paying off debt as financial cardio: It helps your finances become leaner and more energized. Once you don’t have the drag of interest payments on your cash flow, you can use that cash in other ways. Now, this is specifically referring to bad debt because there is a place for good debt. Bad debt includes high-interest-rate credit cards (which is almost all of them), personal loans for discretionary purchases, or payday loans. Good debt includes student loans, mortgages, or low-rate car loans.
Two common debt payoff methods include the avalanche method and the snowball method. The snowball method is when you pay off the smallest loan first and then take the money you would normally have used on that payment and pay down the next smallest loan. The avalanche method pays off the highest rate debt first and then works your way down to the next highest rate.
Each method has its merits, but it comes down to qualitative and quantitative aspects. Quantitatively, the avalanche method means you pay less in interest, but it often takes longer to feel like you are making progress. Qualitatively, the snowball method usually means that progress takes place very quickly and accomplishments are made early. This can be motivating and help you stick to your plan.
Paying down debt can do wonders for your credit score.
Financial resolutions are some of the most common resolutions people make, so we hope these tips help you set and keep your financial goals for 2023 and beyond. Your Personal Capital dashboard can help you track your progress and stay accountable to your resolutions. If you have a Personal Capital advisor, be sure to share your resolutions with them. Whether you’re working to simply get organized and set up a savings plan, establish a debt pay-down goal, or work toward the retirement of your dreams, we’re here to help you achieve your goals.
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