We love to think of human accomplishment in terms of the year in which they occurred. We’ve got annual entertainment awards, the Nobel Prizes, and there’s even a competition to identify the year’s most skillful air guitarist. Using the year as a measuring stick for self-actualization is as much a part of being human as celebrating the holidays. But success on an annual basis—such as achieving a resolution—is notoriously difficult! In fact, one study shows that only 9% of New Years resolutions are met. That’s a whole lotta broken dreams. I’m all for goal-setting, but these lackluster stats also make me feel like, “well, what’s the friggin point?!”
Why does this happen? Is it because resolutions are too lofty, too expansive, with not enough planning and accountability? By the time we’re in our twenties, thirties, and forties, we are quite set in our ways. That’s not to say that we can’t change, because we can, but a once-annual vow to enact sweeping reform probably won’t be enough to overthrow our ingrained tendencies.
What has worked for me in the past, and what works for the people that I financially coach, is to set monthly goals. Break down those big goals into digestible pieces, to be implemented one at a time. “Get my financial sh*t together”, for example, is too vacuous and broad. There are no actionable steps. And without modest and realistic items to work on, you’re setting yourself up for failure. “Get my financial sh*t together” gives SMART goal diehards legitimate heart palpitations. (SMART goals are specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and timely.)
Here’s why I like monthly goals over annual goals:
- Not emotionally overwhelming
- Achievable with small alterations to behavior, easy to integrate into the busiest of schedules
- Hopefully habit-forming
- Reinforces the idea that “I can change”
- Building blocks to bigger changes
Let me give you an example. I have committed to 12 mini-resolutions for myself for 2018. My overarching goal is to “feel healthier and have more energy,” which I’m hoping translates into being more productive. It’s something I resolve to every year but that never actualizes; that’s because all I do is read my horoscope and pray for cosmic voodoo. Here’s how I’ve mapped out my next few months, though I am remaining open to amending or rearranging as I see fit.
- Regulate my sleep schedule
- Eat no refined carbohydrates and sugars 3 days/week
- Increase/measure water intake (64 ounces/day)
- Increase running to 3x/week (right now I run 2x/week)
- Meditate for ten minutes 3x/week
- Incorporate yoga one day a week
- Get a physical
- Cook 3 vegetable and protein-based meal a week
- Limit alcohol to 4 drinks/week
- Increase meditation to 5x/week
- Limit social media use to 20 minutes/day
- Pick one of the previous 11 resolutions and try again
Can you imagine if I tried to do all of these things in January, in an attempt to radically change who I am? I would crash and burn, the Hindenburg blimp of new years resolutions.
If you are indeed looking to get your financial house in order, here’s a sample monthly resolution calendar breakdown. Of course, you’d want to tailor it to meet your needs and goals.
- Each Sunday, look at what I spend for the week. Identify areas I’m overspending
- Create a game plan to ask for a raise in 6 months
- Once per week, write down my feelings about money. Identify legitimate causes for worry (my parents rely on me for support) and limiting, false beliefs (I’m not good at math)
- Download a budget app or create a budget spreadsheet and become best friends
- Check your credit score. You can do it for free by using the link from our Borrowell Review. Identify one way to improve it, and do that
- Write down all your debts. If you have credit cards, pick the one to tackle first. Pay as much against this credit card as possible this month (while making other minimum payments)
- Open up a savings account separate from my checking account for emergency money
- Set up an automatic transfer of money from your checking to your savings account
- Ask for a 10% raise
- Open a retirement account with a discount brokerage such as Questrade, or a robo advisor such as Wealthsimple and put in 5%
- Read about investing every day (even if it’s just for ten minutes), including stocks, bonds, index funds, and diversification
- Invest in a stock index fund in my RRSP or TFSA
You can utilize this same technique no matter what your area of focus is, whether it’s bettering your interpersonal relationships, your professional career, or learning to really love yourself.
In addition to the natural fit within SMART goal-setting guidelines such as “actionable” and “timely,” monthly goals also match up with the amount of time that it takes to set a habit, which is often considered to be between 21 days and a month. No, the monthly grind is not as glamorous as believing that you’ll up and change in one year’s time, but that’s just not how habit-forming works. If it’s real change that you’re after, employ this tactic; I’d bet that you are a slightly better version of yourself by year-end!
Amanda writes a blog called The Dumpster Dog Blog, which is fun, scrappy, finance education for young women. Read her story here.