It’s that time of year when we’re filled with all the optimism of a new year— convinced that this time we’ll make the changes that will transform our lives.
This year in particular, sorting out our money is top of the list for millions of people — with more than a third of us making at least one financial resolution.
Women and young people are particularly likely to be committed to change, with 61% of those aged 18- to 34-years-old deciding that this is the year to get to grips with their money.
However, if we’re going to make those resolutions last beyond the initial flurry of enthusiasm, we need to follow five basic rules to make them stick.
1. Be specific
One in 10 people plan to spend less, but if you just leave this as a vague notion, it’ll be about as successful as a plan to lose weight without a diet.
You’ll need to take a proper look at your spending, and work out exactly where you can cut back.
Read more: How to manage Christmas debts
Traditionally people keep a spending diary for a few weeks, and use that alongside their statements to see where they’re wasting money. However, if your current account app categorises your outgoings, it’ll do much of the legwork for you.
Once you’ve found your spending Achilles’ heels, make a specific plan for how you’ll avoid falling foul of them in future.
If, for example, you tend to click on marketing emails and go shopping in the evening, make sure you unsubscribe. If you pop out at lunchtime and pick up impulse buys, then stay in, and enjoy your homemade packed lunch.
You don’t need to sit at your desk and stare into the middle distance, arrange to meet up with friends at work, and eat your money-saving lunches together.
2. Do the easy stuff first
When you’re cutting back, don’t immediately try to give up the things you love the most, or you’ll struggle really quickly.
It’s worth starting by shopping around more for everything for groceries to media packages — 6% of people have specifically chosen this as their resolution next year.
By this stage, half have of us have already cut spending on the essentials, so there’s every chance you’ve traded down to own brands at the supermarket.
But there are still approaches that will shave significant sums off the price of your grocery shop. You could consider budget ranges, cut-price supermarkets, yellow sticker shopping, and even specialists selling items past their use by dates.
Read more: 2022: Year in review
You should also cut out any non-essentials that you’re not getting enough value from. You’ll often find these lurking in your direct debits. Only once you’ve made these easier cuts is it worth considering cutting back on the things you really love.
3. Automate as much as possible
Cutting back will hopefully free up a sum of cash you can use to transform your finances.
Your priority for this money will depend on where you start, so for the 7% who want to pay down their debts, this is the first port of call.
However, if your debts are under control, you may want to join the 12% of people with a pledge to save more. Or, you may be one of the 5% wanting to pay more into their pension or the 4% who want to invest more.
Whatever your goal, you can set up a direct debit to go out of your account on pay day and into wherever it’s needed most. That way you do the right thing every month without trying, and before you even notice you’ve been paid.
4. Be realistic
Throughout this process, you need to be honest with yourself, because if you bite off more than you can chew, you’re far more likely to give up.
Don’t go so far with spending cuts that it makes life too hard, and don’t try to meet all your goals at once. Just do what you can manage, and build from there.
5. Decide your priorities in advance
You can’t do everything, and if you try, you’ll end up doing whatever is easiest rather than what’s most important. Everyone is different, but when it comes to financial planning the first step is usually to get the right insurance cover in place.
Then for anyone with short term debts, the next step is to pay those down, before saving and considering your pension.
Read more: Top tips for filling in your tax return
Take it one step at a time, and do whatever you can afford, then move to the next priority when you can afford to.
And whatever your resolutions, don’t give up. We’re all bound to fail at some point in the process, because lifestyle changes are hard.
However, if you commit to regrouping and starting again each time you fall short, you’ll stand a much better chance of getting to the end of 2023 feeling proud of how far you’ve come.