We’re three months into 2021. Let’s check on those financial New Year’s resolutions. (Remember those?) Quite possibly, they’ve already gone awry.
Maybe you planned to build a $1,000 emergency fund, but the balance is still zero. Or perhaps you swore off takeout, yet you’re scraping the last bite of chow mein from a paper container as you read this.
Don’t beat yourself up. You don’t have to give up on your goal because of a setback.
“There’s nothing magical about New Year’s, and you don’t have to wait until 2022 to try again,” says Amy Hubble, a certified financial planner and founder of Radix Financial LLC in Oklahoma City.
Here’s how to salvage your money resolution.
Figure out what went wrong
Step back and examine why you couldn’t stick to your resolution in the first place. Possible culprits: the goal was vague, too ambitious or lacked a plan. For example, say your resolution was to save money. That didn’t address how much to save, how to save it and so on. A more effective resolution might have been to put $100 from each paycheck into a savings account.
Hubble recommends using the “SMART” goals framework to set resolutions. That stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely, she says. Was your goal missing any of these elements? If so, there’s a good chance you can salvage it by restarting with this approach.
But sometimes resolutions are beyond rescuing. If your financial situation has changed since you set it — say you lost your job or unexpectedly faced a major home repair — it’s perfectly acceptable to tweak it or walk away.
“Financial planning is a process, not an event,” says Trent Porter, a certified financial planner, life coach and founder of Priority Financial Partners in Durango, Colorado. “Life’s going to change, and your goals and how you get there are going to need to adapt.”
Know your reason
Ready to give your resolution another go? Ask yourself why you’ve chosen this goal and what exactly you hope to accomplish.
“Maybe it’s less stress on your marriage or partnership, maybe it’s the ability to go on vacation once the world opens up again, and maybe it’s the ability to retire one year earlier,” Hubble says.
Having a personal reason in mind can inspire you to see it through.
Take smaller steps
If you know your “why” but struggle with how to work toward the resolution, try making “little plans within the big plan,” Hubble says. Think about what you can do on a daily, weekly or monthly basis to make reaching your 2021 goal more manageable.
For instance, if your financial resolution is to pay off $10,000 in credit card debt, calculate how much you need to pay each month to meet that goal, Hubble says. Then, focus on that smaller chunk.
Seek an accountability partner
Find someone to discuss your resolution with. A spouse, roommate, friend or co-worker can shepherd and encourage you. Consulting a partner you share finances with is especially important.
“If their goals aren’t in alignment or they’re not supportive of what you’re trying to achieve, it’s going to make it a lot more difficult,” Porter says.
Turning to an expert, like a financial planner, is also an option. If you have a complicated financial situation or resolution, they can help you craft a customized plan.
Automate your resolution
Automating the work allows you to make strides even if you lose momentum or are prone to forgetfulness. You can set up recurring bill payments, transfer money between bank accounts or track spending with an app, for example.
If you need to pay $200 toward a credit card bill every month, have that payment automatically taken out on payday before you have a chance to overspend, Hubble says. “Make it where it’s almost harder to not pay that bill.”
Check your status
Don’t get too comfortable. Schedule quick check-ins with yourself or your supporter to monitor your progress. Once a month should suffice for most resolutions.
At each check-in, add up how much you’ve saved or spent so far and compare that with where you expected to be at this point. Note any roadblocks. Then you can decide whether to carry on or refine your technique.
Success won’t happen overnight. You’ve got roughly nine months left this year to hit your resolution goal. Leave the rough start behind and put your new plan in motion.