New Year’s resolutions... Are they worth the time and effort? Think of it this way: a New Year’s resolution is an act of making a promise to yourself — to improve, to avoid something, to be you in a better light. So here are five things to know about making a practical New Year's resolution.
New Year’s resolutions are older than the Bible, primarily practiced in the Western Hemisphere. Babylonians may have begun the tradition by making promises to their gods that they would return borrowed objects and repay their debts. (Sound familiar?) The Romans had a tradition of making promises to Janus (from whom we get the word January), the god of beginnings and transitions. In the United States and England, the first New Year’s resolutions were probably related to religion — encouraging people to be more spiritual and less raucous on New Year’s Eve — emphasizing emotional and physical restraint. Now, of course, we know them as secular goals that we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year.
- Making a Resolution.
The popularity of making resolutions has decreased recently. According to a 2013 CBS News Poll, 68% of people don’t make resolutions; in 2011, that number was 58%. Who is most likely to make resolutions and achieve them? Believe it or not: people under 30 years old, with a reported 38% success rate. Hmmm... Maybe it’s because people in this group generally don't have as much on their plates as the rest of us, making it easier for them to achieve their goals? So maybe the takeaway is to keep your list short, giving you a better shot of achieving your goals.
- I want 2016 to be better than 2015. What should I do?
Focus, focus, focus. Think small. Think positive. Think improvement. Think about small ways you can be better at doing something. Or take this opportunity to cross something off your to-do list. For example, checking the beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts and insurance policies every year is a simple and quick task that you can check off that to-do list. [Tweet this resolution!] Review your retirement plan contributions and consider increasing them by at least 1%. [Tweet this resolution!] Trust me, you won’t miss that 1%. Want to improve your diet? Eliminate one bad food. If you want to work out every day, maybe make it 10 minutes, not 10,000 steps ... yet. Start small and finish big!
- Be accountable.
Your resolution should be written down. Tell a friend. Use a Post-It note and put it on your mirror, steering wheel, or computer screen. See it; believe it. Some say it takes 21 days to form a habit and just 3 days to break it. Others say that will power is like a muscle: without use, it becomes soft. In other words, keep at it. I know you’ve heard it before, but having and sticking to a budget really does make a difference in moving your “financial needle”. Make your savings a priority and include it in your budget, just like a bill. [Tweet this resolution!] And to make it even easier still, set up an automatic deposit into an account that’s not so easy to access. A credit union could be a good option, since they don’t usually have as wide a network of ATMs as large regional or money center banks do. The last thing you want to have is a “put in and take out” account.
- What if I mess-up?
To quote Scarlett O’Hara: “Tomorrow is another day.” You can always start over. Resolutions don’t begin only in January. You’ve got the rest of the year to get it right.
Happy New Year to you and yours!
Diane Manuel, CFP®