I never make New Year's resolutions. I've got nothing against them, but I'm usually already working on resolutions made throughout the previous year. I'm too impatient to wait for an arbitrary day to start changing something in my life.
One example? Less-than-healthful holiday eating habits. I'm a health nut by nature — I crave kale, and soft drinks have zero appeal. But on December 25, you can bet I'm going to eat my mother-in-law's homemade tamales and buñuelos. Not to mention that my father-in-law, who runs a bakery, brings a box of campechanas, my favorite kind of Mexican sweet bread. It'd be rude to turn that down, and seriously, who would want to? It's delicious and made with love. But on December 26, I'm back to my normal eating habits. Why wait for January 1?
Still, a new year signifies a new beginning, and it's a time when many people reflect on the past year. If you've made a resolution, one way to kick your year off right is with a 30-day challenge. I don't mean an insanely restrictive budget or cutting back on the cocoa in your hot chocolate to save money. A challenge should be interesting and fun — not something you dread. And who cares that it's already January 5? Dates are just dates. Try one challenge, and maybe when it's over you'll try another.
Challenge 1: Save $1,000 in 30 days.
“Americans suck at frugality,” writes Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich. “We spend more than we make. We're terrible at deferring our immediate wants and investing for the long term. We go into debt. And we blame everyone but ourselves.”
Yet despite our bad habits (and because of them) the vast majority of us worry about money. So Ramit developed a 30-day plan of actionable items — tasks you can easily complete in under one hour that will save you serious amounts of money. According to Ramit, the problem with most “save money” tips is that they are too abstract, too labor-intensive, and/or too myopic. For example, “start a garden” is a tip that might save you money, but it's going to take money to get started, a great deal of time to reap the rewards, and that all assumes that you have both an interest in gardening and that you know enough about it to not kill off your entire crop.
Instead, his plan show you how to pick up the phone and negotiate your car insurance, rethink and lower your cell phone bill, and lower your commuting expenses. “…I will ask you to cut back on some things, sometimes radically,” writes Ramit. “For example, if you get your nails done or eat out every day, that's gone this month. If you were planning to buy a big-screen TV, you can forget about it in November. You can pick it up next month, but I bet you'll think twice once you save $1,000.”
Challenge 2: Remix the clothing already in your closet for one month.
In a clothing remix challenge, you think of new and creative ways to remix your existing wardrobe. Fashion blogger Kendi from Kendi Everyday started her blog to document her daily style, but after just a few months she was out of shopping money. “I introduced myself to the idea of remixing by coming up with the 30 for 30 Remix Challenge,” she writes. Basically she picked 30 items from her closet and remixed those items, and only those items, into 30 outfits.
“The whole point of the remix is to show myself and readers that with a little bit of creativity, you can make what you have work for you,” she says. “This is a challenge to help you learn to shop your closet and to shop smartly.”
When you're familiar with what's in your closet, you become a more discriminating shopper. You'll also realize you have more options than you might think, preventing a desperate search for appropriate attire when you “have nothing to wear.” Kendi also likes to refrain from shopping during the challenge, though it's up to you whether you want to do that or not.
Challenge 3: Get rid of one item every day.
Australian blogger and mom Colleen started off 2010 with zero intention of making the usual New Year's resolutions. But a few days later she decided to turn a project she had already begun into a yearlong resolution. Her 365-day resolution was to get rid of clutter in “…every wardrobe, bench, shelf, under bed, pantry and garage space in [her] home by giving away, throwing away or selling one item everyday…”
Colleen suggests a no-shopping rule for at least the first three weeks (you don't want to reclutter after you've decluttered), and for those who are tempted to spend, there's a set of questions to ask yourself before you whip out the plastic. A few of my favorite questions include:
- “Have I researched this purchase? Is this item durable, and does it do the things I want?”
- “What is it made of? Where was it made?”
- “Am I buying it ‘just to try it'? If so, is there some other way that I could try it first?”
You can commit for 30 days or go for the full 365. The longer you do it, the more of a lasting change you're likely to see in your shopping habits. “Taking my time and really feeling the journey embedded new principles into the way I approach Stuff…I have decluttered my home the fast way so many times, but never before have I learned what I needed to learn to stay decluttered,” says Colleen. (What should you do with that clutter? Sell it, swap it, or give it away.)
I'm tempted to try all three challenges at once! But I'm going to start with the third challenge, getting rid of one item every day, and I'll commit to 30 days — at least initially. I already spot a stack of DVDs just begging to go to Goodwill.
Have you ever tried a 30-day challenge? What was the goal, and what were your results?
Author: April Dykman
As a freelance writer, editor, and blogger, April Dykman specialized in personal finance, real estate, and entrepreneurship topics. Her work has been featured on MSNBC, Fox Business, Forbes, MoneyBuilder, Yahoo! Finance, Lifehacker, and The Consumerist. Now she does direct response copywriting but, in her free time, April is a wannabe chef, a diehard Italophile, and a recovering yogi.