If you’re one of the millions of Americans who pledged to take control of your finances in the new year, you may already be feeling the resolution excitement start to wane as you get into the thick of squelching spending and committing to your budget. In fact, the loftier and more long-term your financial goals, the less likely they may be to stick.
So, in the spirit of ensuring that 2014 will be the year that you finally pay off those student loans or save for a down payment on your new home, we’ve culled a list of the top five tips to keep you motivated when the sticking to that budget gets tough—because it most certainly will.
Write Your Goals Down
Determining financial goals is the easy part—saving for a Hawaiian vacation, banking six month’s worth of expenses in an emergency fund—but once the novelty of thrift shopping wears off, you’ll need to find a way to remind yourself why you’re doing it in the first place.
“Make sure your budget is in written format and not just a mental plan; it makes it easier to go back to when you get off course,” says Miranda Reiter, a certified financial planner and founder of She & Money Financial Planning. “Don’t forget to include your ‘why’ in the plan. Why are you committing to your long-term budget? What feeling or optimal goal will it give you? What will you lose if you don’t stick with it? Write all of your answers down.”
And try posting those goals in a conspicuous place—like on the refrigerator, to keep your spirits up each time you reach in for leftover beans and rice.
Once your financial goals are planned and posted, the next step to staying on track for the long-term is to automate as many payments as possible. It’s a lot harder to second-guess paying more than the minimum on those credit cards when the cash is automatically withdrawn before you can touch it. “The fewer financial decisions you have to make each month, the quicker your budget will become your normal way of life,” says Mary Hunt, founder of Debt-Proof Living and author of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Planning for Retirement. “In no time at all, it will become so comfortable you won’t even have to think about doing the right thing.”
Plan for Fun
All budgeting and no play makes for very grumpy people—who have a tendency to rebel. “Too often, there is a ‘binge and purge’ response with budgeting where people will sacrifice only so long before they go and spend thousands of dollars on something else,” explains Money Ripples founder Chris Miles, who paid off more than $900,000 in debt in just over three years. “It’s better to enjoy the journey along the way than to sacrifice, suffer and spend.”
Miles recommends allocating up to 5% of income for fun activities as a way to enjoy life without totally blowing the budget. “Some people may argue that this would slow them down towards their goals, especially if they are using a calculator to determine how fast they can pay off their debts. However, our lives were never meant to be put into a calculator. In my experience, when people have more fun along the way, they tend to achieve their goals faster—and happier—than if they only focused on restricting themselves.”
Calculate Your Savings
You’re probably familiar with the power of compounding as related to investments, but you may not have considered how much it applies to interest payments. Even if it doesn’t feel like that extra $200 or $300 dollars you’re paying on debts makes much of a difference, be very clear in understanding that it does.
“Most clients I have get motivated when they see how much they would pay by making the minimum payment and comparing that to what can happen if they pay even as little as an extra $50 per month,” says Andi Wren, an accredited financial counselor who works primarily with military spouses. “I helped one service member set a budget that would allow her to pay down her debt over a three year period of time. With minimum payments it would have taken her over 18 years to pay it off.”
Celebrate the Milestones
Grayson Bell, the creator of DebtRoundUp, paid off more than $50,000 of consumer debt over about four years. Needless to say, staying motivated was critical for his success. One of his methods was to create—and celebrate—small milestones along the way.
“Everyone loves to celebrate their success,” says Bell. ”When you create milestones that are easily achievable, then you celebrate reaching said milestone. When you celebrate, you stay motivated to reach the next milestone.” For example, if paying off $10,000 is the ultimate goal, you should recognize each $1,000 paid toward your goal. “Celebrations shouldn’t be lavish or expensive, but ones that have important meaning.” Because, after all, reaching your long-term financial goals is a journey. You should try to enjoy yourself along the way.
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