How are you doing on your New Year’s resolutions? Me? I’m still in the process of trying to turn a handful of goals into habits. My big financial resolution is stick to a regular bookkeeping schedule. So far so good. (The others? Go to the gym. Yes, but need to do better. Sign up for a gentle yoga class? Working on it.) Of course, what matters is where I am with these resolutions in six months, let alone a year.
Why write about New Year’s resolutions now? We’re only a few weeks into 2016. One reason is that revisiting your resolutions is a way to keep up the momentum. Here are three other tricks I’ve gleaned over the years that typically help people stick to their financial goals (and other resolutions).
The first is the most important: Engage with your community. Talk about what you’re trying to do with friends when you get together for lunch, at the coffee shop or on social media. Tell them why and give them periodic updates. You can also support your friends with their resolutions.
If you have an economic or financial frame of mind, you might want to try a technique tested out by economist Richard McKenzie. He wanted to lose weight and, like most people with their diet plans, didn’t make much progress. In 2008 he decided to place a $500 wager with a friend. If he didn’t lose nine pounds at the end of 10 weeks he would pay her the $500. She agreed to spend the money on herself. They signed a contract.
McKenzie lost 14 pounds in 10 weeks. “If you have that $500 payment threat hanging over your head, the price of a cheeseburger goes up dramatically. The price of baby carrots goes down,” he said during an interview on NPR. “You basically pay yourself to walk an extra mile or two for exercise.”
Next, be realistic about how much you’re trying to accomplish. Sixteen goals for 2016 has a nice ring to it, but it’s also a recipe for failure. Hone in on a few resolutions at most and aim for small steps rather than the grand shift.
Finally, where it makes sense I would turn your aspiration into an “automatic” action. For example, the top financial resolution for 2016 in Fidelity’s annual survey was to “save more. “ We all know that setting aside more money is hard. But if you go to your financial institution you can establish a monthly automatic withdrawal schedule from your checking account into your savings account. You can always start out small and boost the sum later. What matters is you’re saving regularly.
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace,” commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.