New year, new money goals. That's how the saying goes, right?
Self-improvement goals don't just start and end with your body. It also means getting your finances in order, too. Here's how to set up -- and stick to -- your financial resolutions this year.
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1. Keep your goals specific and realistic
Don't shortchange yourself when it comes to the goals you want to achieve. Instead of saying "I want to get out of debt," say "I want to pay off my credit card debt." Instead of "I want to save money," say "I want to save $5,000."
It's also important to make your goals realistic. Don't say you want to save up enough money to buy a house if chances are you won't buy for another three years. Shift that into something like "I want to save $5,000 toward my home down payment."
2. Outline your plan for success
Financial plans are different for each goal. How you tackle debt might be different than how you handle saving. For example, if you're trying to pay off a hefty chunk or the remainder of your student loan debt, look at what you owe first. Write your minimum payments each month, the interest rate and your expected date to pay them off.
Then tinker with your figures. What would that final payment look like if you increased monthly payments by 25%? What about 50%? Could you afford to double your monthly payments? Find a number you're comfortable with and fit it into your monthly budget. Set up your payments to auto-deduct from your bank account. Put any bonuses or extra cash toward paying off the debt. Whatever you have to do to meet that goal without sacrificing too much, do your best to meet those expectations.
3. Check your budget
Having a budget is vital to making sure you can stick to your resolutions. Creating a budget is helpful, but remember that it's not always set in stone. Life changes and circumstances come up where you'll need to adjust your budget. Your new financial resolution is one of them.
See how your resolution fits into your budget. If it's tight or not immediately doable, see what changes you need to make it work. Can you stop a monthly subscription or bring lunch to work? Would you be willing to cut down on dining out or happy hours with friends? It's good to make sacrifices to meet the goals you want to achieve but do so within reason. Find a middle ground you're comfortable with.
4. Prioritize it
It's hard to meet a goal if you don't make it a priority. Check up on yourself on a weekly or monthly basis, or whenever you get paid. Your financial resolution should be at the forefront of your money decisions, just like paying rent and other bills.
Track your progress to make sure your goals are reasonable. Sometimes we realize we need to change things once we've already started, and that's allowed.
5. Be flexible for the unknown
You can set goals for the time being, but what if something drastic or unforeseen comes up? Maybe you lost your job or a loved one and you're having trouble making ends meet. Goals are a nice to have thing, but not always a must-have thing. You set them based on your current self and mindset, which can change as time goes on or something comes up.
It's important to remember that if you get off-track, you don't need to give up. You might just need to adjust your goals, your budget or both. Change is inevitable, so be open to the possibility of updating your financial resolutions if you need to.
6. Tell a friend
Sometimes we need a partner when we go to the gym to hold us accountable for getting a workout in. Our financial resolutions are no different. Get a friend or significant other involved to make sure you're staying on track. It's like a coach for your money goals.
If you're trying to pay off debt or save for a major expense, your significant other might be an important role in making sure that happens. In that case, challenge each other every week or month to see who can contribute more to your resolutions. The idea of winning -- even for nothing other than a title -- might be the nudge you both need.
You may also find that writing out your progress helps. Some people share their debt payoff stories through personal blogs, which might work for you. Even if no one reads it (at first!), detailing your goals and attack plan could be enough to keep you on track.
If you do have readers, some might be able to offer guidance and support to meet those goals. Sometimes, you may find others who are inspired by your work to make their own financial resolutions.