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Tips to keep 2014 financial resolutions

Kelly Dilworth

If you’re hoping 2014 will finally be the year you make over your finances — or at least whittle your debt down to more manageable levels — you’re not alone.

A new study from financial services firm Fidelity Investments found more than half of Americans made at least some kind of financial resolution for the upcoming year.

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Among those planning to tackle their finances in the year ahead, 54 percent planned to save more. Nineteen percent resolved to trim spending, and 24 percent said they were going to try to pay off their debt by the end of the year.

Change won’t come easy for many consumers, however. Nearly a third who previously made a financial resolution admitted they failed to actually follow through. Fewer than half, meanwhile, achieved more than 80 percent of the financial goals they made in early 2013.

Financial goals are hard to keep
According to Time magazine, saving money and getting out of debt are among the most common New Year’s resolutions that consumers make — and break — each year.
They’re also among the hardest resolutions to stick to.

According to the Fidelity study, for example, 31 percent say financial resolutions are more difficult to follow through on than other New Year’s goals, such as eating less or getting more exercise — perhaps because things such as job security and an improving economy are seen as being mostly out of their control. (According to the same study, 49 percent cited economic uncertainty resulting from external problems such as fiscal battles in Washington and potentially higher rates on loans as a leading reason for why they might not meet their goals in 2014.)

Despite the uncertainty, Americans are optimistic about their ability to turn things around — or at least move their finances in the right direction.

When asked what might motivate them to improve their finances in the months ahead, 51 percent said it would help to visualize the amount of money they could save if they stuck to their resolution until the end of the year. The same percentage also said that setting up some kind of reward system or carving a goal up into smaller, more manageable chunks may also help them to successfully keep their resolutions.

Tips for sticking with it

According to Richard Wiseman, a widely cited expert in goal-setting and achievement, those consumers are largely on the right track.

In a video and accompanying blog, posted Jan. 1, Wiseman, a professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK, outlined key five steps that have helped previous goal-setters successfully follow through on their New Year’s resolutions. They are:

  1. Divide your goal into smaller steps. According to Wiseman’s research, successful goal-setters divvy up their goals into smaller, concrete tasks that are easily measurable and have some kind of timeframe attached to them. 
  2. Broadcast widely. Let your friends and family know what you’re trying to do so they can lend you their support and make sure you stay on task, writes Wiseman in his blog. Broadcasting your goals also helps motivate you, he says, because you’ll be reluctant to disappoint your support network. 
  3. Keep your eye on the goal. Wiseman recommends goal-setters frequently remind themselves of what they’re aiming for and why. “Regularly remind yourself of the benefits associated with achieving your goals by creating a checklist of how life would be better once you obtain your aim,” he writes. 
  4. Treat yourself. To keep the momentum going, give yourself some kind of reward each time you meet a smaller goal, says Wiseman. That way, you’ll feel like you’re getting somewhere and will be less likely to stall midway through the year. 
  5. Track your progress. Another way to stay motivated, he says, is to keep close tabs on how well you’re doing throughout the year. “Make your plans and progress concrete by keeping a handwritten journal, completing a computer spreadsheet or covering a notice board with graphs or pictures,” writes Wiseman. “Expect to revert to your old habits from time to time,” he adds. “Treat any failure as a temporary setback, rather than a reason to give up altogether.”

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