Georgians, like most Americans, entered 2019 hoping to better their finances – but many have likely already fallen off track.
In a Georgia Credit Union Affiliates survey of more than 3,000 Georgians, 52 percent said their new year’s resolution was to get on a budget.
That statistic isn’t surprising; many Americans looked critically at their financial situations as they headed into 2019. Statista, a platform providing statistical data on a variety of topics, polled 2,000 people about their New Year’s resolutions in early January. The survey found financial goals were the fourth most popular New Year’s resolutions, falling just behind dieting, exercising and losing weight.
Budgeting is a relatively common resolution Americans tend to make from year to year, but the The 10th annual Fidelity Investments New Year Financial Resolutions study published in December found it may have been especially popular heading into 2019: 32 percent of respondents reported they planned to make a financial resolution for the coming new year. That’s up from 27 percent in the study published in December 2017.
Americans had good intentions for getting their finances in order in 2019, but that doesn’t mean they’ve necessarily stuck to their new budgets. According to research commissioned by GuideVine, a service that matches people with financial advisers, 70 percent of Americans with a budget struggle to stick to it.
And it’s not likely that making your budget a New Year’s resolution will make keeping with it any easier. According to the GCUA survey,74 percent of Georgians make incremental improvements toward keeping their resolutions each year – but they fall short of actually keeping them. Another 21 percent have never kept a new year’s resolution.
The average American doesn’t fare much better. According to a study of 1,450 Americans by Vitagene, 88.6 percent reported they’d likely keep their resolutions for a year or less. Another 36.6 percent of respondents said they usually keep their resolutions for a month or less,meaning they’d be off track by February.
Tips for Staying on Budget
- Use a budgeting tool. A successful budget must be recorded somewhere — and human error could get in the way with a pen-and-paper method. Many websites, including Consumer.gov, NerdWallet and Mint, offer free Excel spreadsheet templates to help with recording budgets. If you’re looking for more mobile options, consider budgeting apps including EveryDollar and YouNeedABudget.
- Be realistic about spending and saving. Don’t set goals you can’t realistically achieve with your budget. Trying to spend too little or save too much each month could create frustration, which will increase the likelihood you’ll dump your budget altogether. Instead, map out incremental changes you can make that will add up to big financial gains over time.
- Keep goals in mind. Reminding yourself how you’d ultimately like your money to work for you can help you exercise control over impulsive spending habits. If you have a hard time picturing your long-term goals when you’re tempted to splurge, consider making those goals visual. Try keeping a picture of your ideal retirement in your wallet or a list of all the reasons you want that new car stuck to the fridge.
- Reward yourself. It is important to keep long-term goals in mind but rewarding yourself for small budgeting wins along the way will keep you feeling positive about your budget. The more positivity you feel toward a task, the more likely you are to continue performing it. After you reach certain budgeting goals, treat yourself to a small splurge. You earned it!
- Seek help. If you’re struggling to stick with a budget, consider asking for help. Sometimes, aid can come in the form of a family member who shares household finances. Other times, however, you may require an expert opinion. Credit unions often offer free financial counseling to members and are happy to aid with budget set-up and maintenance. To find a credit union near you, visit asmarterchoice.org.
Kathy Wise, a financial representative at GeoVista Credit Union in Hinesville, Ga., said it’s not uncommon for her to see an increase in the number of members seeking help with their budgets around this time of year.
“Many people tend to make a commitment to themsleves that after the holidays, they’ll get back down to business — pay off bills from Christmas, get serious about buying a house, open an IRA for retirement or get on a path to better financial stability,” Wise said. “The first quarter of every year is always linked to coordinating taxes, contributions to IRAs and overall setting the pace for the rest of the year financially.”
Wise instructs her members to follow what she calls the “on paper, on purpose” rule — although sometimes the “paper” is digital.
“You must create a written plan you can follow week to week and evaluate your progress regularly,” she said. “There are several good apps, such as Mint or EveryDollar, that help people categorize and stay on track — but don’t underestimate the value of a good Excel spreadsheet. I usually create one for our members so it’s all set for them and they can start on their program right away with no effort.”
Even with helpful apps and a jump-start, Wise said she still sees members who struggle to keep on their financial plan.
“There’s no magic recipe for staying on budget,” Wise said. “Budgets don’t work unless you can say ‘no’ when you should. For instance, if you spend more than you’ve allotted on dining out, then those extra funds have to come from some other category. You end up robbing Peter to pay Paul.”