Falling Behind on Your 2021 Money Resolutions? How to Get Back on Track

by Maurie Backman | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on Jan. 16, 2021

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Blocks spelling "2021" and a jar of money.

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Don't resign yourself to failure. Here's how to regroup and tackle those resolutions like a rock star.

Maybe your New Year's resolution was to build more savings. Or perhaps you resolved to avoid debt in 2021. New Year is a great time to set some yourself financial goals.

But what if your plans aren't going so well to date? What if you haven't managed to cut back on spending (we can blame pandemic-related misery for that) and you've only added to your debt as unplanned bills reared their ugly head?

First, don't beat yourself up. The year is still young, and there's plenty of time to make good on the resolutions you set at the end of 2020. If you're already falling behind, here's how to tackle a number of common pledges.

Failed resolution #1: Save more money

It's not easy to save money. If it were, more of us would have more money to our names. If you're having a hard time building savings, getting on a budget could be your ticket to turning things around. Go through your bank and credit card statements from 2020 to see what your various bills cost. Next, list them on a spreadsheet (or use a budgeting app -- whichever you prefer). Finally, comb through those expenses and identify one or two to cut back on.

That's right -- you don't need to slash the bulk of your bills, because that's probably not sustainable. Instead, pick a couple of items to focus on. You may find that's an easier way to build up your savings. Once you're used to spending less on those things, you can tackle other categories.

Failed resolution #2: Stay out of debt

It's one thing to take on debt when unexpected expenses pop up out of the blue, but it's another to incur debt just because temptation strikes. To avoid the former, work on building up an emergency fund. That way, you'll have savings to tap when sudden bills come up that your paychecks can't cover.

As far as temptation goes, there are things you can do to avoid those needless impulse buys. First, don't store your credit card details on your phone, laptop, or other devices. The simple act of having to go dig up that information and enter it manually for each purchase is a deterrent in itself. Next, force yourself to wait 24 hours whenever you're tempted to buy something out of the blue. Most of the time, you'll realize you can do without the item in question.

Failed resolution #3: Pay off existing debt

Maybe you're sitting on debt from the holidays, or from an auto repair bill you incurred last year. If you're not paying off that debt as quickly as you'd like, see if there's a better way to knock it out.

If you owe money on various credit cards, for example, consolidating your debt with a balance transfer or personal loan could be a good solution. Or, if you're thinking of refinancing your mortgage anyway, a cash-out refinance could also help you consolidate debt and pay it off more affordably.

Failed resolution #4: Improve your credit

If you're hoping to buy a home, rent a new apartment, or get a new car in the near future, having great credit is important. But if you haven't done anything to boost your score yet, here are some easy ways to bring that number up.

First, check your credit report for errors. You can get a free copy every week between now and April. Look out for errors, such as delinquent debt you've already paid off or a debt that was never yours in the first place. If you spot one, you'll know to take action and get it fixed.

Next, pay all of your incoming bills on time. That simple act could boost your credit score tremendously. Of the various factors that are used to calculate that number, your payment history carries the most weight.

Finally, try paying off some existing debt -- which may already be a goal of yours anyway (see failed resolution #3). If you knock out a credit card balance, it could drive your credit utilization ratio down, and that's a good thing as far as your score is concerned.

Many people make New Year's resolutions each year and give up by February. If you're worried you'll do the same, now's the time to regroup. The right attitude could put you well on your way to tackling those resolutions head-on. Stick with it and you'll have something to be proud of by the time 2021 wraps up.

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