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Don’t Be a Quitter: Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick

Allie Johnson

January 4, 2013

When you’re ringing in the New Year with a glass of bubbly in hand, just about anything seems possible. But then comes the light of day and the hard part: taking action to make your New Year’s resolutions happen.

It’s not surprising that most people slip back into their old habits right away. I’ve made more than one big money-related resolution in the past, and I’ve fizzled out more than once, too. This year, though, I feel optimistic.

In the middle of 2012, my husband and I decided to tackle our debt, mostly from his huge student loan and a move for his new job. We paid off more than $15,000 in six months. Our goal is to get out of debt by the end of this year.

I learned a lot from sticking with financial goals last year, and I also did some research to see what separates the resolution keepers from those who give up. If you’ve made a money-related goal for 2013, here are some tips for how to keep it:

  • Practice makes perfect. This Time magazine article cites research showing that dieters who did a practice run, by working on maintaining their weight before they started trying to lose pounds, did better than a group of women who delved right into dieting. It’s easy to take that approach with finances, too. For example, if you’re planning to pay $200 extra toward debt each month, you can start by putting that amount into a separate savings account for a few months to make sure it works for your budget. That way, if you were overly ambitious when making your goal, you won’t be stuck short of the cash and you can adjust.
  • Make your goal a top priority. The way we were able to pay off so much debt in 2012 was to treat getting out of debt like any other priority. That meant devoting time to it daily (kind of like exercise). It also meant we had regular meetings, tracked our progress every couple of days and brainstormed creative ways to find even more money to put toward debt.
  • Be frank with family and friends. It’s possible that your goal will involve cutting back on certain things that involve others, like happy hour with your buddies every Friday, pricy presents or frequent trips to visit family. If that’s the case, spell it out for your friends and family so they’ll be prepared. When we decided to get out of debt, we told our families about our goal, why it was so important to us and what changes we’d have to make. On the blog Quirky Mind Stuff, psychologist Richard Wiseman says going public about your resolution will make you fear failure and increase your support, both of which will help.
  • Keep the “why” in mind. Think regularly about why you want to achieve your goals. What will you be able to do? How will you feel? For example, if your goal is to build an emergency fund, think of that sinking feeling you get when the car won’t start. Imagine how much better it will feel to call the mechanic with confidence, knowing you’ve got the bill covered. Wiseman suggests creating a checklist of all the ways your life will be better when you reach your goal.

In our case, we want to be able to have the freedom to take vacations together rather than seeing so much of our cash go toward student loan payments. In anticipation of achieving our goal, we added a 2014 vacation to Argentina to the calendar and have started started planning it. So, cheers, and here’s to keeping money resolutions this year!