5 Clever Ways to Stay Financially Disciplined in the New Year

Use these strategies to keep your financial resolutions on track.

If you’re like many people, you created financial New Year’s resolutions (and if you didn’t, it’s never too late). Maybe you want to go paperless, save more for retirement or pare down those credit card balances in 2018.

But making a resolution and achieving it are two different things. The habits you create allow you to bridge the gap and stick to your plans. When you run out of willpower, try these clever ways to stay disciplined and keep your financial plans on track.

1. Set a money objective. You’ve heard that you should have financial goals to steer your behavior. Oftentimes we don’t create goals because it seems too complicated or we don’t know what they should be in the first place. Or you might feel uninspired because you created financial goals in the past, but they didn’t help.

This year, try a different, simplified approach by setting a money objective. It’s a word or short phrase that gives direction to your entire financial life and becomes a theme you rally around. You might keep the same money objective forever or update it from year to year.

For instance, if you’re worried about not saving enough for retirement, your money objective could be “future needs.” Online shopping out of control? Try “spend mindfully.” Or “kid’s college” could be your financial mantra if your No. 1 priority is paying for a child’s education.

Getting clear about your true objective is powerful because it turbocharges your financial willpower. There isn’t a right or wrong priority to have. Just pick something you feel strongly about and pursue it with a vengeance.

2. Use automation. Whether you want to save for a house down payment, emergency fund or beach vacation, make it as convenient as possible to achieve your money objective. Automation adds built-in discipline to your financial life and reduces the likelihood that you’ll forget your objective or spend money on things you don’t need.

If you have a retirement plan at work, such as a 401(k), 403(b) or 457, always participate and contribute as much as possible. These accounts are so successful at getting workers to save because contributions must be deducted from your paycheck before you ever see the money.

Most employers offer direct deposit for your paycheck that can be split into multiple accounts, such as your checking and savings. You can also set up a transfer to automatically move funds from your checking into savings or other types of accounts, such as an IRA, 529 college savings plan or health savings account, on a regular basis.

Not having to think about saving takes the stress out of managing money. And after a while, you probably won’t even miss the money.

3. Give yourself a challenge. If controlling your spending is a struggle, be aware of how it’s holding you back from achieving your money objective. Cutting unnecessary expenses is the key to living below your means, so you have plenty of money left over each month to reach your financial dreams.

Give yourself a challenge by actively resisting expenses that are most tempting. For instance, you might:

  • Cook at home every day for a month instead of eating out.
  • Not buy any new clothes for 60 days.
  • Avoid shopping as entertainment.
  • Unsubscribe from all retail newsletters that offer sales you can’t resist.
  • Wait at least 24 hours before buying anything more expensive than a certain dollar amount.

4. Change your environment. To change your habits, try changing your environment. Sometimes staying motivated is as simple as frequently reminding yourself of your money objective.

Create visible triggers that prompt you to think about what you want to accomplish every day. Put cues in your home, workplace, car and other strategic places you can’t avoid. When those prompts get your attention, they spark fresh inspiration and foster good habits.

For instance, you might use a black Sharpie pen to write your money objective on your debit and credit cards. Put it on sticky notes or laminated cards for your desk, bathroom mirror, refrigerator and car dashboard. Use it as a screen saver on your computer and mobile devices.

Try writing a journal entry each morning about why your money objective is significant, what you’ll do to accomplish it, then monitor your progress. Any strategy that keeps your goals top-of-mind will help you focus on what’s most important and reinforce your commitments. Your money objective will guide your behavior, but only if you remember it.

5. Get support. You might find that it’s easier to achieve your money objective with a partner or group than to work on it alone. Consider asking a close friend, roommate or spouse to help you stay accountable.

Likewise, you may be able to help him or her set and achieve a money goal. Set a time to check in with each other on a regular basis to report your challenges and progress, so you clear away barriers to success.

When you begin making financial progress, something miraculous happens. You start to feel excited about having money in the bank or seeing your retirement account balance surge. Knowing that you have the self-control and discipline to achieve your money objective gives you energy to overcome challenges and completely transform your financial life.

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