New Year’s resolutions get a bad rap. It’s true that those big promises we make ourselves on January 1 (you know, the “New Year, New Me!” ones) are often built to fail. But that’s usually because we haven’t taken the time to figure out exactly how we’re going to make it happen. When we set aspirational goals that don’t account for the people we are now — or the daily effort it takes to achieve them — they can fool us into believing we aren’t capable of change. And we are!
Consider starting small. There’s tons of research to support the idea that the key to achieving big goals is breaking them down into bite-sized tasks. But let’s take that a step further. The key to a good New Year’s resolution (or any goal, really) is building good habits — a series of small daily (or weekly, or monthly, or quarterly) wins that feel doable and will get you excited to keep going.
55% of women who participated in the Ellevest Financial Wellness Survey 2022 this fall told us they’re actively looking for a new job with better pay, so we know a lot of folks are gearing up to make big changes in 2023. (Love it.) If you’re worried about getting started, try picking up one (or more) of the below habits first. Like any routine, these might be uncomfortable at first, but they’re fairly low-lift — think of them as the warm-up routine that will support you as you work toward the bigger resolutions.
1. Add checking your account balances to your daily routine
We know, we know. Your checking account can be hard to look at, especially if you’re new to your financial wellness practice. But you know what’s even harder to look at? Overdraft fees. 🤬 Add checking your bank balance to your morning routine — maybe right after you check your email? Before you start cruising TikTok? — and eventually it’ll become automatic. Even if you know you have enough to pay your bills, checking in the morning can help you review yesterday’s spending and reset your money mindset for the day ahead.
Pro tip: Check to see whether your banking or credit card app has transaction notifications. That way, when you swipe your card at HomeGoods yet again (been there) or click “buy” on that ten-pound bag of candy at 3 AM (also been there), you can actually see your balance change in real time.
2. Start every month with a budget
For a lot of people, “budget” is a loaded word. But there are plenty of different approaches to keeping track of your monthly spending. If you’ve struggled with one strategy in the past, maybe try another one this year. Our favorites are the 50/30/20 rule and the one-number approach, but we’re also fans of adjusting a strategy to fit your day-to-day routine — that’s the only way to build money habits that will stick. (If you need extra help, Ellevest’s live Budgeting How-To workshop could be a good option; we also have a few worksheets if you prefer the asynchronous route.) The main thing is to build a budget that doesn’t feel punishing — and then check back with it every week or so to make sure you’re still on track.
3. Pay yourself first
Curb the payday splurge! When that paycheck hits your inbox, sort it immediately so you’re less likely to spend money that you actually need. This one is a money routine that you can do without much effort: Pay any bills you can upfront. Put aside your Future You money (the money you’re squirreling away for your various goals — perhaps your f*ck-you fund?), preferably in an account you can’t see when checking your daily spending account — and with auto-transfers, if you can, so you don’t have to lift a finger. If you have a savings account connected to your main checking account, set aside a little for any future non-monthly expenses, too — vet bills, oil changes, that sort of thing.
4. Automate your savings and bills
Having a hard time building good financial habits on your own? Let your accounts do it for you. A lot of banking platforms and cards offer cash back or “autosave” features (some even incentivize them by offering you higher interest rates), and some billers (like insurance companies) offer discounts if you set up autopay. You could even split your direct deposit so your bill money is deposited into, and then auto-debited from, a completely different account.
5. Don’t put it* down, put it* away (*receipts)
Take a page from Marie Kondo’s book and apply the “don’t put it down, put it away” organizing trick to all those receipts you need to keep for tax time (deductions, FSA reimbursement, etc). For physical receipts, designate one folder or envelope and keep it in an easy-to-access place. (If you’re super-organized, and / or deal with a lot of receipts, you could even do a new envelope for every month.) For digital receipts, set up a few rules for your email inbox so that incoming receipts skip the inbox and get sorted into a certain mailbox or label.
6. Track your progress on your goals
This one you can customize. Create a spreadsheet, do a bullet journal spread, use a digital platform — hell, a sticky note stuck to your computer monitor would work. Wherever you do it, keep a monthly tabulation of your progress toward a saving or investing goal, be it a vacation in a few months or a down payment on a home. You’re building something big, and you deserve to watch yourself get there.
7. Build a donation habit
The holidays and tax season are wonderful times to give back, but consider this: Most charitable organizations, be they 501(c)(3)s or mutual aid groups, have a lot of recurring costs. (If they’re a food-based org, for example, imagine how many groceries you and your family go through in a week.) They also plan their operating budgets — aka what kind of resources they have to give — according to expected donations. So the best way to support the causes you care about (in addition to investing for impact, of course) is to commit to a regular giving schedule — instead of a big chunk one time, try smaller donations, many times. (This approach might even allow you to give more over time!)
A monthly contribution is a good starting point; if you’re contributing to a local aid operation, they’re likely moving supplies faster and could use weekly donations. It doesn’t have to be money, either — some orgs take donations of home supplies or baby items that you can just add to your cart and drop off (or ship) next time you pick up an order from a big-box store. Bonus: Adding routine donations to your budget, especially to local causes, is a low-stakes way to feel more connected to your community.
8. Keep a quarterly money mindset journal
Half of the work of achieving your financial goals is mental — especially if you’ve been conditioned your whole life to believe that you’re bad with money. While building a healthy relationship with money can keep you motivated and engaged long-term, however, getting to that healthy money mindset takes time — and habit. As you work on unlearning myths and toxic thought patterns, there will be a lot of journaling possibilities, from recalling the money lessons you learned as a child to reframing your inner monologue when you spend. But be sure to track your progress, too — try a check-in entry once a quarter so you can really see the difference as you go.
9. Prep your money for a volatile economy
Inflation is high, the markets are unpredictable, and things may not quiet down any time soon. If you’ve been feeling anxious about your money, you’re definitely not alone. Here are some steps you can take to manage your spending, your savings, your investments — and your stress — through uncertain financial waters.
10. Buy the damn latte (or flowers, or …)
Some experts will have you believe that the little things — your morning coffee, your weekly flowers, the more expensive toilet paper, the happy-hour cocktail — are getting in the way of your long-term money success. But at Ellevest, we have a little motto we like to repeat: “Just buy the f***ing latte.” These small expenses aren’t getting in the way of your imminent millionaire status — trust us, we did the math. Besides, spending guilt never did anyone any good. (Except your haters. Your haters love it when you beat yourself up.) Those little purchases are making life that much more enjoyable. And with all the work you’ve been doing on your financial wellness — even if you only pick up one of these money habits in 2023 — you deserve a treat for it.
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