How to Stick to Your Financial New Year's Resolutions

New Year's resolutions aren't always financial in nature, but those money-based goals require just as much discipline as any of the others.

According to a Marist Poll, 39% of U.S. survey respondents said they'd going to make a New Year's resolution for 2016. That's down from a peak of 48% in 2009, but still up from five years ago. While 12% of those polled planned to lose weight, 10% planned to get a better job and 9% planned to exercise, stop smoking or improve health, just 7% wanted to spend less money or save more. Worse, just 2% wanted to set goals.

Why aren't more people worried about their finances? Well, according to a survey by Hartford Funds of folks with $100,000 or more in investable assets, 44% anticipate that their overall financial situation will improve in 2016. Another 54% say they are very or somewhat confident about their investments, and even the 39% who expect to experience a significant life event in 2016 aren't all that worried. More than half (53%) of that latter group don’t expect those events to affect their finances. Even the Fed hasn't rattled them, as only 14% expect interest rates to have the biggest impact on their finances in 2016.

“The results from this survey clearly underscore the importance of context in financial planning," said John Diehl, senior vice president of strategic markets at Hartford Funds. "Investors’ confidence should be tied directly to tracking against their goals and having a strong understanding of how life can throw financial curveballs. Taking a more human-centric approach to investing helps advisors and investors see the big picture when it comes to life and finances.”

However, this doesn't mean that people are doing nothing to shore up their financial situations in 2016. According to a survey by Capital One Investing, 26.3% of all respondents said that creating an emergency fund is their top financial goal for 2016. As advisors stated multiple times during 2015, an emergency fund not only comes in handy in a pinch, but it's a financial security measure that really shouldn't be delayed by other circumstances.

It's bad enough that 39% of investors expect to experience a significant life event in 2016. Nearly one-fifth of Americans expect to be dealing with an aging parent in 2016, while 18% of respondents under the age of 45 expect a parent or child to move into their home in 2016. However, though 53% of those investors don’t expect major personal events to impact their finances in 2016, it's the events they don't see coming that can prove trickier.

“Nearly all major life events have financial implications,” said Bill McManus, director of strategic markets for Hartford Funds. “It’s easier to plan for and reach those financial goals when we can anticipate events, such as sending a child to college. However, it’s just as important to plan for the unexpected.”

In fairness, it's important to plan in general. As the Capital One Investing survey notes, 32% of survey respondents ages 18 to 24 reported that improving their understanding of investing is their top financial goal for 2016. Considering that 44% of those same Millennials say they do not plan on increasing contributions to their 401(k) retirement plans in 2016 -- 35.2% say they do not have an employer-sponsored retirement plan at all -- it would be nice if advisors took some steps to help these folks out. However, when their most trusted financial advisors are mom and dad, their home is the one they grew up in and their financial priorities involve as little risk as possible, it can be hard for them to look ahead and save accordingly. However, when you aren't financially literate enough to know your credit score, it's much tougher to dig your way out of crushing debt.


Not that young people are the only ones facing tough financial choices in 2016. According to Capital One Investing, 26.1% of survey respondents 65 and above say they want to discuss finances with family more regularly in 2016. Considering how difficult estate planning can be under even the best circumstances -- and that you just missed a great opportunity to discuss your plans during the holiday season -- it's best to get started sooner than later. From disputed wills to your spouse's role in the process, there are discussions about your financial legacy that shouldn't be left to the probate courts.

You just have to keep your eyes on the prize. According to Hartford Funds, 91% of investors between the ages of 18 and 44 and 89% between the ages of 45 and 59 plan paying down debt, reviewing and adjusting investments, spending less, saving more and/or downsizing their life this year. However, with roughly 30% of investors expecting events around the world impacting the global economy to have the largest effect on their finances, 25% worrying about stock volatility, 14% watching interest rates and 13% feeling jittery about the upcoming presidential election, advisors warn against allowing minor turbulence to create major changes in your plans.

“Because a wide variety of events can impact a portfolio day to day or even month to month, it can be challenging to take the emotion out of investing," Diehl says. “However, it is absolutely critical to remain as objective as possible to ensure headlines aren’t driving your investment strategy. The key is to remain focused on progress against achieving financial goals.”

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

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