Personal Finance Coach: Setting SMART Goals for Your New Year’s Resolutions

By Elise Nussbaum, TrustPlus Personal Finance Coach

As a financial coach, and as an optimist, I have a confession: I love New Year’s resolutions. I love talking about mine and asking other people about theirs. I love tracking mine all the way into December, whether or not I consider them successes (2020 was… a mixed bag).

New Year’s resolutions are a rare window into our hopes and dreams for ourselves and the future.This year, we promise, is the year we will… change careers… save money… learn German. All too often, however, these bright hopes curdle into disappointment before we even change the clocks back to Daylight Saving Time. How can we set ourselves up for success?

The first trick is to focus on the efforts we make instead of the results we want. After all, any number of things could get in the way of the end result. A would-be saver might get in their car one morning to find that the brakes desperately need replacing. A language student might find that German’s three noun genders are more challenging to keep straight than they had expected. An aspiring actor who has resolved to start booking shows might find that a global pandemic has brought live, in-person theatrical experiences to a halt. With so much that is out of our control, a New Year’s resolution offers an opportunity to focus on what we can control. Focusing on what we put into our goals (i.e. setting up an automatic transfer into savings, memorizing a monologue for auditions, or spending 30 minutes a day on Duolingo), offers a much greater sense of satisfaction when we have done all we can.

Once we’ve decided to focus on our own actions, the next step is to make our goals SMART ones. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. Let’s check in with our New Year’s resolver who wants to save more money. How would that look as a SMART goal?

Specific — You want to clearly define the action you will take. “I will transfer 25 into my savings account each week.”

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Measurable — Having a measurable goal allows you to clearly determine if you’ve accomplished your goal. Here it’s that $25/week. Over a full year, that adds up to $1300!

Attainable — It’s important to be realistic. This might mean breaking your goal into bite-size chunks (for example, $25/week instead of $1300/year) or lowering your aim in order to achieve your goal and give you the boost you need to keep at it.

Relevant — Tying your New Year’s Resolution into your broader goals will help motivate you to continue. “Having that cushion in my savings account will protect me if I need to replace my brakes. I won’t need to charge the repair on my credit cards.”

Time-based — Goals without timelines run with the risk of being put off indefinitely, canceled without ever really admitting it to ourselves. Adding a specific time for the savings transfer to take place (“I will transfer $25 into my savings account every Friday”) will keep you on track and allow you to accurately gauge how close you are to achieving your goal.

Do you have a New Year’s resolution to save more, get out of debt, or work on your long-term goals? TrustPlus’s expert financial coaches can help you turn your dreams into SMART goals and set you up for success in 2021 and beyond.

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