You might have already identified your financial goals to start in 2021, but a couple weeks into the New Year, how you’re going to stick to your financial goals is probably already creeping into your thoughts. It is a sad truth that many New Year’s resolutions fade by the time the calendar turns over to February, if not before. While setting goals is not something that can or should only happen in January, it’s also true that turning over a new year also helps inspire many people to turn over a new leaf in their life. So if that describes you, here are 5 ways to help you stick to your financial goals for 2021.
Know what is a goal and what is a task
The very first thing to do is to know what makes a good goal. You’ve probably heard of SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound). Along with sticking to the SMART strategy, it’s good to set goals that aren’t just tasks.
To give you an idea, here’s an example of a task masquerading as a goal regarding physical fitness. A task might be to exercise for 30 minutes, 4 days a week. That is nice and good, but without a bigger meaning behind it, it’s hard to stick to it when it gets hard (which it always does). It’s best to set a bigger goal, like preparing for a particular race, or something specific about your overall health, and then set out the tasks that will help you accomplish that (like exercising). Just like improving your physical fitness, the same thing holds true for setting goals to increase your financial fitness.
When you only compile a list of tasks that you want to do, it makes it harder to stick with them when things get challenging. It’s best to set goals (financial or otherwise) that fit into your mission, vision, and where you want to be in the future. Then, you can come up with the tasks that will help you achieve your goals.
Be honest about what’s realistic
You may have incorporated some of the items on our list of money moves to make in the new year, but it’s also important to stay realistic. If you have $100,000 of debt and an income of $40,000 / year, it may not be realistic to set a goal to pay off all of your debt this year. In addition to being realistic about the content of your goals, it’s also a good idea to be realistic about how many goals you can tackle at one time. Start with one or two goals. Once you turn those into solid habits, then turn your attention to additional goals.
Don’t be afraid to give yourself a day off
On January 1, everyone is so optimistic about all of the things that they are going to accomplish in the new year. Everyone is exercising, counting their calories, and sticking to their budgets. But by January 15, many people have fallen back into their pre-existing routines. There are a variety of reasons for this, but one reason is that it can be difficult or impossible to be perfect all day, every day.
Along with staying realistic about the number and content of your goals, a great way to keep you on track with your financial goals is to understand that slip-ups happen. So instead of letting one day off or one mistake sabotage your goal completely, consider how you could plan for them and what you’ll do if (when!) it happens. Don’t be afraid to plan an off day for your goals, financial or otherwise so you can be more sustainable in the long run.
Write it down
Goals that are not written down are more likely to become just wishful thinking. If you have a goal that you’ve been thinking about, make sure that it is written down. According to a study performed at Domincan University in California, “You are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down.” One of the best strategies in sticking to your financial goals is to write them down, post them where you can see them, and even better, share them with trusted friends and family (see the next section).
Find an accountability partner
Another great way to stick to your financial goals is to find an accountability partner. This can be a spouse, partner, family member, or other trusted friend. With an accountability partner, you can set regular check-ins where you can each report progress on your financial goals, and talk about any struggles. Knowing that you have someone that will be asking about your progress can be a great way to help you stick to your goals.
If you can’t find or don’t want to have an accountability partner, create your accountability in some other way. You can also consider why it is that you don’t want to have an accountability partner. Spending some time understanding this resistance can go a long way to helping you stick to your financial goals.