Forget New Year’s resolutions—Try a new month’s solution

Article

January 10, 2022  |  4 min read

By Sean Carey, Director, Communications 

It’s January 1st and the world is bursting with possibilities. You’re full of energy and determination. Maybe you start getting more active, eating a little healthier, or finally crack open that book you’ve been meaning to read. Life. is. grand.  

Happy dog looking at the camera.

You know where this story goes next though, don’t you? 

Now, it’s February 1st. You’re no less determined, but your energy is being pulled in more directions. Work projects are ramping up and school and family activities are in full swing. Suddenly, that time you had for self-reflection and improvement is spoken for. 

Dog peeking around the corner.

Thankfully, when it comes to improving your financial future, that doesn’t have to be where the story ends! By taking advantage of that magical first month, you can put things in motion that could keep working for you all the way to December 31st and beyond.

Here are some ideas for short-term efforts to make in January that can provide year-round financial benefits.

Man and dog in front of a laptop, looking at the screen.

Make a plan and a budget 

Decision fatigue is very real and can take wind out of the sails of even the strongest of resolutions as the year marches on.  

Creating a written financial plan and budget takes some of the guesswork out of your finances and can make it easier to stay on target. Schwab research has shown that those with a written financial plan have greater success in accumulating wealth, managing debt, and reaching their goals.  

Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, President & Board Chair at Charles Schwab Foundation, calls out another often-overlooked benefit—quality of life. 

“Most importantly, having a plan can make people feel financially stable. To me, that's the best counter argument to whatever your reason is for not having a financial plan.” 

To knock out this 365 difference maker in the first 31 days, decide what method is right for you by exploring common approaches such as:  

Man and dog looking at each other.

Take advantage of automation to sidestep memory and focus traps

Once you have a plan and a budget in place, maintaining discipline for good financial habits like paying yourself first is the next hurdle for a successful financial resolution.

As the months wear on, it’s easy to forget about moving money where you need it, and a pain to manually move it. So, why not take some of the drudgery and natural human error out of the equation?

If you find it difficult to remember to take action on your plan each month:

  • Brokerage accounts can be set up for auto-withdrawals to keep your planned funds moving into your chosen investment vehicles.

  • If your employer offers a 401k you can have contributions automatically deducted from paychecks.
Dog and boy playing on the grass.

Take actions to limit the temptations of “now”

Another resolution killer is the lure of instant gratification. There’s nothing wrong with fun and freedom. In fact, that’s a major reason why many people put financial plans in place—to provide for greater fun and freedom in the future! 

Impulse purchases can quickly derail your plans if you don’t have mechanisms in place to help you safeguard your progress. Creating reasonable space for spontaneity and taking advantage of the “out of sight, out of mind” factor may help. 

You may find yourself forgetting about that money building up for you in the background. Even if you do remember, the extra steps needed to access those funds may give you time to reconsider your decision.

If you find it difficult to stay on track with your plan, you can:

  • Build “discretionary expenses” (a.k.a. nice-to-haves), like restaurants, entertainment, travel, etc. into your budget. Bonus points for budgeting some of your discretionary bucket towards short-term fun and some towards longer-term, big-ticket joys like vacations.

  • Many banks offer the ability to set up multiple bank accounts and have deposits divided automatically between them in accordance with your goals and budget. By paying yourself first and keeping non-discretionary items separate, you can make it easier to build up emergency funds or money towards other goals.

  • Many 401k offerings even have an option to automatically bump up your contributions on a schedule, making it easier to improve on retirement goals incrementally without forcing drastic, uncomfortable changes in your lifestyle.

Even if that January exercise machine becomes a February laundry staging area, by taking a few short but key actions while you have the time and focus for them early on you can still set yourself up for better financial outcomes until the ball drops once more.

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