Keeping my New Year’s resolutions — what didn’t work for me (and what did)

At the beginning of the year, I made four main resolutions, financial and otherwise.

  1. Max out my retirement

  2. Speak up more

  3. Consume less

  4. Save for a medium-term goal

Of these goals, I achieved one and four. Two and three? Well, I did okay. In reviewing my goals, I realized there were a few goal-setting tips that worked well. But first, here's what didn't work for me.

Writing it down

I suppose this helped with organizing. I created a note called “2014 Goals,” wrote down what I hoped to achieve, and then never really looked at it again. It might have been good for referencing, I guess — but as far as keeping me motivated, it didn't really serve the purpose.

Telling people

This works for some people; but for me, it just created unnecessary pressure. I proclaimed what my goals would be and then, instead of focusing on them, I worried what other people would think if I didn't achieve those goals. This was distracting.

Again, this probably works well for many people. But I lack confidence, and I'm not one to talk about something before I've actually done it. It makes me nervous. So this method didn't fit well with my personality.

But here's what did work.

Adding action to the goal

Goal #1: Max out my retirement — It was a good start, but there was no solution in that goal. So I tweaked it a bit to focus on how I would make it happen and decided to make my resolution a little more actionable.

To max out my retirement, I needed to contribute about $450 each month to my IRA. To make that happen, I dedicated one particular client, whose payments were always around this amount, to pay for this goal. Instead of “max out retirement,” my goal became, “Pitch to Client X once a month, use payments for retirement savings.” That's a much more concrete goal with a built-in, actionable routine. I did the same thing with Goal #4, my resolution to save for a medium-term goal.

Let's say you have a similar goal, but you are not a freelancer. Here are a few ways you might create a more actionable resolution:

  • Use all bonuses for retirement savings

  • Use all windfalls for retirement savings

  • Get rid of [insert expense here] and use savings for goal

  • Increase automatic 401(k) contribution (Hell, do this once and you're done!)

Of course, it all depends on your situation and your routine. But you get the idea.

Reconsidering the goal

It's not surprising that I didn't do so well with Goals #2 or #3. They're vague.

“Consume less.” What does that even mean? It could mean spend less on clothes, dine out less, stop buying household junk. And because it was so vague, it was also easy to justify my spending and disregard the goal. I convinced myself that stress-fueled spending didn't fall under consumption. When I bought take-out every day for a week because I was too busy to cook dinner, I told myself I was doing it out of desperation, not the desire to consume.

And that may very well be true, but it doesn't matter. The point was, it derailed my goal. Later in the year, I reconsidered and tweaked that resolution. I took a moment to stop and think about my consumption triggers. What made me spend — a specific emotion? a particular store? I answered the question and created an updated resolution from there. I realized my problem wasn't related so much to materialism as it was to stress, which led to bad decision-making. So I created new resolutions: Stop working more than ten hours a day; take mental breaks; don't take on more work than I can handle. I also came up with a plan to safeguard against my desperation spending: I cooked meals in advance; I kept back-up meals on hand in the freezer.

Getting specific

Again, Goal #3 was really vague: Speak up more. When did I need to speak up? And under what circumstances? I had to answer these questions to create a specific resolution. In my case, I was specifically afraid to ask for raises. I was also afraid to let a client know if they were asking too much (that's part of freelancing, it happens). They'd ask something of me, I'd say yes, knowing it would take me twice as long to finish a project. Then, I'd get upset with them — but it wasn't their fault! How were they to know something took so long if I didn't tell them? These were specific issues I dealt with due to my fear of speaking up. So I changed my resolution.

Instead, my goal became, “Don't be afraid to ask for rate increases” and “Tell the client when an added task will take longer than an hour to complete.” Those are much more specific than “speak up.”

Of course, this is simply what worked for me, and your goal-setting methods may vary depending on your personality. But there are some general methods that work well for most everyone. Being specific about goals and working them into your routine can help make them more actionable, and I think that works well for most of us — but again, it is important to do what works for you.

It was a good year; but I had to learn what worked well in terms of keeping my resolutions and what didn't. Now, as I prepare for 2015, I know that actionable goals work better for me. What didn't work for you in 2014? How did you get back on track?

More about...Budgeting, Planning, Psychology, Retirement

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Mrs. Frugalwoods
Mrs. Frugalwoods
5 years ago

Specificity in goal-setting stumps me sometimes too. When I look back at my list for 2014, it’s definitely the vague, ill-defined goals that fell by the wayside. Somehow it’s much easier to achieve things that are clearly articulated, even if they’re actually more difficult.

What works best for me is breaking up larger, overarching goals into smaller action items. I think it helps me when I can see measurable progress towards a goal (however incremental). Good luck in 2015!

Beth
Beth
5 years ago

Maybe it’s cheesy, but I like SMART goals. I find it easier to meet a goal when it’s specific, I can measure my progress, and there’s a timeline/deadline for each step or mini goal. I’m not surprised that Kristin fell flat in #2 and 3 – I wouldn’t have been able to meet those goals either. What didn’t work for me in the latter half of 2014 was “learn more about investing”. It wasn’t specific enough, and I didn’t identify how I would accomplish that plan or what success looks like. For professional development at work, my boss wants to… Read more »

Money Minx
Money Minx
5 years ago

I agree with Beth re: SMART goals. The only caveat I’d make is on the “achievable” part. I’ve found that I perform best when my goal is technically achievable, but not without a lot of hard work. For example, in 2013, we made a goal to save 30% of our income. We hit that, but still felt like we were wasting a ton of money. For 2014, we set a super-stretch goal of saving 50% of our income. We’re going to miss that (barely), but we still managed to get to 48%! Missing 50% by 2 points feels so much… Read more »

Tennille
Tennille
5 years ago

For me it’s all about the list. I write a list of goals then break those goals into smaller steps that I can accomplish easily. I also put specific goals or steps into specific quarters of the year. In January-March I’ll get this done, etc.

Rebecca
Rebecca
5 years ago

I am the same way. If I tell someone I get derailed! Why is that? I think that you are right, I adds pressure and not pressure to preform better. This year I am going to follow the SMART goal formula. I am also going to se reminders on my calendar to check progress. I would also like to become more goal orientated in the first place so I want to set shorter term goals that I can meet more quickly and then set new goals. Kind of a goal snowball.

Rebecca@ thefamilyfinder.net
[email protected] thefamilyfinder.net
5 years ago

My big goal is to become more goal orientated. Big goals have too much of a delayed gratification for me to trudge on. I am setting up small goals with small victories. All in the name of reaching one of the big goals.
A big goal for us this year was to take the plunge so I could quit and stay home with my family. GOAL MET!

sarah
sarah
5 years ago

I agree that a goal needs to be measurable and specific if you want to have a real hope of achieving it.

Instead of “speak up more” it could be “identify one situation per month where I can speak up” or “keep a journal of times I could have spoken up.” For “consume less” it could be “use a waiting period before buying non-necessary items” or “purchase only two discretionary items per (week/month)”

Ely
Ely
5 years ago

I think my goal for 2014 was to stay the course. I had a healthy emergency fund, retirement fund, a travel fund on the way, and regular contributions to each. I had planned to spend some accumulating excess on home improvements. Then of course life intervened. Every member of the family – 2 people and 2 dogs – got expensively sick, and the water heater died. The e-fund and most of the travel fund are gone and none of the improvements (except water heater) happened. 2015 is recovery year, for health and finances. Automatic savings is all set up, and… Read more »

spiralingsnails
spiralingsnails
5 years ago
Reply to  Ely

At the end of 2013, I was facing a complicated pregnancy with a possibility of hospitalization, bedrest, &/or a premature baby. Oh, and we had just unexpectedly had to replace our (only) vehicle early – which meant we had to finance it since we didn’t have quite enough cash saved up yet. We decided that our goals for 2014 were quite simple: A. Keep everyone alive and B. Don’t go any further into the red than we absolutely have to. Now as things turned out, the pregnancy complications cleared up, and we completely paid off the minivan within six months,… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
5 years ago

Great post, and I can totally relate. I’m big on the “vague” goals that I forget about by Jan 3rd. This year, I’m going to try to set more attainable goals and focus on changes I can make daily, which will add up to a big change over the course of the year.

Jeannine
Jeannine
5 years ago

Good post, Kristin. I, like you, don’t find telling people my goals to be helpful. Just makes me feel unnecessary pressure and like I’m being watched. I never could understand how that would be helpful. I haven’t yet come up with goals for the new year, but this post gives me the push to do it. Thank you.

AMW
AMW
5 years ago

Great Post! I am extremely goal oriented. While specific small goals help me get to where I want to be, I have found that having an umbrella goal each year helps me sort of have a mantra that can remind daily where my head needs to be. 2014 was “The year of completion”. I finished a degree, I finished work projects, and home projects. So everyday I could ask myself if I was doing something to make those goals happen. 2015 is going to be “The year of rejuvenation”. My life is good but almost every part of it could… Read more »

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