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How to keep your financial resolutions on track

Ned Ehrbar

With January marching on, we’re getting to that part of the year when it gets harder to stick to our money resolutions. Sure, you woke up Jan. 1 with the best of intentions, ready to pay down your credit card debt, beef up your retirement fund or maximize your savings. But then real life got in the way, like it always does.

So how can you buck the trend, stick to your goals and fix you worst money habits once and for all? Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, author of “The 30-Day Money Cleanse,” has some suggestions.

Get S.M.A.R.T.

“Often our goals are very nonspecific,” Gerstley says. “We’ll say, ‘I want to earn more money,’ or, ‘I want to save more money.’”

That lack of specificity can seriously hinder your chances at succeeding. To combat that, Gerstley has devised a strategy for evaluating goals to make sure they pass the sniff test: the S.M.A.R.T. Method.

S.M.A.R.T. stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound, she says. “So for example, instead of saying, ‘I want to save more,’ how much more do you want to save? That’s the specific. We want to make sure it’s measurable, and we can measure how much we want to save.”

As for making goals attainable, Gerstley advises keeping things in perspective. “It’s great to set lofty goals, but often one of the ways we really get ourselves to feel like failures is making the goals so big that we can’t achieve them and then end up giving up,” she says.

A relevant goal is one that pertains to you, that you have control over — like the difference between wanting to save more yourself and wanting your spouse to save more. And making a goal time-bound gives it a deadline, making it easier to track progress and achieve eventual success.

Obey the law

Goals and intentions are great, but when determining why our resolutions may or may not be successful, Gerstley says it’s important to remember a very interesting principle.

“There’s a concept called Parkinson’s Law that often works against us,” she says. “It’s this idea that things take up as much space as we give them. So our junk drawers always fill up. If we set time for a calendar for a meeting, it always takes that exact time. And this goes for our money, too. Our expenses always fill up our bank account, unfortunately.”

How do you combat that? By using Parkinson’s Law to your advantage: If you dedicate more space to your savings, those resolutions have a better chance of succeeding.

“We want to get the money out of our accounts” before we can start spending it, Gerstley says.
“We can do that through automatic transfers to online savings accounts. It’s a great way to pay ourselves first so that we’re prioritizing ourselves over all of those bills.”

Have money questions? Send them our way at moneyquestions@yahoo.com.

Don’t forget about our January No Spend Challenge. Let us know how you’re cutting out spending and you could win up to $500 in our sweepstakes!

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