Build your New Year’s resolution the SMART way

Are you working on your New Year’s resolutions? If so, you’re one of just over 60 percent of Americans who do so. The fact is that only 8 percent of people are actually successful in achieving their resolution, but people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times – yes, 10 times – more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t.

What is it about resolutions that makes them so hard to keep? In most cases, people who make resolutions often approach them the way many of us look at savings goals: I want to save money, but “a goal without a plan is just a wish.” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

This year, let’s take the SMART approach to New Year’s resolutions:

Give me an “S”
This year your resolution is to save money. Great! But how do you get there? How much do you want to save? How often? For what purpose? By when? Get specific. It will help you create that all-too-important road map for the coming year. An example of a specific goal could be to save three-months’ salary in an emergency fund by the end of the year. Already you’ve gotten specific about how much you want to save, for what purpose, and by what deadline.

Let’s hear it for “M” 
The steps you’ve taken in making your goal more specific have already made it easier to measure. To know what your total savings amount will be, you’ll need to calculate what three-month’s salary equals for you. You’ll also want to measure how often you’ll contribute to your savings goal and how much each contribution will be. You’ll be able to say: “I’m going to save three-months’ salary in an emergency fund by the end of the year by saving X dollars, X times per month.”

Can I buy a vowel? “A!”
Creating a plan with actionable steps and benchmarks for success help to give your resolution momentum. Your first actionable step in saving money could be to set up automatic contributions to your savings account. You can do this by talking to your work’s HR representative about splitting your direct deposit each pay period or by contacting your financial institution to set up automated deposits in a timeframe of your choosing.

Already you’ve made tangible progress. Feels good, doesn’t it? Don’t forget to celebrate your achievement – particularly in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your savings goal, of course – and use the time that follows to set up your next actionable step.

How about an “R”
Make sure your goal is realistic. It might be achievable for you to save three-month’s salary this year, but is it realistic when you consider your lifestyle and priorities? Don’t ignore any responsibilities or people in your life that rely on the resources you’re dedicating to this savings goal. Instead, look closely at your income and expenses, then analyze what you may be giving up to reach your savings resolution. Will you be happy making any sacrifices in order to reach your goal?

The first step to efficiently assessing your cash flow is creating a budget. No matter how you choose to establish your budget (e.g. app, Excel, old school pen and paper), it’s important that you find a system that works for you and that you stick to it! Not sure where to start? Try our Budget Worksheet.

Give me a “T”
Great goals are also time-limited. A New Year’s resolution already provides you with a deadline to complete your goal: December 31, 2017. Don’t stop there! Put a time limit on your smaller benchmark goals. Deadlines along the way will help to keep your goal from getting lost or overtaken by day-to-day responsibilities. By breaking down big steps into progressively smaller ones, you can create a sense of urgency to your resolution by breaking down your year’s goal into monthly, weekly, or even daily steps.

I’d like to solve the puzzle, Pat
Don’t let another year of failed New Year’s resolutions go by. Turn this year’s wish into a thoughtful and well-planned goal by taking the SMART approach. We know that having a plan with specific goals helps people save more effectively, but it all starts when you make a commitment to yourself to save.

Let America Saves help! Take the first step today and take the America Saves pledge to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth over time. America Saves will keep you motivated with information, tips, and reminders to help you reach your savings goal. Think of us as your own personal support system.

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Tip of the Day

  • Written by Katie Bryan | November 23, 2013

    Tip to #Save: Pay off Credit Cards as Soon as Possible. http://ow.ly/FJyDM via @Bankrate

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