Editors' pick: Originally published Jan. 4.
There's a good chance that your bad spending habits in 2016 are behind your New Year's resolutions for 2017.
Behind just about every bad decision is a bad financial decision, and 2016 was full of them. The folks at Principal Financial Group point out that 25% of workers they questioned for a recent survey said that "dining out" was where they blew most of their 2016 budget this year, up from 22% in 2014. Just behind it was "food and groceries" at 20% (up from 18% two years ago). As a result, 53% of those workers say they were planning on exercising regularly to manage their weight in the new year, up from 44% two years ago. Roughly 46% plan to control their portion sizes (the same as in 2014), while 48% plan to eat healthy (up from 46%) and 21% plan to weigh in daily (up from 18%).
"If setting goals is the first step, then taking action is the next," says Luke Vandermillen, vice president at Principal Financial Group, "We know that a lot of well-intentioned New Year's resolutions can quickly fall off the wagon."
According to Marist Poll, roughly 39% of Americans made New Year's resolutions last year, down from a peak of 48% in 2009. "Lose weight" was the top resolution in 2016, with 12% of those who made resolutions citing it as their primary concern. However, if you factor in related resolutions including "exercise more" (9%), "improve health" (9%) and "eat healthier" (8%), and it accounts for almost 40% of all New Year's resolutions. Considering that the National Retail Association says that food was expected to account for $207 of the $936 spent per person this holiday season, there's some serious cost associated with that resolution before you ever sign up for a gym membership.
However, food and ensuing weight gain aren't the only part of the holiday hangover spurring New Year's resolutions this season. Among those surveyed by The Principal, not saving enough (15%), accumulating credit card debt (11%), spending outside their means (9%), taking on more debt (10%) and not contributing enough toward retirement (5%) constituted half of the financial blunders that U.S. workers committed this year. Beyond restaurants and food, however, it seems like workers' penchant for travel is putting them into some serious financial straits -- with 20% saying that travel alone blew their budget for the year, putting it just ahead of rent, mortgage and home improvements (19%).
All of the above indicates a short-term view that is in no way helpful to your long-term financial goals. For example, financial firm UBS 73% of Millennials (ages 18-34) tend to focus on homes and travel, believing retirement is too far away to worry about. Over half of Millennials with retirement accounts have or would consider dipping into them to make a large purchase, with 25% having already withdrawn funds. This kind of financial thinking isn't beyond other generations, and has a profound impact on the collected finances of U.S. workers.The latest household debt and credit report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York suggests as much. U.S. workers have accrued $12.35 trillion in debt, which is closing in on the level we hit just before the Great Recession. However, the overwhelming majority of that debt comes from mortgages ($8.35 trillion), which increased by $90 billion from a year earlier but actually dropped $12 billion from earlier in 2016. Lending standards are tightening and debt-wary consumers are shying from the market as interest rates rise.
However, more short-term debt is growing rapidly. Auto loan debt grew as rapidly as mortgage loan debt within the last year ($90 billion), but that debt grew $32 billion in the last quarter alone to $1.14 trillion. Credit card debt, meanwhile, is up to $747 billion after growing $33 billion within the last year. More importantly, while just 1.6% of all people who hold mortgages are past-due on their payments, 3.5% of auto loan holders and 7.2% of those with credit card debt can say the same.
As a result, the 73% of workers who plan to make a financial resolution this year told The Principal that they'll put a set amount of money into savings each month (35%), pay off credit card debt (34%), reduce spending by a specific amount each month (25%) or stop using credit cards altogether (16%). Their top priorities for 2017 include paying down all that debt (27%), saving for retirement (25%), building an emergency fund (11%) and creating and maintaining a budget to help them do all of the above (16%).
Capital One Investing conducted its own survey of investors and found that 32% will dedicate at least one of their New Year's resolutions to personal finance, up from 27% in 2015. However, their top goal is emergency fund (24%), closely followed by investing more in retirement savings (23%) and getting smarter about investing (23%). More than one-third of investors will increase contributions to their retirement plan, with 83% reporting they have access to a plan (up from 75% last year). While Capital One's advisors suggest regularly reviewing your portfolio, setting attainable goals and committing to growing your nest egg as early as possible, The Principal's Vandermillen suggests that undoing all of your spending errors of 2016 can hinge on one simple act that puts all of your financial New Year's resolutions in motion.
"Write it down," he says. "Do a quick assessment of where you are with your finances. Take those great intentions and turn them into great success."