Life-Changing New Year’s Resolutions You Can Actually Follow

Thinking about making New Year's resolutions? It's human nature—something we’ve been doing for thousands of years, across cultures. These days, they tend to be related to health and finances. One recent study found that 20% of New Year’s resolutions alone are about getting out of debt.

It’s also human nature to fail at our resolutions. According to that same study, nearly 80% of people abandon their New Year's resolutions after six weeks. That would be February.

Our resolution is to make your resolutions easier, but still life-enhancing. To get you going, here are some of the most important goals recommended by financial professionals, along with steps you can take to reach them

We’ll start with what many consider to be the three most important goals. If you’ve got these covered, or you want to add more resolutions to your list, several more suggestions follow. 

1. Set goals
If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll surely get there—as in, nowhere. Setting goals is always the first step in any planning process. So start here, with this list. Take a moment. Reflect. If you have a spouse or partner, do this together. Listen to your gut, but watch for wishful thinking. Your goals should be clear, achievable, ambitious but not too difficult, and prioritized.
2. Make a spending plan
Notice we didn’t say “budget.” That’s because we often view budgeting like we view dieting—too much punishment, not enough reward. The trick? Give yourself a positive motivation. Keep the good outcomes in mind—living within your means, less debt, more disposable income, and actually being able to afford your dreams.
3. Take control of debt

If you feel you’re under pressure because of debt, you’re probably right. If you’re unsure whether debt is a problem for you, likely signs include:

  • It’s increasingly hard to make ends meet
  • You pay just the minimum due on your credit card bills
  • You delay paying one bill to pay another
  • You find it impossible to save at all
More Suggestions
Create your emergency fund

Are you prepared for the worst? Like losing your job? Or a major emergency expense? Most planners recommend a rainy day fund equal to three to nine months of your total living expenses. But over half of all Americans have less than three months of living expenses.

Decide how many months your fund should last. Last, determine where you’ll keep your emergency savings. Consider a traditional savings account or a bank money market deposit account, both of which you can learn more about at a People’s United branch or by calling us at 1-800-772-1090.

Protect against fraud / cyber theft
Online and telephone fraud is more and more commonplace. Even those security breaches that you hear about at big companies may affect you. Protect yourself by knowing how to deal it. For practical information on avoiding identity theft, computer and phone fraud, and general fraud protection, see our companion article, “Identity Theft: Protecting Your Identity and Personal Information.” People’s United also provides a great online resource on securing your personal information and more, at our Security Center

Start saving for those dreams
A goal without a plan for getting there is just a dream. And when it comes to retirement and college saving, a lot of us are living in a dream world. Over 40% of Americans have no retirement savings and over 60% percent of American parents have no college savings.

There’s help. Individual retirement accounts (IRAs) may give you tax advantages, and can be used even if you participate in a 401(k) plan. And 529 plans can help you save, and even prepay, for college. Visit The College Savings Plan Network online to learn more about plans in your state. For IRA or 529 plan guidance, call us at (800) 392-3009 to schedule an appointment with a People's Securities Financial Advisor.

Start investing
Already saving money? Thinking about making your savings work harder for you? You may want to start investing—or investing more wisely. Our companion article, “Investing Basics: A Starting Point for Those About to Invest,” can help, even if you’ve already begun investing.

Improve your credit score
Borrowing money— "credit," in financial speak—is an essential tool in your personal finance toolkit. But your ability to borrow hinges on your credit report. To better manage your credit reports, see our companion article, “Borrowing Smart: Understanding & Managing Your Credit Report.”

Teach your kids
Helping children understand money is setting them up for financial well-being, whatever path they take in life. When done right, financial parenting can be a nurturing and even enjoyable way to interact with your kids. For more, see our companion article, “Financial Parenting: A Guide to Raising Financially Secure Children.”

Buy that house
Thinking about buying a house? We can't find the house for you, but we can help you with the steps to buying your first home. See our companion article, “8 Steps to Buying a Home.”

Tie up loose ends
If you’ve gotten this far without finding a worthwhile resolution, you’ve got it together. But are you prepared for the worst-case scenario? We’re talking wills, living will, powers of attorney, estate executors, and making sure you’re properly insured. For help with wills and other topics on healthy finances, start with our companion article “Living a Financially Healthy Life.” For more specific questions on more advanced planning issues, call us at (800) 392-3009 to schedule an appointment with a People’s Securities Financial Advisor.

Keeping your resolutions

Now the hard part: sticking to your resolutions beyond Valentine’s Day. Experts recommend that you avoid dwelling on the difficulty of your resolutions and giving yourself “outs.” These additional techniques can help, too.

Write it down
The neuroscience is in: Writing something down helps you commit to it. But do more than just list your resolutions. For each one, briefly explain:

  • Why you’re adopting it
  • What keeping it will do for you
  • Don’t prevent you from getting your free annual credit report
  • What general steps you’ll take to do it

Keep your list visible and accessible—something you can remind yourself with, even on a daily basis.

Share it
Consider telling certain family members or close friends about your intentions—confidants who have your best interests at heart. They can often help you stay on track, and talk you through those times when you’re about to give up. Just knowing that others know can make it more likely that you’ll stay on plan.

Track your progress
What gets measured, gets improved. Why is that? Researchers have found that although we think both enjoyment and importance are key to sticking with our resolutions, only enjoyment really matters to us. We want immediate rewards.

That’s a key part of what tracking does for you. Note your progress toward your goals regularly—weekly, if possible. Even small amounts of progress can make you more jazzed about staying the course.

Get started

It’s normal to say to yourself, “I’ll start tomorrow.” Or next week. Or [insert perfect time here]. Don’t let inertia set in. Get started now.

And mix it up. Don’t do all the easy stuff first (although it can help some of us to start with something easier), or all the hard stuff in one long slog.

Save yourself 
If you find yourself regressing or dropping a resolution entirely, don’t just let it happen. Wait a bit, then sit down and reflect on why it’s happening. Have you set too difficult a goal? Are you thinking clearly? Are you choosing temporary comfort over future pain—and, if so, is that a good tradeoff? The best test of a decision may be to ask yourself how you’ll feel about it 10 or more years down the road.

And once you’ve answered that question, get back on track. Happy New Year.

Related Information


Investment and Insurance Products:

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Investment and insurance products are offered through People’s Securities, Inc., a Broker/Dealer, member of FINRA and SIPC, an insurance agency and a registered investment advisor. People’s Securities, Inc. is a subsidiary of People’s United Bank, N.A. Investment products may involve risk, including possible loss of principal. 

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