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We Asked a Financial Therapist How to Stick to New Year’s Money Resolutions. Here’s Her Advice

Photo of financial therapist Carrie Rattle, who shared advice on keeping New Year's money resolutions Courtesy of Carrie Rattle
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Lots of people are making money resolutions for the new year. But how many actually stick through with them?

Not very many, according to financial therapist Carrie Rattle. New Year’s resolutions commonly fail, but she has some advice to keep yours from being one of them. 

It starts with setting clear and measurable goals, shifting your mindset, and understanding what behaviors you need to change or adjust to accomplish your new goals, Rattle says. Being compassionate with yourself is also extremely important throughout the process.

“Part of the commitment is to understand the new behaviors that are required to make you successful,” she says. “The first time you try a new process, a new behavior, it may not work. That’s OK! Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Carrie Rattle is an accredited financial counselor and certified divorce financial analyst who has focused on overshopping. She is the CEO of Behavioral Cents and its sister company, Stopping Overshopping.  Here’s more advice from our interview with Rattle, edited for clarity and brevity.

Why do you think it’s so difficult for people to follow through with their New Year’s resolutions? 

I can give you the top three reasons why I think a lot of New Year’s resolutions fail. The first is because we often make a New Year’s resolution around “I should.” For example,  I should lose weight. I may not really want to lose weight, but I’m feeling social pressure. But “shoulds” are just not helpful because it’s sort of a cognitive behavioral assessment to make ourselves feel guilty and guilt ourselves into doing something that we really don’t necessarily want to do. 

The second is that New Year’s resolutions are often too big or too vague. For example, someone may say ‘I want to save more or spend less,’ but how much more? How much less? How are you going to do it? The third reason they often fail is because we don’t work on fitting the change into our everyday busy lives to help meet that new goal. It will likely require a new mindset and new behaviors.

What are some common money resolutions that people make? 

I want to save more. I want to spend less. I want to get out of debt.

How can people make better money goals, and what can they do to achieve them?

The goal needs to start with what is important to you. Not only the concept, but the number attached to it. For example, I may want to lose weight so I can feel good about myself — forget about what the world thinks about me. But then OK, how much do I want to lose? So it needs to be some sort of numeric goal. It also has to be important to your well-being. 

And it needs to be bite sized. For example, retirement is a big goal. If it’s important to your well-being to save more for the long term, what is your goal this year? How much is that per paycheck? Then look at what behaviors you need to change to get there. Part of the commitment is to understand the new behaviors that are required to make you successful.

How should people handle multiple money goals they might have? Is it better to focus on just one at a time?

It’s absolutely more effective to focus on just one. The reason you want to focus on one is you have to get into some sort of new routine and sometimes you have to shift your mindset to be successful. So let’s get the first one working well. 

If you really want to do this and it’s important to your overall well being, then it’s important to fit it into your busy life. And the first time you try a new process, a new behavior, it may not work. That’s OK! Rome wasn’t built in a day. You can sit back and sort of say, ‘This isn’t working. What else can I try instead?’ Choose one New Year’s resolution, perfect it, integrate into your life as if it’s already been there, and then you can start on another one.

How can people set themselves up for success and make their money resolutions a reality in 2022? 

No. 1: Recognize that you’re human and know that it may not work out perfectly. 

No. 2: Make sure you’re doing something that’s important to you. 

No. 3: Make sure that there’s a number attached. 

No. 4: Make sure the behaviors are right. Then you need to deal with your mindset.

What’s a common way a money resolution might get derailed, and how can people anticipate it and plan to stop it from happening?

I’m going to give you a few ideas around triggers and events that you have to anticipate. Triggers are those emotional things that set you off. If you have said to yourself, ‘I’m going to spend less this year,’ it’s important to know when you spend. If you tend to spend after you’ve had a bad day, what’s the trigger? Whatever the trigger is that you’re spending to self soothe, you need to anticipate because you’re still going to have days like that. So what do you do instead of going shopping or spending? Have some ready-made healthy alternatives that give you the same self-soothing feeling without spending.

What should people do if they get derailed from their goals at any point throughout the year? 

Be compassionate with yourself, and then sit back and reflect on why you’ve been derailed. It takes learning. It might be a trigger or that the behavior that you’re trying to change just doesn’t fit into your busy life. That’s OK, because this is sort of a new experiment. It’s a new test on changing behaviors that you have had for years and years. 

It takes a little while to build self awareness. Go back to the triggers or the event that derailed you, or the size of your goals. Is it too much? You’ll want to revisit the steps that I’ve given you and acknowledge that some of them didn’t work. You took your best guess, and now let’s try something new.