It’s not like Americans aren’t trying to keep their New Year’s financial resolutions.
More than two-thirds of U.S. adults are committed to making -- and sticking to -- money resolutions in 2023, according to a recent Fidelity Investments report.
And they have good reason: About a third (33%) of Americans say their personal financial situations are worse than they were a year earlier.
"After the stresses of the last few years, Americans are understandably taking a pragmatic view of their financial situation," Stacey Watson, Fidelity Investments' senior vice president of life-event planning. said.
“Given the ups and downs experienced, being creative and establishing new financial wellness habits are positive signs [that] many are finding ways to shift the focus, to pay down debt or build up emergency savings. Proper planning and balance are key."
Americans: Overpromising and Underperforming?
While wanting to move to a better financial place is a noble gesture, follow-through is another story, money experts say.
A big reason people don't follow through: They set unrealistic expectations for themselves.
“Many people often set New Year’s resolutions that are financially impossible,” said senior financial adviser Brian Kuhn at Wealth Enhancement Group, the Minneapolis money manager.
“For example, having $5,000 in credit-card debt with a goal to pay it off by summer, but only being able to pay $300 a month, simply isn’t going to work. Resolutions need to be realistic in order to be achievable.”
Another formidable issue is a lack of motivation.
“Too many think that resolutions are bound to fail anyway, so they don’t really persevere in sticking with the goals they set,” said House of Debt's chief financial officer, Aidan Kang.
“If you have that mindset, you won’t be driven to follow through with the changes you want to make. You’ll just let things happen as they come.”
Some Resolutions Are Harder to Keep Than Others
The bigger the New Year’s financial resolutions are, the more difficult those resolutions are to achieve, or so it seems.
These financial resolutions are at the top of that “likely-not-going-to-happen list.”
Setting big financial goals. Whether it’s saving for a new home or paying down high credit-card debt, shooting for the stars almost never works.
“Often the biggest obstacle that often impedes your ability to attain your New Year's money resolutions is implementing your plan,” said Alissa Krasner Maizes, founder of investment adviser Amplify My Wealth. “What people often avoid is setting measurable and attainable goals.”
Rather than focus on your goal of $100,000, think smaller, Krasner Maizes suggests.
“Instead of aiming for $100,000, setting and celebrating attaining each of 10 smaller goals of $10,000 will more likely get better results by increasing your financial confidence and improving your money mindset," she said.
Setting unspecific New Year’s money resolution goals. Setting vague objectives is another nonstarter for new financial resolutions.
“The vague resolutions are the ones that don't stick - the lofty goals, the idealistic intentions that are made without thought or plan,” said money podcast co-host Mindy Jensen at BiggerPockets, Denver. “Those resolutions don't stick because they aren't well thought out.”
To make a resolution that lasts, specify what you want to do, Jensen advised.
“Don’t go in with the attitude, 'I'm going to get my finances in order,'” she said. “That isn't helpful because it doesn't tell you the steps you need to take to get there.”
Instead, start with a plan with specific focus points, such as . . .
-- "I'm going to track my spending for one month - every penny - to see why I am spending so much."
-- "I'm going to create a realistic budget I can stick to, based on my actual and desired spending."
-- "I'm going to pay off my (specific) credit card by April, by paying the minimum balance plus an additional $1,000 each month."
“Just like the person who is 100 pounds overweight who won't lose the weight overnight, you won't change your financial position overnight,” Jensen added. “Give yourself reasonable, reachable goals and work toward them.”
Not acknowledging your current fiscal situation. One of the most crucial money-related New Year's resolutions people fail to stick to is living below their means.
After all, if you spend less than you make, you ultimately amplify your wealth.
“Most people find it challenging to achieve the resolution of living below their means because of lifestyle creep, as well as not setting attainable goals or having an emergency fund, financial plan, or a partner to guide them on their journey to attain their financial goals,” said Amplify My Wealth's Krasner Maizes.
“Some of the most overlooked reasons include their money mindset and confidence, financial literacy, and reliable resources.”
Take, for example, funding for an emergency, which should be a financial resolution that’s doable.
“One of the most common reasons why the financial resolution of 'funding your emergency fund' doesn’t stick is that people don’t look at your current expenses and adjust them accordingly,” Krasner Maizes added.
“If you follow through, you’ll have enough money to automate monthly transfers into a separate high-yield saving account earmarked for your emergency fund.”
Steering Your Resolutions Into Place. The single biggest key to achieving New Year’s financial resolutions? Change your mindset and have a clear plan.
“Resolution is such a strong word, but it shouldn’t be black and white that you either win or fail,” Kang said. “Remember, succeeding in your money resolutions is not a straight path.
"Target smaller milestones that will guide you toward the bigger financial goal, and give yourself some credit every time you make progress.”
Expert Investing Insights Are Just a Click Away. For a limited time, save $200 on actionable market insights from your own team of money managers, traders and experts. Hurry — this offer won’t last!