7 Financial New Year’s Resolutions You Might Actually Keep

Americans waste about $1,000 each on failed New Year's resolutions. Here are some that are free--and you might keep.

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Seth Wenig / AP

A trader wears glasses celebrating the new year while working on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange in New York City, on Dec. 31, 2013.

New Year’s resolutions don’t change much. A the top of the list you’ll always find diet and exercise, spend more time with family, quit smoking or drinking, and save more money or get out of debt. Almost no one follows through—and almost no one gives it a second thought.

Maybe you should. Failed New Year’s resolutions have a real cost, says Joseph Grenny, author of Change Anything. When you give up on your diet, what becomes of that expensive juicer? When you abandon the treadmill, you do not get a refund. That session with a financial planner wasn’t free. Neither was the new car you wanted to drive to Aunt Lilly’s three states over.

Seven in 10 people who fail to keep a New Year’s resolution will lose more than $1,000 in this manner, according to Grenny’s online survey, which also showed that half of Americans give up on their goals within 30 days and 75% give up within three months. Perhaps most interesting, 77% have made the same resolutions each of the last five years.

So this year why not switch it up a bit and, at least as it concerns your money, make some commitments that won’t cost a dime, will help you in the long run—and you are able to keep. The time is right. More than five years after the recession, signs are sprouting that Americans are backtracking on the financial prudence that had emerged.

Only 16% say they will include financial planning in their New Year’s resolutions, down from 33% who said the same thing during the recession, according to an Allianz Life survey. “Americans are shedding some bad habits and getting financially stable,” says Katie Libbe, vice president of consumer insights at Allianz. “But they aren’t moving to the next level of long-term financial planning.”

Here are some simple financial New Year’s resolutions from Jonathan Clements, director of financial education for Citi Personal Wealth Management:

  • Don’t count it as saving money when you buy items on sale. No matter how much the price is reduced, you’re still spending money, not saving it.
  • Stop looking at your investment accounts so often. If you’re a long-term investor, what’s the point in checking your accounts every day? Looking frequently probably won’t help you make smarter financial decisions, but it could prompt you to trade too much and perhaps make panicky decisions.
  • Don’t invest too heavily in your employer’s stock. You already depend on the company for a paycheck. Think twice before doubling your risk by making the same bet with your portfolio.
  • Embarrass yourself in front of friends and family. Write down where you think the Dow Jones Industrial Average, gold, and the 10-year Treasury yield will finish 2014. Email it to everybody you know. The point? You likely will be way wrong, demonstrating the futility of trying to time the markets.
  • Eliminate wasteful spending. Candidates might include lottery tickets, groceries that end up going bad, gifts the recipients don’t like, infrequently watched premium cable channels, most extended warranties, mediocre overpriced airport and roadside meals, clothes you rarely wear and subscriptions to magazines you don’t read.
  • Don’t justify a new car or home improvements as investments. You’re unlikely to recoup the full cost of a car or a remodeling project when you sell, which means these are depreciating assets—not something you want in an investment.
  • Have a frank financial discussion with your children. Tailor your remarks depending on their ages. Possible topics include how much financial help you’ll give them with college and other goals, your own retirement readiness, the financial blunders you’ve made, what estate-planning steps you have taken and how much they can expect to inherit.
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