The start of a new year is a great time to resolve to do better in all areas of life, from improving eating habits to exercising to being more available to family and friends. As such, it's not surprising to see that 67% of Americans are considering a financial resolution going into 2020, according to Fidelity. But when we take a deeper dive into the specific goals that U.S. adults are aiming to achieve, it becomes pretty clear that hitting those targets boils down to one smart financial habit.

Americans' top financial resolutions for 2020

Here are the three most popular resolutions on the personal finance front going into the new year:

  • Save more money (53%)
  • Pay down debt (51%)
  • Spend less (35%)

Clearly, these are all interrelated. And if you make one simple move, you'll be more likely to achieve these objectives.

Young man and woman looking at documents with serious expressions


The one trick to improving your finances

You don't need to win the lottery in 2020 to save more, spend less, and eliminate debt. You just need to get into the habit of budgeting.

Once you set up a budget, you'll see exactly where your money goes month after month. From there, you'll be able to go through your spending categories and identify areas where you can cut back, thus achieving the goal of spending less. And once you're able to free up cash, you'll be able to boost your emergency fund or retirement savings and eliminate whatever debt you're carrying.

Creating your budget

One mistake a lot of people make with budgeting is guessing at numbers rather than relying on actual spending data. If you're going to make the effort to budget, you might as well do it right, so to this end, take the time to go through your bank and credit card statements from 2019. They'll give you an accurate sense of what your various expense categories cost you.

From there, you can compare your typical spending to your earnings to see how well you fare. If there's little-to-no room left over for savings month after month, then you'll know it's time to cut back -- and having your spending categories mapped out in front of you will make it easier to decide which ones to slash.

Keep in mind that if you're in really bad shape financially -- such as, you have no savings at all and a large pile of debt -- you may need to cut back on spending in a pretty drastic way to improve your financial picture in 2020. That could mean downsizing your home, unloading a vehicle you can technically get by without, and avoiding restaurants and coffeehouses like the plague. But if you make that effort, you'll likely wind up in much better shape financially by the end of the year, at which point you can slowly but surely start spending a bit more to buy yourself a more comfortable lifestyle.

Saving more money, paying down debt, and spending less are all terrific goals to aspire to in the new year. And if you're intent on achieving all of them, budgeting is your ticket to success.