This article by Stefanie O’Connell first appeared on stefanieoconnell.com in December 2015.
This article is written by me with support from Capital One in conjunction with the release of the brand new Millennial Mindset on Money Survey. Check out the results below! All opinions are my own.
What would you do with a $100 cash holiday gift?
If you’re a millennial, your answer is probably pretty boring – smart, but boring.
In Capital One’s new Millennial Mindset on Money Survey, 40% of millennials said they would use a $100 gift to increase their savings balance.
The survey also found that for more than a quarter of millennials, establishing a solid nest egg would provide the biggest feeling of financial accomplishment.
In short, savings is front and center in the minds of millennials, and with 2016 just around the corner, there’s no doubt that upping those savings balances is at the top of many a millennial list of resolutions.
With gen Y aging into new life stages where major first time purchases, like vehicles and homes, and life events, like weddings and childbirth, demand significant monetary investment, savings are taking center stage with increased urgency. But is that urgency alone enough to motivate follow-through on savings resolutions?
Don’t wait until next to December to find out. The familiar sting of disappointment when you fall short of your high New Year’s hopes is not inevitable. Commit to your savings resolutions this year by following these three steps for successful savings follow-through.
“I want to save money this year” is a great sentiment, but a terrible resolution. Goals need specificity to be effective. Specificity gets resolutions grounded in behavioral changes, resulting in tangible outcomes.
For example, if you give yourself the specific target of $6,000 in additional savings this year, you can divide that by 12 to get an exact number, $500, to tease out of your budget each month in service of your new goal. (This exercise is also a good way of making sure your goal is realistic, another critical element of setting SMART goals).
With that concrete number in mind, you can review your expenses and determine exactly which should be reduced or eliminated to achieve your new $500 target. In this case, maybe you cancel your cable, cut down your data usage on your cell phone, cut back on haircuts and opt for some at home YouTube workouts in lieu of your gym membership. Or maybe you walk into work and negotiate a raise that satisfies the needs of your new savings goal. Or perhaps you implement a combination of both, increasing earnings and reducing spending to bring your budget into alignment with your specified savings target.Having specific monthly targets, lets you know whether you’re on track towards achieving your New Year’s Resolutions as soon as January 31st, driving your New Year’s momentum throughout the remainder of the year. Specificity holds you accountable to ongoing progress.
Helpful hint: Don’t just get specific with your savings numbers; get specific with what you’re saving for. For instance, saving an extra $500 each month alone may sound like a major sacrifice, but if you know those savings are in service of buying your dream home or affording your dream vacation, you’ll probably be more motivated and excited to save, increasing your chances of successful savings follow-through.
Don’t Rely on Willpower. Rely on Systems.
I know, I know, this is the year you’re really going to get serious about your savings — but how many times have you made that kind of renewed commitment and found yourself no better off than last New Year’s? I know I have! It’s not enough to be specific; you have to put a system in place that commits your behavior to your newly specified resolutions.
In the case of the $6,000 savings example above, rather than just relying on willpower to make sure all your newfound savings don’t get pre-emptively spent elsewhere, you can put in place a system of automating a $500 deposit to your savings account at the start of each month to make sure you’re actually following through.
Systems like these ensure that resolutions don’t become an afterthought, sacrificed in favor of everything else that happens to be top of mind in the moment. Serious about saving? Get serious about your systems!
Helpful hint: If you’re a 360 Savings from Capital One user, try the “Automatic Savings Plan” tool that helps you maximize savings by having a fixed amount of your money regularly transferred from your linked checking account to your online savings account. Not only will you accumulate more savings but you will continue to earn interest on your balance (think of that as free money) .
Track Your Progress.
Automating your savings with a tool like the Capital One’s Automatic Savings Plan is pretty foolproof, but checking in on your progress regularly is still good practice for staying on track towards your savings goals.
Resolutions often fail due to our failure to follow up regularly. We forget to take a step back every so often and make sure our day-to-day actions are in alignment with the goals and intentions we set at the beginning of the year. By the time we reach December, we’re so off track, we just shake it off and cross our fingers for next year.
Make checking in on your progress part of the system that creates lasting change in service of your goals. Even with automatic savings deposits, a lot can happen in a year. You can and should be making adjustments along the way as necessary.
For instance, let’s say you get a new job with a 50 percent salary increase, that’s a massive opportunity to up your savings, even past the point of your original goal. Don’t miss out on that kind of opportunity by failing to check-in.
Helpful hint: Another rockstar resource to help you maintain money mindfulness around your resolutions is Level Money. Level Money simplifies your daily money management by giving you a simple, real-time picture of how you’re doing with your spending.
Think of it like carrying a scale in your pocket when you’re trying to lose weight – if you see that you’re dangerously close to falling off track in the moment of temptation, it’s easier to decline the chocolate cake – or the $100 upgrade on your new device. Having these kinds of tools that foster daily mindfulness are a critical component to keeping your set systems in alignment with your specific goals.
The New Year is just around the corner and the desire to save is strong. Don’t just cross your fingers and hope for better luck this year, or count on the elusive willpower that’s failed you so many times before – get specific with your goals, put supportive systems in place and check your progress regularly to enjoy successful savings follow-through in 2016!
Rely on systems… Grab your free download of the goal setting and getting playbook HERE!
Stefanie O’Connell is a former broke actress turned personal finance expert. Stefanie channeled her energy into a zest for personal finance and soon found herself empowered by her finances and starting her own blog, StefanieOConnell.com, and a book, The Broke and Beautiful Life. You can contact her through her blog.