Millennium Money: Resurrecting Troubled Financial Decisions

Saving more, spending less, and paying down debt are common New Year’s resolutions—and perhaps the ones most likely to fall by the wayside a few weeks into the year when reality sets in and expenses derail plans. But a setback early in the year, such as a payment health insurance Deductibles or credit card bills after a costly December don’t have to get you off track.

After all, you made those decisions, so you can change them. And making more specific resolutions that are easier to maintain rather than just giving up may put you in a better financial position next year. Here’s how to get back on track.

Make your goals more specific and realistic

Broad resolutions like “I want to save more this year” can be a useful starting point, but they make it difficult to track your progress. Having a specific goal in mind—such as a wedding, paying down debt, or buying a home—puts a dollar amount in your financial goals and gives you something tangible to work towards.

“My goals are more concrete this year,” says Yasmine El Shabasy, a Los Angeles-based clinical study assistant. “It can be measured and quantified, rather than the symbolic plans you previously set, such as gaining more financial freedom.” She has an accurate savings goal for the year and plans to use an Excel spreadsheet and tracking app to monitor her weekly budget.

Also, make sure the goals are within reason and won’t cause additional stress. It may be tempting to set an ambitious savings goal, but stay within the range that works for your regular income and expenses.

“Setting achievable goals is really important to me,” says Clayton Baker, Ph.D. Student at University of California, Los Angeles. He and his fiancée have set their first joint financial goal: saving for their wedding in the spring of 2024. “Trying to do too much too soon will leave you burnt out in the process — you’ll fall apart.”

Set up regular check-ins

It can be overwhelming to officially check in on your finances only once a year. Setting mid-year, quarterly, or even monthly appointments with yourself or your financial planner — if you have one — can help keep you on track and allow you to change your goals if necessary.

Baker and his fiancee, for example, are planning a custom check-in in the middle of the year.

“Knowing this is coming is mentally debilitating,” he says. “We’re trying to save a relatively large amount, but not so much that we can’t make adjustments if we find we’re behind in the middle of the year.”

Choose a check-in period that seems reasonable to you for regrouping: long enough that you will have made progress but not so long that there is no time to pivot if needed.

Offload some chores

Tracking your financial progress throughout the year can add unnecessary mental load to your agenda. Consider implementing some automation for your financial goals, such as converting a monthly account that you can set and forget.

“We set up automatic deposits in our joint savings account,” says Baker. “This way, we don’t have to actively make decisions about what to save each month.”

For credit card debt, you can schedule monthly payments greater than the minimum. Taking this responsibility into your own hands up front can reduce your daily financial stress and increase the likelihood of achieving your goals.

To manage large investments, hiring an expert may be worth the cost. Look for a licensed and registered agent, preferably one that is fiduciary and fee-only, meaning that it does not make commissions by selling you financial products. Finding a Certified Financial Planner, or CFP, is a good place to start.

“It’s worth it for me to pay the wealth management team to handle my portfolio — especially given the economic climate,” says Ashley Porras, director of business development in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at a biotech firm. Its main financial goal this year is to preserve its savings during the current market downturn and minimize future losses.

If you have a small portfolio and an uncomplicated financial situation, a personal advisor may not be necessary; An automated financial advisor can help you manage your portfolio and provide guidance at a much lower rate.

Be flexible

It can be tempting to make drastic changes each January and make extreme decisions for your finances. But a less strict and more forgiving approach can be more sustainable, especially when unexpected expenses arise.

Consider setting monthly limits for “wishes” and rolling over discretionary spending to the next month if you exceed the limit rather than eliminating the wishes entirely. Most importantly, don’t give up on your goals after a setback: Overspending by $100 is still better than overspending by $1,000, and putting in the effort increases.

“Flexibility and adaptability are key,” says Porras. “Especially with factors outside of your control, it is much better to understand the variables and work towards a solution than to be passive and accept defeat.”

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This column was provided to the Associated Press by the personal finance site NerdWallet. The content is for educational and informational purposes and does not constitute investment advice. Dalia Ramirez is a writer for NerdWallet. Email: drairez@nerdwallet.com.

Related links:

NerdWallet: How to choose a financial advisor https://bit.ly/nerdwallet-how-to-choose-a-financial-advisor

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