The end of one year and beginning of the next is a time when many of us take stock of what we’ve achieved, where we have fallen short and how we can do better.
For many of us, the New Year is a time when we vow to make the changes that have eluded us in the year just past. Getting fit and healthy, enjoying life more, spending less and saving more consistently rank as top resolutions people make each year.
Saving more, paying down debt and spending less remain the top financial resolutions, according to the ninth annual Fidelity Investments® New Year Financial Resolutions Study.
“However, as America enters into the ninth year of a bull market, there also appears to be a sense of inertia setting in, with the number of people making financial resolutions at an all-time low,” says a summary of the survey’s findings. “Only 27 percent of respondents indicate they intend to make a financial resolution for the year ahead, down from its highest point of 43 percent for those who considered a resolution for 2014.”
Americans are saving much less and spending more — even though their real disposable income remains unchanged. The savings rate just fell to a 10-year low of 3.1%, according to the Commerce Department.
What's most worrisome to economists is that savings rates below 4% occurred before the last two major market crashes. People felt a false sense of security due to rising stock prices and/or home values.
Some sobering facts:
- The current bull market is the second longest in modern history. If it manages to last until summer, it will become the longest-running bull market at 9½ years.
- A bull market has never made it to its 10th birthday.
- Historically, the longer a bull market lasts, the harder and deeper it crashes.
At the risk of bursting some bubbles (pun intended) this is no time to give up making and keeping financial resolutions. Instead we should redouble our efforts to build true long-term financial security.
According to some reports, up to 80 percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions fail to keep them. Yet people who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to achieve their goals than people who don't.
What does it take to be one of the successful few? Here are 5 Keys to Keeping Your Financial Resolutions:
1. Understand that real, permanent change always comes from within.
Researchers have discovered that we all have it within us to change our behavior, regardless of how ingrained our habits are. In their groundbreaking book, “Changing for Good,” psychologists James O. Prochaska, John C. Norcross and Carlo C. DiClemente showed how it is our internal thought processes that prevent (or enable) permanent, life-enhancing change. In other words, we all have it within ourselves to set a life-changing goal, meet it, and keep ourselves from relapsing. This is the first and most important point for anyone making any New Year’s resolution (or setting any goal, for that matter). The commitment to change has to come from within us.
2. Enlist allies to help you stay on track.
Don’t try to go it alone. Tell others who can help you stay accountable about your resolution. A coach — whether a professional for hire, a friend or a religious leader — can help people reinforce their commitments, says M. Kathryn Seifert, Ph.D. The Maryland psychologist operates three mental health clinics helping about 2,000 distressed individuals a year, many of them struggling with financial crises. For most people, having an accountability partner, coupled with the right motivation and persistence, can make the difference when it comes to achieving goals.
3. Set incentives and consequences for sticking to or breaking your commitments.
Websites such as www.stickk.com allow you to give yourself incentives for sticking to your commitments and set up penalties for breaking them. When you make a commitment binding in this way, you’ll think twice before backsliding. And the rewards that come with sticking to commitments give you positive reinforcement that makes keeping your resolution fun.
4. Skip the pity party when you fall short.
One of the key differences between those who are defeated by financial roadblocks and those who knock down barriers along their path is how they respond to disappointment, according to Steve Siebold, author of “How Rich People Think.” He details how many of today’s most successful investors, entrepreneurs and executives failed multiple times only to come out on top in the end. Those who rebound the fastest and most successfully are the ones who can set aside emotions and plot a logical path forward. So don’t wallow in self-blame when you fail. Instead, pick yourself back up, learn from your mistake, and go right back to work toward your goal.
5. Don't set yourself up for failure with an all-or-nothing attitude.
One of the reasons so many people fail at keeping their resolutions has to do with an all-or-nothing attitude. If your goal is to cut back on sweets, and you find yourself staring at an empty carton of ice cream on Valentine’s Day, what good does it do to go out and get more ice cream? It’s the same with your financial goals. If you go on a spending binge, consider returning those items and putting the money into your savings — or at least climbing back on the savings wagon.
Remind yourself of your goals to keep your focus on where you are going. One of my favorite ways to do this is to wrap my charge cards in a picture or a few words describing my goals. Every time I take out a credit card, I’m reminded of why I am saving. Sometimes all it takes to stay on track is to pause and consider whether what you are buying is more important than your goal.
Your ability to spend less and save more is the sum of all the decisions you make each day throughout the year. Achieving your financial goals requires you to take responsibility, be persistent and have fortitude when things don’t go as you had planned. As Winston Churchill so famously put it, never, never, never give up.
About the Author: Pamela Yellen is a financial investigator and the author of two New York Times best-selling books, including her latest, "The Bank on Yourself Revolution: Fire Your Banker, Bypass Wall Street, and Take Control of Your Own Financial Future." Pamela investigated more than 450 financial strategies seeking an alternative to the risk and volatility of stocks and other investments, which led her to a time-tested, predictable method of growing wealth now used by more than 500,000 Americans. Visit: www.BankOnYourself.com
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Financial security expert Pamela Yellen is author of the New York Times best-selling book, THE BANK ON YOURSELF REVOLUTION: Fire Your Banker, Bypass Wall Street, and Take Control of Your Own Financial Future. Pamela investigated more than 450 financial strategies seeking an alternative to the risk [...]