Achieve your money resolutions in 12 steps
We explain why, if you put a cake in a blender, it means your New Year's Resolution has gone wrong, and give you a dozen tips for achieving your top money goals this goals.
If I decide I want to do something, I don't wait till 1 January, I get right on it. This is because I've learned that, if I wait, it never happens.
My mum had a different strategy for resolutions. She made three a year, but they'd be small so she knew she'd achieve them, yet they'd be satisfying and provide positive things to reflect on later.
A friend of mine utilises his children. If he succeeds, he treats the family to a pre-determined reward that's in some way linked to the resolution. If he fails, his kids have the pleasure of punishing him, such as pouring freezing water over him on New Year's Eve.
Our strategies are all different, but they work for us. I succeed by not thinking and getting on with it, my mum by setting multiple, smaller goals and my friend by the fear of four sadistic, laughing monsters in the back garden with buckets of ice-cold water.
Here are 12 steps to achieving your financial goals in 2010:
1. Write a detailed plan
If you cut down on cake for the New Year, you can't just put the ingredients in a blender and call it a smoothie! Similarly, you can't swap it for chocolate. Write yourself rules and put them where you'll see them. Think in particular of how you might deceive yourself. No cake smoothies.
2. Salami tactics
Continuing with the food metaphors we have salami tactics: if your resolution's a big one, deal with it slice by slice. It may be you want to start putting money aside, so you could begin with just £20 a month. After three months it'll already be useful for small emergencies and most importantly you'll be starting a good habit.
Creating new habits takes many months, so don't worry if progress seems slow. Salami tactics, remember.
3. Allow for some flexibility
If you promise to do something every day for a year, it'll probably be unachievable. It's like saying you'll never eat cake or even you'll eat it at weekends only. I find it's better to say you can eat a slice of cake twice a week, so you can eat it at the times of greatest need!
4. Set measurable goals
Don't just say 'I'm going to spend less money', but 'I'm going to cut monthly spending by £200 per month'. This is measurable and recordable.
You must also record a starting point. Collect a year's bank statements, measure what you've spent, and then you know how much to cut down by.
5. Record your progress
Use our goals platform to measure your success in achieving tasks. Add a tip when you do or don't achieve something explaining why. If you see a pattern of excuses emerge, use it to improve your performance. Alternatively, when you've had a run of success, treat yourself to a pre-determined reward.
Look at your past for triggers that create 'bad' behaviours. Is it that you don't make extra money because you attempt it when you're tired? In that case, plan to do it when you'll be more awake.
When you're stressed or busy, your plan can collapse. A flexible plan helps, but you must also be mentally prepared for these harder times.
7. Get passed the buzz
After the over-indulgence of Christmas, we look forward to a little discipline in January, but this feeling lasts just a few weeks. After ten years of training in gyms, I'm familiar with this pattern: in the first week of January, new recruits pack the gym. Six weeks later their ranks have thinned and in three months it's back to normal levels.
Be ready for this barrier and force yourself through it. It gets easier again on the other side, when your resolution becomes habit. Read The frugal guide to gyms and Get healthy on a budget for more help.
8. Tell other people
You get greater support if others know about your resolution. Perhaps a friend will join the commitment with you, making it more fun. It helps to be accountable to someone else.
9. If you fail, start over
If it doesn't work, don't give up! Look at what went wrong. Learn from your mistakes. You probably achieved something in that time, so be glad of that and aim to better it next time. Eventually you'll succeed.
10. Adjust your behaviours immediately
If you're used to going out every weekend spending a fortune on booze, don't wait to start cutting the cost. Call your friends now and suggest something radically different for your first January get-together, such as staying in, and listening to music or playing cards. It doesn't have to be every week, but once a month will save you money. You can also save by going to the cinema once a month, for example. Adopt our goal on Cutting the cost of going out for more help, and Saving money in every room of your home.
Surround yourself with people who can influence good behaviour. Start thinking now about the behaviours that counter your money goals and adjust for them.
11. Visualise your success
Without wanting to sound too much like a self-help book, imagine your success. This'll help you to ascertain whether your goal is realistic. Do you really see yourself becoming a landord? Are you ready to commit to retirement saving? If not, you might want to set a smaller goal for 2010.
12. Excuses, excuses
There are many ways we trick ourselves, saying it's OK not to stick to the plan today because I feel tired, bored, have too much to do, had a bad day, it's not a good time of year, it's too cold, too wet, and so on. There will be hard times, where you'll try any excuse. Make sure it's a totally cracking one! Be ready for the poor excuses that creep in. Write some examples in your plan to show what level of excuse is acceptable.
To achieve your resolution, you must really want it, and you must be persistent. Don't let slip-ups lead to giving up. Be positive!
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