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Forget New Year's Resolutions. This Is How to Set Financial Goals You'll Stick To

By Christy Bieber - Dec 18, 2020 at 6:00AM

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Many New Year's resolutions don't succeed, but you can maximize the chances of achieving your goals with these tips.

Snowflakes partially covering yearly clock with the hands almost touching 2021.

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Money-related New Year's resolutions are common because many people want to improve their financial situation. Unfortunately, making a resolution generally isn't enough to set you up for success. In fact, saying you want to "get out of debt in 2021," or "save more money," or accomplish some general financial desire is really a wish in most cases -- and that's why many resolutions are abandoned by February. 

That doesn't mean you can't improve your situation in the new year. If you make a concrete goal, you should set yourself up for success. 

Not sure how? Just follow these simple steps. 

Make your goals specific

One of the big problems with New Year's resolutions is that they're often too vague. In the example above, for instance, you might resolve to save more money next year -- but without specifying how much in what time frame, it's really hard to achieve that objective. 

Instead, be as detailed as you can. For example, you could specify that you want to save an extra $5,000 by Jan. 1, 2022, or pay off $5,000 in debt by September. If you're specific, you'll know exactly what you're hoping to do. 

Make sure success is measurable 

To accomplish your goals, you need to know what success looks like -- that means having a metric by which to measure your efforts and determine if you've done what you set out to do. 

Instead of saying you want to "buy a house" in 2021, for example, you could set a goal of saving $500 per month for your down payment and getting pre-qualified with five mortgage lenders by March. That way, it's clear whether you're on track toward saving your down payment and researching your lender options. When you make your goals measurable and set a deadline, you have a much clearer picture of your objective and what it takes to achieve it. 

Break big goals into small ones

If a goal is too daunting, it's hard to get started -- and also difficult to realistically assess whether you're on track. For example, many people want to save $1 million for retirement. But unless you know how much to save per month or per year, you'll have a hard time.

When you make micro-goals, such as investing $150 per week or $600 per month, it's easier to feel a sense of progress and your bigger goals seem more attainable. 

Outline a plan to achieve your goals

Once you have small, specific, measurable goals, come up with a realistic plan for accomplishing them. 

If you're trying to save $500 per month for a home down payment, your plan could involve treating this $500 as a must-pay bill and automating a transfer from your checking account to a special savings account just after you get paid. 

Or, if you want to repay debt, you could plan to refinance to a personal loan to reduce the interest costs, then pay an extra amount every month. 

Avoid unattainable goals that set you up for failure

When you set goals you can't possibly achieve, you're only likely to become discouraged -- quickly. Chances are good you'll give up on the entire endeavor if you're missing your targets month after month.

But if you set a goal you can reach, know what to do to achieve it, break it down into small steps, and track your progress, you should accomplish what you set out to. You can call it a New Year's resolution if it's more exciting, but it will be much more than that.

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