Failing at Your Financial Resolutions? How to Get Back on Track
Resolutions rarely last, but you can get back on track with a little guidance. Here’s how to return to your financial goals and make real progress.
July 15, 2022
This article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal or investment advice. Always consult with a professional financial or investment advisor before making investment decisions.
How are your New Year’s resolutions going? If you’re like most, you haven’t thought about them since January — but that’s okay. There’s always time to get back on track.
If you had financial resolutions this year, how are they going? Maybe you want to pay off your student loans or save up for a vacation next year. If you’re off track, you’re certainly not alone.
This guide will discuss:
Why our resolutions often fail
How to set achievable financial goals
How to get back on track with your goals
Why resolutions tend to fail
You have probably heard that resolutions often fail. Studies have shown that around 80% of people fail to achieve their New Year’s resolutions.
There are a variety of reasons, including:
Not specific enough: If you resolve to “spend less money at restaurants,” how do you actually measure that? A better, more specific resolution might be “I will keep my restaurant spending to $150 per month or less.”
Too ambitious: Goals should be realistic. If you set out to save $15,000 this year, but you only earn $35,000 annually — that’s going to be a real challenge. By setting realistic goals, you’re more likely to reach them — and to feel good about your progress along the way.
Not measurable enough: Goals are easier to achieve if they are measurable — and if they are broken down into smaller pieces. If you want to save up $5,000 for an emergency fund, perhaps create milestones every $1,000, and provide yourself with a small reward at each milestone.
The wrong motivation: Resolutions are more powerful when you genuinely want to achieve them. If you set out to pay off your credit card debt because your parents told you to, that’s not a very strong motivator. But if you genuinely desire to be debt-free so that you can pursue your dreams, you’ll be much more likely to achieve your goals.
How to figure out why your goal failed
If you check in with your goal and realize that you’re far from achieving it, it may be time for some self-reflection. Why do you think it failed?
To start, look at the list above. Was your goal realistic, specific, and measurable? Did you have a clear motivation for your goal, other than feeling like it’s what you should do?
If you don’t see an obvious reason why you got off track with your goal, the reason might be more complex.
Perhaps you didn’t have the resources or knowledge you needed to achieve it, or maybe life circumstances got in the way. Or maybe you just didn’t know how to set financial goals in the first place and set yourself up for a difficult situation.
How to get back on track with existing goals
If you’re off track with your financial goals, don’t worry — there is always time to turn things around. Here’s how.
Assess your progress and your resources
First, take inventory. Did you make some progress towards your goal? Or can you shift resources today to make some progress?
For example, maybe you set out to pay off your $3,000 of credit card debt. So far, you haven’t made any extra payments. But you realize that you have an extra $500 in your savings account that you could apply towards your debt.
If your goal was to spend less on a specific category, you could look back through your bank statements to see how much you’ve actually been spending in that area.
Revise your goal
Maybe you set out to save $2,000 throughout the year. It’s now mid-year, and you’ve only saved $500. There’s no shame in revising your original goal to be $1,000, and it’s better to stay on track with a lower, more realistic goal than giving it up altogether.
Identify past and present challenges
What is holding you back from maintaining progress on your goal? By clearly identifying your challenges (both past and present), you can more easily avoid pitfalls and make real progress.
How to set financial goals
In the future, you may be wondering how to set financial goals in a way that encourages a higher likelihood of success. Here’s how.
The SMART goals framework
A great place to start is with the SMART goals framework. This popular concept gives goals more structure, making them more attainable. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.
A goal should be specific: I will save $1,000 by the end of the year, or I will max out my Roth IRA this year with $6,000.
A goal should be measurable. It’s helpful to break it down into smaller chunks. If you want to max out your Roth IRA, for example, committing to saving $500 per month may get you there.
Achievable goals are realistically possible within the timeframe and your circumstances. This doesn’t mean that they should be easy — but keeping them achievable is important to maintain momentum.
Why are you actually setting this goal? Is it relevant to your larger plans and dreams in life, or is it a distraction? Figure out a clear reason behind your goals, and you’ll be more likely to achieve them.
Goals should have a clear end date in mind. For New Year’s resolutions, setting an end date of the end of the year makes sense — but you also might choose to have checkpoints along the way.
Tracking your goals
Finally, tracking progress on your goals is essential. This is particularly important if your goals relate to spending less or paying down debt.
If you want to spend less on shopping, but you simply don’t know where your money is going each month, you won’t make any real progress.
Creating and sticking to a budget can reign in spending and stay on track towards your goals.
It’s never too late to get back on track towards reaching your goals. And now that you know how to set better financial goals, you’ll be more equipped for the future.
If your goals include paying off credit card debt, here’s a little-known hack: You may be able to use Tally† to speed up your progress. Tally is an app that helps qualifying Americans consolidate credit card debt into a lower interest line of credit. Learn how Tally works here.
†To get the benefits of a Tally line of credit, you must qualify for and accept a Tally line of credit. Based on your credit history, the APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will be between 7.90% - 29.99% per year. The APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Annual fees range from $0 - $300.