Friends, we are nearing the end of the 2015 holiday slog, having endured many indignities, including the endless music loop of the neighbor’s 7-foot inflatable Santa Smurf, co-workers with light-up Frosty the Snowman sweaters, and rum-pum-pum-pums in quantities massive enough to constitute a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions.
But there is one more holiday humiliation to run in December’s garland-strewn gantlet: New Year’s resolutions. Dropping 30 pounds by this time next year or getting out of debt sounds like a great idea on New Year’s Eve. But consider that only 8 percent of people succeed with their resolutions and you’ll realize the tradition is nothing more than a cruel, Korbel-fueled exercise in self-loathing.
The entire way we go about making resolutions dooms us to failure. First, we make it a yearlong goal so that when we flub it after two weeks we’ve ruined all of 2016, proving that we are, indeed, total losers. Second, we starve ourselves to lose weight, or scrimp like a Scrooge to save money, making our goals all about pain and suffering.
Think small, positive
That’s way too negative, says Brian Farr, a financial therapist who heads up philanthropy at the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care in Oregon. Instead, he advises resolution-setters to be positive.
“Find something that you really want to move toward – something that appeals to you and is appealing enough that it energizes you, and small enough that you can imagine yourself attaining it,” Farr says. “That becomes a sustaining driver to move forward.”
This is especially true for goals around money, he adds.
“Money triggers fear, whether it’s about credit card debt or not having enough for retirement, and then we lose track of what’s really motivating us,” Farr says. “Fear is a lousy motivator.”
Let’s say your resolution is to pay off the $500 you just racked up on Visa this holiday season. That goal is about as exciting as cleaning the shower grout, so let’s change that to paying off Visa AND setting aside $500 to pay for next Christmas in cash. Now imagine yourself flashing that stack of cash at the mall next December while your credit card bill still shows a balance due of $0.00.
Then make it a series of small, manageable steps. You need the cash in time to hit the malls next December, so you’ve got 40 weeks, saving $25 a week. That’s $100 to send to Visa in each of the first five months, then the same amount added to your holiday fund for the next five. Now it’s no big deal, just $25 a week. If you get caught in a cash crunch and need the money for something else one week, you can just catch up over time or add an extra week at the end.
‘Just keep going’
Your next step to ensure success is to put the whole thing on automatic pilot, advises Dr. Brad Klontz, a certified financial planner, co-founder of the Financial Psychology Institute and an associate professor of financial psychology at Creighton University in Omaha.
“If you have an automatic system of putting money toward a goal and you miss that goal, it’s OK because you’re already set up for next week,” Klontz says. “It doesn’t really require any other action. If you set it up to require action every week, you’re much more likely to fail. The key is to just keep going.”
In the case of our Visa resolution, maybe that means shifting your savings from the sock drawer to an online savings account where you have the money automatically deposited every week. Or, if you need to see cash piling up to stay motivated, create a routine, such as getting $25 cash back on your weekly grocery shopping trip, then squirrel the bills away in your dresser drawer, right next to the argyle socks.
Darn that budget!
Whatever you do for your money resolutions, Klontz warns, be sure to avoid the one single thing you can do that guarantees failure.
“The typical advice you get is, ‘You’ve got to set up a budget,’ and that is an incredible painful process,” Klontz says. “It sounds like a great goal but you’re subconsciously going to avoid it. It’s a terrible experience.”
Klontz notes that he’s never bothered with a budget, and you don’t need to either to make your resolution work. Set an exciting goal, create small, manageable steps and put the whole thing on an automatic system so it doesn’t require any more thought or rigorous discipline on your part.
So what are you waiting for? With just these steps you make 2016 the year you finally achieve your New Year’s resolution instead of carrying it over to 2017, like you did in 2015 — and 2014, 2013, 2012 ...