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5 Ways to Get Your Finances in Shape Before the Year Ends

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Everyone has those New Year’s resolutions that, even with the best intentions, seem to fall by the wayside. While it might be too late for some, there’s still plenty of time left in 2017 to fulfill your financial goals.

Courtney Lindwall, 24, an editor in New York City, says she set out at the beginning of this year to spend less money eating out. While she’s been better lately, she says she didn’t start working toward the goal right away.

“Around March, I was finally like, ‘Enough,’ and have been a little stricter about it,” she says.

In fact, mid-year is the perfect time to re-evaluate your financial situation and find new motivation for saving, says Catalina Franco-Cicero, director of financial wellness and a financial coach at Fiscal Fitness Clubs of America.

“We could all say that we get really excited at the beginning of the year,” Franco-Cicero says. “Then come summertime, we think, ‘Holy cow, I didn’t do anything. I really want to get remotivated.’”

Bruce McClary, vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, says he also recommends reassessing financial goals mid-year. Making financial resolutions at the new year almost seems to “curse” them, he says, and there are many events to plan for financially in the second half of the year, such as back-to-school season and the holidays.

Here are five areas to evaluate to help you become more fiscally fit in the last half of 2017.

1. Put together a status report

You need to understand your financial situation in order to set goals for improving it. Finding the money to save or pay off debt can seem doubly daunting if you don’t know how you’re spending your money each day.

Evaluate the last six months’ worth of your expenses and income so you can plan for the rest of the year. McClary suggests reviewing the following things:

  • Your budget: Determine how much you’re spending each month on your home, car, food, and other living expenses.
  • Your debts: Make a list of all your debts, how much you owe on each one, the interest rates, and any pay schedules.
  • Your savings: Take stock of your savings accounts, including retirement accounts and emergency fund. Also think of things you would like to save for.
  • Your credit score. (If you’re not sure how, you can check out our guide to getting your free credit score.)

“Really give yourself a full picture of your financial situation so you can then go in and identify your best ways to save,” McClary says.

2. Dig into your spending habits

Once you have a high-level view of your finances, take a closer look at how you’re spending your money.

Franco-Cicero says she uses Mint, a money management tool, with her clients to help them categorize their transactions — a process people can easily turn into a habit.

Then, evaluate your discretionary spending to see what’s not necessary or where you can cut back. For example, consider reducing the amount you spend on subscription services or dining out and use the savings to pay off debt or to boost a savings account.

One thing to remember is seasonal expenses, like heating and cooling, McClary says.

“You want to make sure you’re making adjustments to your budget, while at the same time, being mindful of the expense categories that can change on a seasonal basis,” he says.

3. Reassess your credit card situation

A key step in reassessing your debt is taking a look at how much of a balance you carry on credit cards each month, how much you’re paying off each month, and how long it will take you to become debt free at that rate. You can figure this out with a credit card payoff calculator.

“Say [to yourself], ‘Hey, if I continue at the rate that I am going, will I ever be debt free?’” Franco-Cicero says.

Then create a plan to pay off your debt. McClary says the most important thing is to craft it around what motivates you the most. For example, if paying off the credit card with the highest interest rate motivates you, focus on that. If paying off the card with the lowest balance motivates you more, check that off first.

And even if it seems impossible to pay it off, he says there are benefits to chipping away at your credit card balance: Your minimum payments could go down, and using less of your credit line can help your credit score.

4. Start saving for something

We all know that we should be saving, whether it is for an emergency, retirement, or vacation. However, 23% of Americans don’t save any of their income, and only 38% report making good progress toward their savings needs, according to a 2017 survey from the Consumer Federation of America.

One of the best ways to become fiscally fit is to start saving for something that motivates you. You’re more likely to stick with saving toward a goal that you set for yourself, Franco-Cicero says.

If you don’t know where to start, she recommends a so-called “curveball” account.

“Curveball” accounts are similar to emergency funds in that they can help you cover unexpected expenses. The difference is that your “curveball” account would be used for things like replacing the worn-out tires on your car versus using your emergency fund to repair a blown transmission.

Now is also a good time to focus on saving for a house, McClary says, because you’ll have six to eight months to save before the next home-buying season. You can plan how much you need to save by looking at your existing savings, the cost of buying in your desired neighborhood, your debt-to-income ratio, and your credit standing.

No matter what you’re saving toward, McClary says an ambitious goal would be to save 20% of your monthly income between now and December.

If you make $2,000 a month after taxes, that means you would put about $400 toward savings each month. If you start in August, you could save $2,000 toward your goal by the end of the year.

5. Stick to your plan

Establishing where you are and where you want to be is only half of the battle when it comes to being fiscally fit by the end of 2017. Sticking with your action plan, as with all resolutions, can be the toughest part.

To be successful, Franco-Cicero suggests automating everything you can, from paying your bills each month to putting money into your savings account. This way, you don’t have to think about making sure a portion of your paycheck goes toward savings — your bank account will do it for you.

Franco-Cicero also says you should find a “money buddy” who knows your goals and can help you stay on track. Be sure to find someone who also has a financial goal and who will stick to a schedule so you can check in with each other. It’s a good idea to pick someone with whom you feel comfortable talking about money, not someone who you feel passes judgment on your purchases.

“We can be very lenient with ourselves, so you’ve got to find somebody who will hold you accountable,” she says.

Lindwall has had success following a similar approach. She says cooking more at home with her boyfriend has helped her stay on track toward her goal of eating out less.

“The biggest thing is getting someone else on board to do less expensive things with you,” she says.

Jana Lynn French
Jana Lynn French |

Jana Lynn French is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jana Lynn here

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5 Reasons It Is So Difficult to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

5 Reasons It Is So Difficult to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

Most of us start the year with high hopes for the health of our bodies, minds, careers, and — of course—bank accounts. But you probably don’t need a statistician to tell you that when it comes to keeping your New Year’s resolutions, the odds are stacked against you.

A popular study published in the University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology found that while nearly half of Americans usually make resolutions, just 8% are successful in keeping them, and about one-quarter report that they fail to meet their goals year after year.

[Are you ready to become debt-free in 2017? MagnifyMoney has created a FREE online guide to help you get out of debt.] 

Why do these plans fall apart so easily? We talked to two certified financial planners to find out what held people back from sticking to their self-improvement plans in years past — and what can be done to overcome these obstacles in 2017.

No. 1: Your resolutions are unrealistic or unclear.

Vague, lofty goals like “lose weight” or “save money” can do more harm than good; undefined targets can leave you overwhelmed and discouraged when you don’t immediately succeed. That’s why resolutions should start small, according to Kristen Euretig, certified financial planner and founder of Brooklyn Plans in Brooklyn, N.Y., a company specializing in helping today’s women with their finances. “Take into account a realistic but ambitious goal that can be achieved in a year and would be forward momentum toward an even larger goal,” says Euretig. “Buying a house may be too much to tackle in a year, but saving the first 10% of a down payment could be a realistic starting point that would also be quite an accomplishment.”

Another trick to keep you from getting overwhelmed? Be as specific as possible. Euretig recommends breaking up big resolutions into defined subgoals with set deadlines. Rather than resolving to pay off student debt, says Euretig, start by figuring out if your payment plan is working to your advantage. That way, you’ll better understand the time and effort required to reach your goal and appreciate any incremental progress along the way.

No. 2: Your resolutions don’t align with your needs or lifestyle.

Ever find yourself rationalizing your way out of a behavioral change? Maybe you can’t go to the gym today because you have important errands to run, or you neglect that book on your nightstand because there is a movie on Netflix you’ve been meaning to watch. Your reasons may be legitimate, but using them as a means of abandoning your self-improvement plan is detrimental to you in the long term.

Melissa Ellis, certified financial planner at Sapphire Wealth Planning in Overland Park, Kan., knows that a thorough understanding of your current behaviors and lifestyle can help you anticipate the setbacks you will face throughout the year and think up solutions that will keep you on track when challenges arise. If your goal is to max out your Roth IRA, Ellis notes, you need to make sure you have the discretionary income to make it happen; if you know at the start of the year that you’ll have to cut back somewhere else in your budget (like your take-out habit) to find the extra money, you’re more likely to stick to the plan.

No. 3: You sacrifice your future well-being for your present happiness.

Most of us treat our future self as a different person. Unfortunately, it’s often a person we don’t seem to care much about. This phenomenon — our willingness to sacrifice our future well-being for immediate gratification — is called myopia temporal discounting. It’s one reason why many people continually put off diets, start saving for retirement later than they should, or rack up credit card debt for items or experiences they can’t afford. In fact, credit cards are the ultimate trap for people who like to live in the present vs. think about the future.

“It’s easier to put off the intangible, because it’s not an immediate need,” says Ellis. Try connecting with your future self by visualizing what you would like your life to look like at age 40, 60, or 75, and think about what steps, however small, you can take today to make that vision a reality.

The Time Personality Quiz - Be Well Versed In Your Financial Future

You should know your financial personality — that is, how you perceive time and how that perception impacts your financial  habits — before you make any financial resolutions. The better you understand your strengths and weaknesses, the more likely you will be to succeed.

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No. 4: You don’t hold yourself accountable.

Can you remember what your resolutions for last year were? It typically only takes about three weeks for most of us to get back into our old routines and forget all our intentions for the new year, especially if you don’t have a time frame for achieving the goal or a way to measure your progress.

“The best way to stick to resolutions is to make them real and to hold yourself accountable,” says Euretig. “Write goals down. Make a vision board. Put a picture of the vision board as the wallpaper of your phone. Share your resolutions with an accountability partner who you can check in with along the way or with your social media community.” Setting aside time each week or each month to check in with yourself about your success will help you remember the resolutions throughout the year. If you need an extra boost, tap a friend or family member who can help remind you to stay on track or, even better, join you on the journey.

No. 5: You forget to reward yourself.

It’s easy to lose motivation as the year goes on and you settle into old routines. Any sense of urgency goes away, and you can end up putting off behavioral changes indefinitely until it’s January again.

That’s why Ellis recommends rewarding yourself throughout the year if you are successfully sticking to your resolution. If you meet your goals of, say, paying off a department store credit card, maybe buy yourself a pair of shoes — but be sure to do it in cash, so you’re not buying something you can’t afford and racking up more debt. “It’s something concrete you can look at to remind you that you have made a change,” Ellis says.

Whether your goals are about money, your career, relationships, or fitness, it’s important to remember that good things typically don’t come easily. Taking time to set the right goals, define an execution plan, and regularly track your progress will make sticking to your resolutions a little less painful — and a lot more likely to happen.

Are you ready to become debt-free in 2017? MagnifyMoney has created a FREE online guide to help you get out of debt.

Adrianna Gregory
Adrianna Gregory |

Adrianna Gregory is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Adrianna here

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