Up there with losing weight, getting into better shape, and staying in touch with friends, money-related resolutions are commonly uttered this time of year. And while those pledges are notoriously easy to break, a new Fidelity study just found that 74% of Americans who made resolutions for the past year actually stuck to them. At the same time, 58% of U.S. adults confessed to making financial mistakes on the road to meeting their goals -- mistakes that certainly thwarted their progress.
Still, 32% of Americans are ready with new resolutions for 2019. Here are the top three Fidelity recorded:
- Save more money (48%)
- Pay down debt (29%)
- Spend less (15%)
Accomplishing any or all of these three, however, pretty much boils down to one important thing: following a budget.
Do you know where your money is going?
You might think you have a good sense of where you spend your money month after month, but without a budget, how can you be sure? If you don't have a budget at present (which is the case for most Americans), creating one will increase your chances of meeting any of the three aforementioned goals.
To create your budget, start by listing your recurring monthly expenses. These might include:
- Rent or mortgage payments
- Home maintenance, taxes, and insurance
- Car payments, fuel, and vehicle maintenance
- Student loan payments
- Credit card debt payments
- Utility bills
- Personal care
But don't just guess at those numbers. Rather, read through your bank and credit card statements from the past year to get an accurate sense of what you spend. While your rent and car payments might be the same every month, chances are your utility and grocery bills fluctuate, so average those costs to get more precise figures for your budget.
From there, look through your statements and identify those one-time expenses that pop up throughout the year. Perhaps you pay $100 every April to renew a professional certification or $60 every October for a couple of magazine subscriptions. Either way, spread these costs out over a 12-month period and put money aside for them during the months they don't come due. For example, if you spend a total of $300 on one-time expenses, add $25 a month to your budget under "miscellaneous costs," or whatever you'd prefer to label that category.
Once your expenses are mapped out, compare your total spending to your total earnings and see how much money you have the potential to save. If it's $0, you'll need to make some lifestyle changes. If it's an actual number but one you're not pleased with, take a look at your spending and start cutting back. That could mean downsizing to a smaller apartment, canceling cable if you don't watch it that often, or eating out less frequently. All of these changes can help you achieve the goal of saving more, chipping away at debt, and, naturally, spending less. But without a budget, you'll have a harder time figuring out where there's wiggle room to cut back.
Here's one more thing you can do to increase your chances of meeting those goals: Pay yourself first. Arrange for a portion of each paycheck to land automatically in your savings account so you're not able to spend it. That could mean sending $100 -- or $500 -- to the bank right off the bat. The choice is yours, but if you pay yourself first and work backward from there, you'll not only guarantee that you're able to save, you'll essentially be forced to cut back on spending (which isn't necessarily a bad thing).
Will you uphold your financial resolutions in 2019? Only time will tell. If you follow a budget and pay yourself first, there's a good chance you'll be successful in meeting your goals.