Millions of consumers across the country rang in 2016 with a vow to make over their life in one way or another. Among the most common resolutions, many people made a financial promise to spend less and save more. Fast forward to March and you’ll find that a majority of these resolution makers (nearly 80% by some estimates) have already given up.
If you’re among this group and feel discouraged with yourself for failing, stop stressing. The problem may not have been your ability to commit and stick to a financial goal. It could be that your resolution to spend less and save more was vague and lacked the strategy needed to be successful.
With spring and the season for renewal upon us, there’s no better time to revive your financial resolution than now. Follow these five goal-setting tips and get on your way to financial well-being for good.
Define your goal.
A resolution that is vague and undefined leaves you with little direction. If you don’t know where you’re going or when you need to get there by, how can you even begin? It’s like embarking on a road trip with no destination and no map. What’s the point? Instead of setting the vague goal of “spending less and saving more” or “paying off debt,” define your goal with specific dollar figures.
Start by tracking your monthly spending to determine how much you can actually cut back and put away or put towards paying down debt. Identify specific expenses you will cut back on and give yourself dates by which you’d like to reach your goal. Then determine a set of actionable items and specific steps you need to follow to reach your ultimate goal.
Read more: Time to ditch debt? There’s an app for that!
Set realistic expectations.
Many resolution makers set themselves up for failure by setting far-fetched goals. It’s crucial to be reasonable about what you can accomplish in order to stay motivated and avoid feeling like a failure.
For instance, instead of aiming to pay off a certain amount of debt this year, figure out how much you can realistically put toward your credit card or student loan each month that fits within your current budget. If squirreling away over $500 a month to pay off $6,000 in debt is out of the question, then come up with a practical goal for the amount of money you can comfortably set aside.
Take baby steps.
For most people, it’s easier to commit to a small-level change than a complete life overhaul. Cutting out every discretionary expense will lead you to burn out quickly and could lead towards you ultimately giving up on your goal.
Begin working toward that goal by taking baby steps and finding one or two easy financial behaviors to change, like bringing your lunch to work a couple of days a week, until it develops into a new habit. Then build on those successes. Over time, such actions will become part of your daily routine and they won’t even feel like a sacrifice anymore.
Your goal needs to be measurable so that you can track your progress and degree of success throughout this journey. By doing so, you will feel accomplished and more motivated to continue working hard every time you reach a milestone.
Identify specific dollar figures when setting your goals for saving or paying off debt and include dates for when you would like to reach these targets. Write down your goals and keep them in plain sight as a daily reminder of your efforts.
Working toward any financial goal takes rigor and a high-level of commitment that can be tough to stick to over time, especially if you’ve given up something that you really enjoy. Whether you’ve cut out that daily latte from your favorite coffee shop or a monthly spa appointment, you don’t have to say goodbye to these pleasures for good.
As long as you haven’t slipped up already, find room in your budget every few months to reward yourself for working hard. This reward could be a Starbucks drink, lunch date with a friend or a 30-minute back massage. Whatever it is, make sure you enjoy it but don’t fall in to the habit of overindulging regularly again.
For more money-saving advice, see our Money section.