Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year's Resolutions You Can Keep

Most New Year's Resolutions are abandoned within the first month. Some people don't even bother to make them anymore.

One reason resolutions are hard to keep is that they are often unrealistic. Overnight, we vow to forsake our old ways and become perfect. It's hard to suddenly break habits we've formed over a lifetime.

Crash diets don't work because you're asking yourself to adopt a behavior that is unsustainable, and even unhealthy. As soon as you meet your goal, provided you make it, you'll go back to the same eating patterns that made you fat in the first place, and the pounds will pile back on. For a weight-loss plan to be successful, you have to permanently change your eating and exercise habits. The best way to do this is gradually, taking small, manageable steps.

The same goes for achieving financial goals. If you instantly try to impose an austerity program on a spendthrift, you're setting yourself up for failure.

Set reasonable expectations. For example, if you've identified eating lunch out daily as an area where you can cut expenses, instead of promising to start taking your lunch to work every day from now on, set a goal of brown-bagging it several times a week. Make lunching out a special treat, rather than a necessary errand to grab something to fill the void.

If you're not maxing out your retirement accounts and building a healthy retirement fund is important to you, try increasing your contributions by a few percentage points at first. (Or put that money you're saving from not going out to lunch as often into an IRA.)

If you're teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and you've resolved to get completely out of debt in 2017, that goal might be a bit ambitious. Why not plan to pay more than the minimum payment each month, stop accruing additional debt, or pay off one credit card within a specified amount of time? (And apply that money you're saving on lunches out to reducing your debt.)

Before you make your resolutions, establish some long-term, big-picture goals. What do you want your financial future to look like, and why? What will it take to get there? How do you want to feel when you've reached those goals?

Next, write down reasonable resolutions that take you toward these goals, tell a trusted friend or family member willing to hold you accountable, and get started. If you falter, don't give up. Just like it wouldn't make sense to throw in the towel on a diet because you overate at a party, don't abandon your financial goals because you overspent on a shopping spree or missed a payment. Forgive yourself and get back on track. When you do make some progress, celebrate your success, and then keep going.

What resolutions have you made for 2017? What tips do you have for keeping them?

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