Only eight percent of those who set New Year’s resolutions actually achieve them.
Why do so many people fail, and how can you improve your chances for success?
If your goals have to do with debt repayment, they’re not just nice to achieve — they’re crucial to your long-term financial prosperity. Here are seven proven ways to reach your money goals this year.
1. Know where you currently stand.
Before you can set a specific goal (see step 2), you need to know where you currently stand. In the case of debt, you may be feeling overwhelmed both by the amount you need to pay each month and/or by the sheer number of due dates, if you have multiple debts.
While that feeling may inspire a goal or resolution, it’s actually just the first step in how to achieve goals.
If you’d like to reduce your debt, step one has got to be to know exactly what you owe. Make a spreadsheet with all the relevant information, including type of debt (student loan? car payment? credit card?), total balance, interest rate, minimum monthly payment, and the due date of that payment. This will prepare you to actually set your goal.
2. Make your goals explicit and specific.
Now that you’ve got a grip on your situation, you’re ready to set your goal.
Which debt will you set your sights on and why? You might go for the debt avalanche method and focus your efforts on the debt with the highest interest rate. Alternatively, perhaps your car payment takes the biggest chunk out of your budget each month, and paying it off would give you the greatest flexibility as you continue your journey to reach your financial goals.
Assuming you’ve got student loan debt in your crosshairs, your goal might be to pursue a Direct Loan Consolidation for your federal loans, or maybe refinance with a private lender at a lower interest rate.
Goals like these can help you better track payments or ensure that more of your money goes to principal rather than interest (gotta beat amortization back!). Being specific about what you want to achieve makes you 10 times more likely to achieve your goal than someone who has only a vague sense of what they’d like to do.
3. Strike a balance between ambition and achievability.
When you’re deciding on what specific financial goals you want to reach, it’s important to strike a balance between a goal that is lofty enough to require some willpower and sacrifice (after all, if it were easy you would have done it already), but is not so pie-in-the-sky that there’s no chance you will achieve it.
Ideally, you want to be motivated by the challenge, not terrified and overwhelmed by it.
Perhaps that’s why only 46 percent of those who set goals last beyond month six — if it’s clear that you’re not going to succeed, why even try?
One way to walk the line between ambition and achievability is to look at what you were getting accomplished and trying to improve on that by, say, 10 percent. For example, if you were putting $500 per month toward debt last year, can you swing $550 this year? When it comes to how to achieve goals, that’s as simple as canceling cable or dining out two or three fewer times per month.
4. Write down your goals.
According to a study by Gail Matthews, a professor of psychology at Dominican University in California, individuals were significantly more likely to achieve their goals if they wrote them down as opposed to simply thinking about them. So making a list of financial goals may actually lead to checking it twice — and succeeding.
Post your list if goals where you can see it every day. Try printing it out and posting it by your bathroom mirror, using your list of goals as your cell phone or computer wallpaper, or incorporating a goal into a password you use often can keep it at the forefront of your mind.
5. Hold yourself accountable by sharing your goals with others.
Matthews’ study also found that sharing goals with others further increased the likelihood of success. And with social media as ubiquitous as it is, sharing is easier now than ever before.
Tweet your goals or post them on Facebook. However, while sharing your financial goals far and wide can feel satisfying, Matthews’ research actually had a group of participants sharing their goals with friends on an individual level.
Further, sharing goals a single time wasn’t as effective as sharing goals with a friend or family member up front and then committing to making regular updates on progress. So buddy up with someone — not only to share your debt-reduction goals, but to email or post on each other’s social media accounts every so often to let them know how you are doing.
6. Break your goal up into manageable chunks.
Of the five groups in Matthews’ research, the one that experienced the highest rate of success was the one that not only wrote down goals and shared them with others, but also formulated action commitments.
If you really want to succeed this year, break down your financial goals into smaller components you can check off your list as you achieve them.
For example, if you have a debt-related goal, maybe in January you construct the spreadsheet mentioned above and identify loans you want to refinance. Then in February, you pull your credit reports and identify any steps you need to take to improve your credit so that you can qualify for the best interest rates.
In March, you can actually apply and update your spreadsheet in April with your new payment amounts and interest rates to decide where you want to focus your efforts in May, and so on.
Your goal may be different, but if you can break it up like that, each month feels more doable and less nebulous.
7. Build in incentives and rewards.
Obviously, paying off a debt has inherent rewards — flexibility in your monthly budget, improved credit score, etc. However, you may find that you’re more willing to make sacrifices if you establish a meaningful reward. What that reward is may be different for different people, so think about what makes you happiest.
Also, remember that rewarding yourself for reaching your money goals doesn’t have to involve spending!
Let’s say you freelance to make extra student loan payments. Maybe once you pay off a particular account, you take a month off to binge-watch your favorite shows in your spare time instead of working so much. Or perhaps a splurge is in order — just make sure it’s a one-time item or experience that doesn’t break the bank.
Everyone’s situation is different, so everyone’s financial goals and the steps necessary to reach them will be different, too.
However, the strategies for success when it comes to how to accomplish goals have been researched and quantified. So if it’s time for you to get serious about your debt, try one or more proven methods for sticking to your goals.
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