How you can still accomplish the changes you want to make in 2020

As the excitement of a fresh new decade starts settling into a routine, many people are finding that they are beginning to stumble in their efforts to maintain their New Year’s resolutions.  Whether it is a decision to hit the gym every day or bring their home organization to a new level, according to U.S. News & World Report, 40% of Americans make resolutions and most fail by mid-February.  Why is it that so many people view the start of a new year as the ideal time to make big changes in their lives?  And why do so many fall short in their attempts?

Maybe it’s time to take a different approach to positive change.  While “quit smoking” and “save more money” are great things to achieve, getting real results requires more than making grand declarations as the new year is ushered in.  Instead, setting specific and realistic goals can lead you to success.  Trying to do too much, too quickly can lead to frustration, boredom and an increased likelihood of reverting to old habits as the reality of the process can feel as if it’s dragging on.

According to an Ipsos public opinion survey, “More than half of Americans who report planning to have a New Year’s resolution for 2020 said their goals are related to finances (51%), eating healthier (51%), and being more active (50%).”  Also high on the list were wanting to lose weight and improve mental well-being through stress reduction.

Setting Goals Instead of Making Resolutions

Eat healthier, be more active and lose weight.  Many people who are making resolutions seek big results in a short time.  So many people jump into this hopeful change that the regulars who are in the gym year-round dread the January crowding caused by “resolutioners” and look forward to February, when most of them will stop attending.  While joining a gym might be a great way for you to begin exercising, immediately pledging to work out five days per week for an hour each day, while going onto a restrictive diet that leaves you miserable is enough to make anyone want to stop.

Instead, you may increase your chances of success if you make small, measurable changes that will ultimately get you closer to your desired results by allowing you to stick to them.  Walk more.  Set a timer to get up and stretch your legs every hour.  Incorporate more vegetables into your diet.  Eat less sugar.  If you do this for a week or two and maintain it, build on it the next week with more healthy changes.  Consider using an app to help with motivation and tracking your results.  You can try MyFitnessPal, SparkRecipes or J&J Official 7 Minute Workout.  The idea is to set benchmarks that you can achieve and maintain as a routine part of your life before taking on too much to handle.  In time, you’ll look back to see how much more you’ve been able to accomplish than if you had reached too high before you were ready and ultimately failed.

Save more money.  Similar to exercise and weight loss, many people expect to make big financial adjustments without enough thought going into a plan for long term maintenance.  Are you a newlywed saving to buy a house?  Are you a grandparent looking to contribute to your grandchild’s future education expenses?  Are you planning to travel extensively during your retirement?  Or do you simply feel as if you should go on a spending diet, investing more of your money for your future and using less on luxury expenses now?

There are many financial tools available to help you accomplish these things.  As with other resolutions, the key is to have a specific plan as opposed to attempting sweeping financial change without a structure to build on.  If you are looking to start by creating a budget or paying down debt, there are apps you can use to help structure this including Mint and Debt Payoff Planner.  It can also be helpful to define exactly what you are saving for and how much money you feel you will need.  Then you can identify the best financial vehicle to use whether that is a 401k, a newly-rebalanced investment portfolio or an interest-bearing savings account. Working with a financial planner can help you create a realistic plan that is actionable in achieving your financial goals much more so than simply making a resolution to spend less and save more.

Many other common New Year’s resolutions from “get organized” to “read more” to “stress less” can benefit from the same goal-oriented approach.  Let go of the idea that you can make a big statement without a real plan and expect to get the results you’re hoping for.  Take smaller steps toward your bigger goals.  Would you like to get organized?  Start with one closet in your home, then one drawer.  Apps to help with organization include PocketLife Calendar and Planner Pro Daily Calendar.  Do you want to read more?  Try the app called Bookly.  Create a list of books that interest you and pick one.  Read for fifteen minutes a night.  Don’t force yourself to read a book you don’t love.  Move onto the next one and get drawn in by your interest.  Stress less?  That can start with simply giving yourself permission to say “no” to extra obligations that chip away at your time and energy.

While the end of one year can lead to a natural period of self-reflection and renewed enthusiasm for making change, it is not the only time you can look for ways to make improvements in your life.  By taking a methodical, goal-oriented approach, you can just as easily begin to lose weight or save more money in March as you can in January.  Please contact us if we can assist you in evaluating ways that may help you accomplish your financial goals for 2020.