When I was about 9 years old, we took a family trip to the middle of nowhere for the huge Y2K New Year’s event. Since the world didn’t end, we drove home on the January 2 and stopped at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant in a town with a single stop sign. Between ordering and the time our food came out, which seemed like eternity to my 9-year-old self, my father pulled out a piece of paper and a pen.
It was the first time I ever experienced the idea of a New Year’s resolution.
I remember my father wanted to pay off more of the mortgage; my mother wanted to get a part-time job, and I wanted to work harder to get all A’s in my classes. To this day, this is one of my most vivid memories.
I’ve been making New Year’s resolutions ever since that day. Sometimes, I achieve them, but generally, I don’t. So, why do I keep doing it ever year? People who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t.
Lucky for you and me, around 40 percent of people in their 20s achieve their resolutions each year, which is considerably higher than the mere 14 percent success rate for people over the age of 50.
If you have been making resolutions since the age of 9, or if this will be your first year, I have a few suggestions beyond the typical, “get healthy” and “get organized.”
In 2014, the third most popular New Year’s resolution was to save more and spend less, and I’m sure the people who made this resolution had the right idea in mind. However, being more specific leads to superior results.
Here are five suggestions to help get you started:
1. Save more this year than you did last year
Second only to becoming healthier, this resolution can affect your life more than any other.
There are many things you can’t control in this world: “Secure” jobs are lost every day; a “sure-thing” sale is lost every week; stock markets go up and down every year. If you spend your time trying to change what you can’t control, you will lead a frustrating life.
You can control how much you save, however. Whether you have or have not started saving for a home, retirement or a dream vacation, you can always save more.
If you didn’t save a dime last year, then make 2015 the year when you save $50 a month. If you are already a diligent saver, make this the year the one when you start stocking the cash away.
This resolution has been on my list for the past two years. I’ve gone from saving $0 a month to saving around $1,000 a month. I’m saving for a new car, a new home, a vacation and retirement. I’m not telling you this to brag, but to let you know that it’s possible.
How do I pull it off? I use technology and an accountability partner. Setting reminders and automatic deductions from my bank account forces me to save, and having a friend who bugs me about it every time we get drinks is a blessing in disguise.
If you need an accountability partner, look me up. I would be more than happy to help out.
2. Eliminate one of your debts
Debt sucks. Paying off debt sucks more.
Unfortunately, debt ranges from $12,000 for early 20-somethings to $78,000 for 28- and 29-year-olds. If you are in your early 20s, start paying off that debt now before it becomes unbearable. If you are in your late 20s, vow to pay off your debt before you hit that old age of 30.
This resolution is great because you can make it as challenging as you want. Maybe you have a credit card with $500 on it from Christmas shopping. You can easily pay that bad boy off quickly and check this resolution off your list. Not to mention, you’ll feel great once it’s paid off.
If you want a tougher challenge, maybe you have a student loan of $10,000. Making a plan to pay off $833.33 a month to kill your student loan will make you feel like a champion by the time 2016 comes around.
I suggest you take a look at your financial picture and pick a debt that is reasonable and meaningful. Figure out how much you need to pay a month to eliminate the debt and then stick to it.
A lot of credit card companies and debt holders will let you set up an automatic, reoccurring monthly payment. Set it and forget it. Then, when 2016 rolls around, you will be one debt closer to financial freedom.
3. Create or modify your budget
I’m a big fan of budgets. I think everyone, even the super rich, should use a budget. Budgets force you to find out how much you have, how much you can spend, and where your priorities lie.
If you absolutely love going out on Friday nights, then, by all means, make a budget category called “Friday nights.” If you have a dream of owning a new Lexus, make a budget category called “Lexus fund.”
If you don’t have a budget, make 2015 the first year you try it out. I promise you will feel more confident about your finances and future, and you will have more fun than last year. If you are a budget veteran, check it out again and see if any of your priorities have changed.
I know last year my budget for nights out with friends decreased to save for a larger vacation. I had an absolute blast on my vacation last year, and I didn’t miss anything of importance by skipping a few Friday nights with my buddies.
4. Use technology to help you reach your financial goals
We are lucky to call ourselves the first generation to be truly technologically savvy. We know how to access and efficiently use the Internet to better ourselves. Apps are part of everyday life (try finding somewhere without Google maps).
It’s time for our finances to keep pace with the rest of our techie lives. No matter your financial goals, there’s a way technology can help. Budget apps, such as Personal Capital or Mint can help you create or modify your a budget.
Start using your phone for more than Facebook, Snapchat and the hottest games, and you may wake up a little richer next year.
5. Learn the basics of investing
If you’ve accomplished all of the above, the next best step is to learn or increase your knowledge about investing. In simple terms, investing is how you use your money to create more money.
Investing can be as complicated or easy as you want to make it. In my honest opinion, you should never invest in anything a 10-year-old can’t understand. No matter where you’re headed with your investments, start with the basics.
Why you should invest, different kinds of investing and what some of Wall Street’s jargon means are great places to start. If you are an avid reader, I suggest “The Richest Man In Babylon” and “The Investment Answer.”
Take control and make your first smart investment by 2016.