I know, I know, you were probably hoping for a cookie recipe-laden, holiday happiness-filled, jingly, bell-y Reader Suggestions this month; but alas, we must look ahead to 2020 and its attendant goal-setting imperatives. Plus, we did a really festive rundown of excellent frugal holiday gift ideas last month. So, hey, we are in the holiday spirit around here!
How To Actually Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions
I’m less interested in what my (or your) New Year’s Resolutions are and much more interested in how I’m going to stick with them and maybe even, you know, accomplish some of them.
I’m a pro at goal setting. I can goal set with the best of them. I can type up a list like nobody’s business. I can make spreadsheets of goals WITH projections. I might even start doing some of it. Or, I might get so caught up in formatting the spreadsheet that I never actually do anything on my perfectly-formatted list.
My shortcoming (well, one of the many… ) is that long-term follow-up often lags for stuff that’s Important but not Urgent.
The urgent, immediate stuff–the school lunches and doctor’s appointments and bill paying–gets done. For me, it’s the longer-term, bigger-picture, life-changing, potentially languish-able stuff that slides on down and, well, languishes. I fall short on stuff that’s Important, but not Urgent in the same way that wiping up a bowl of chicken chili my four-year-old spilled on the kitchen floor while trying to help her little sister bring her plate over to the sink is Urgent…
Today, I bring you advice from the Frugalwoods braintrust on how one goes about setting, sticking to, and accomplishing one’s lofty–and well-intentioned–New Year’s resolutions without those same resolutions cropping up undone year after year… speaking from personal experience here.
Welcome to my monthly Reader Suggestions feature! Every month I post a question to our Frugalwoods Facebook group and share the best responses here. The questions are topics I’ve received multiple queries on and my hope is that by leveraging the braintrust of Frugalwoods nation, you’ll find helpful advice and insight. Join the Frugalwoods Facebook group to participate in next month’s Reader Suggestions.
One Idea: Accountability Buddies. Lots of Them.
Something that works for me is accountability and, preferably, accountability buddies. If other people know about my goal and, ideally, if they’re working on that goal (or a similar goal) with me, I’m much more likely to succeed. Partially this is because I don’t want to embarrass myself. Partially this is because I don’t want to let my accountability buddy down. Partially this is because it’s A LOT more fun to work towards goals with friends. Or partners. Or acquaintances. Or random strangers on the internet who have THE SAME GOALS as you. But where, oh where, could one find such like-minded internet stranger-friends? Why, right here of course, in my free, 31-day Uber Frugal Month Group Challenge starting January 1, 2020! Which, coincidentally, you can sign-up for in the box below (amazing how that popped up out of nowhere):
Uber Frugal Month Challenge Sign-up
Join the January 2021 Uber Frugal Month Group Challenge! Enter your email address below to receive an email a day for 31 days starting January 1, 2021.
If any of your New Year’s resolutions are even remotely related to money, the UFM Challenge is an awesome way to tap into a fabulous network of financially-focused folks who are fixated on becoming financially fantastic. Finally, there’s a place to talk about money, to learn from others, and to receive guidance on how to transform your relationship with money. And it’s free! A lot of folks take the UFM every January to reset their spending and money routines for the year ahead. And a lot of folks will be taking the UFM for the first time ever this January!
The beauty of the UFM is that it applies no matter where you are on your financial journey. It’s 31 days long, which gives us enough time to cover a bunch of different financial (and life) topics.
Plus, this year for the first time ever, I’ve created an Uber Frugal Month Group Challenge private Facebook Group for all Challenge participants. This’ll be our exclusive, private space to share ideas, ask questions, offer advice, and just generally get to know other people on a similar life path.
Tons of people list “Be better with my money” as a New Year’s resolution, but without a clearly articulated plan for how and what to do, it’s likely to become an Important, but not Urgent, goal that gets swept under the rug and not seen until next New Year’s eve when it’s trotted out again as a resolution.
Resolve to change that in 2020. Make the decision to actually DO something about your money and join the Uber Frugal Month Challenge. Since the Challenge is free, you have nothing to lose. More about the Challenge–including FAQs–here: Join the January 2020 Uber Frugal Month Group Challenge! and you can sign-up to join in the box below:
Uber Frugal Month Challenge Sign-up
Join the January 2021 Uber Frugal Month Group Challenge! Enter your email address below to receive an email a day for 31 days starting January 1, 2021.
How Frugalwoods Readers Stick To Their New Year’s Resolutions
That’s enough from me, let’s turn to the readers for their sage advice:
Have a plan that acknowledges reality (this is really tough for me… ):
Kristi wrote, “I have a plan in my head and an accountability buddy. Last January, I did a dry January, but I understood that I would drink on six days of it as times that would be unavoidable. I set those days and talked with my husband about it. And we stayed six days out of 31 sober, even on the weekend. It was a great reset and we stuck to the plan. I call that success. I would have been disappointed in myself if I tried to do all month and then blown it on a weekend trip to Atlanta with friends.”
Ashlee shared, “The most sustainable way I’ve found to meet goals is to do them in very small steps instead of a major overhaul. Want to be “healthier”? Start by drinking more water through the day. When that’s a habit, cut out soda. When you’ve done that, focus on eating plant matter at every meal. When you do that, focus on the next thing. Allow time for small steps to become habits, and it doesn’t seem so daunting. By the end of the year, you’ve made huge progress! I think I picked up this from the guy who wrote ‘Atomic Habits’ when he was on The Minimalists podcast. It really resonated with me and I have found it very effective in changing habits in my life.”
Jessica said, “NERD ALERT: I create an actual annual plan with quarterly goals just the way I would at work. The ultimate goal for me is realistic goals. I have had a hard time reconciling my desire to do something and my ability to actually achieve it. This year I really dig deep to create goals that are truly attainable (with hard work).”
Katie wrote, “I don’t try to change my whole life on January 1st. I make ONE goal for the year and a plan to implement it in steps. And if it doesn’t work out, but I’m okay with it (tried it, not for me) then I drop it and make a new focus. But if it’s something I want to do, I re-evaluate why it’s not working and then make a plan to try to overcome them. Progress over perfection.”
Sarah said, “About six months ago, I went on a sticking-to-goals learning frenzy. The biggest thing I did was download Atomic Habits, a book by James Clear about the science of habit formation. It changed the way I thought about habit formation and sticking to goals.
Some of his key tips:
1. Change your mindset from trying to achieve a goal to trying to develop a new lifestyle. A person who sets a goal to run a 5k will train until they run the race, and then stop. A person who changes their lifestyle and identity to incorporate running will run for the rest of their life (so make friends who do your hobby, think of yourself as a “runner” (or whatever it is you’re trying to be–a fit person, a writer, a tidy person, a healthy person).
2. Pick specific times that you want to complete an action, and create a simple habit chain leading up to it. To stick with the example of running, if I want to run daily, I’d say “I’m going to go for a 15 minute run each day when I take the dogs out to go to the bathroom.” Then I’d set my running shoes and running clothes out and prep the leashes, so that we’re all ready to go. Since I already have to get dressed and take the dogs out anyway, it reduces all the friction of going for a run.
3. Start really small. For the first week of doing your habit, make sure it can be completed in five minutes or less. Do one push up, run one lap, journal one page, meditate five minutes–whatever it is, keep it small! Then, as you get into the rhythm of just showing up to do the thing, you can go for longer/harder/more.
4. Track your habits. I created an excel file to track my habits in, so I have an idea of how often I’m completing them. It helps me stay on track.
This honestly has been life changing for me. For the last 6 months, I’ve incorporated running, meditation, journaling, pilates, body weight exercises, Spanish practice and tidiness habits into my daily routine. And I have a one year old and full time job! It’s helped me to be happier and healthier than I’ve ever been in my life–and shockingly, it feels really easy to keep up.”
Join a group/have accountability buddies to keep you honest:
Noel said, “I found a gym with a strong community aspect where I fit in well. Having people who expect me and ask after me when I don’t show up has made all the difference. I never used to stick with my memberships to big global gyms where I was trying to workout on my own, but with great programming, coaches, and friends I’ve been making my 3 days per week routine work for almost the entirety of 2019!”
Cindy wrote, “Well for starters, I like to do the Frugalwoods Uber Frugal Month Challenge every January! The Facebook group helps me stay motivated for sure! After a spendy December this is the best way to pay off that credit card bill, and start the year off right. We do usually take a trip around my birthday that same month, but it’s usually been paid for and I use cash I’ve saved up for the days we are on the trip!”
Pauline wrote, “My sis and I started going to aqua aerobics in August 2018, and we are still at it going to the pool 5 days a week. If I didn’t have her as an accountability partner I would be sleeping in a lot more :).”
Set goals that are specific and achievable:
Marina shared, “I’ve always accomplished my New Year’s resolutions because I keep them small and doable enough and I focus on creating new habits instead of specific results. Instead of deciding that I want to lose weight in the year to come, I decide that I’ll walk everyday for half an hour. Instead of deciding that I’ll save a lot of money, I decide to save half of what I originally intended (this is usually so achievable that I end up saving the original amount). My tip is this: set yourself up for success. Don’t make it extra hard, make it something that’s possible and doable. Make it about a steady effort and not about a desperate effort.”
Erin said, “I only try to work on 1-3 goals per month. Tracking habits in a bullet journal helps, but rather than get crazy with tons of habits, pick a couple that are most important. Ryder Carroll has great tips in his simple habit tracking method. He also designed the bullet journal method (check his website and YouTube for videos. He has a book too).
Think about what you tried to do this year. Why it didn’t work? Do you really want to even keep that as a goal or do you think you should to impress other people?
Try to put systems in place to make you succeed. Wanna budget better. Use cash envelopes. Set up a time (block it on your calendar) weekly, daily to focus on your budget and check in with yourself.
Want to exercise. Find free, fun classes, download apps, search YouTube or get suggestions from friends on what they use and schedule it. Downward dog yoga app has a free intro version I’m been using for months.
Set reminders on your phone. Schedule things in your calendar. There are habit tracker apps that will send you notifications and track your habits too. The book Atomic Habits is great for learning how to develop and keep good habits and change bad ones. Its all about what’s easy and sometimes reprograming your normal its what’s necessary.”
Sarah wrote, “I am very specific in my goals, and I make sure that they’re doable. For example, I love to read, but with 3 kids and a full time job it’s usually the first thing that gets cut when I don’t have time. So my goal was to read 12 books this year or a book a month.”
Liza suggests, “Be specific with goals. In June, I committed to 30 min of yoga for 30 days before work. I needed to get more movement in my day, feel better in the morning and work on following through with something. I tracked each day on my calendar for that sense of accomplishment. I bought a yoga app for $10 to make it easy. Fast forward to mid-December, I still do at least 15 min of yoga every morning and I generally do 45 minutes. That app was the best $10 I spent all year.”
Tucker said, “I set annual big goals then quarterly set how I’ll attain them which I then break into month long sprints with weekly and daily action items. Goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely) and have heart (for me this is tied to a why I want to do this) so that I can know if I’m progressing and if I’m getting stuck track back to my why. Reevaluating quarterly also allows you to let go of something if it’s not serving you well or add in something you want to try out. For example a 2019 goal was to move my body more to feel more confident and strengthen my back to relieve back pain. A monthly goal was visiting a chiropractor, weekly was strength training and running twice a week and daily was my yoga practice. I used a brand of planner that had pages where you write out annual, quarterly then monthly goals. This year I’ll recreate the expensive planner on paper I already have to embrace more frugal goal setting!”
Kristy shared, “We got out of debt this year and working on our emergency fund that should be done by February. Already started working on losing weight but that’s a resolution this year for sure. I research a LOT to find the best method for achieving the goal. For getting out of debt we broke it into pieces.
1) get ahead by a month so all money earned in February will be the money used in March.
2) pay top priority first-so it was debt and now it’s the efund. Because of the budget we know it’ll be a challenge but we can pay our bills and handle spending needs with what’s left. If we shuffle money around the categories we know the top priority doesn’t get affected since that was paid first.
3) surround myself with inspiration, I have color charts of our progress on the fridge, my password to my computer will be something like “DebtFree2019” and I listen to podcasts and read books (like Meet the Frugalwoods!) about my goals.
For weight loss I researched for a couple months and found intermittent fasting works best for me because it’s free and easy to do once you get past the adjustment period. I’ve lost 30lbs since July and still going strong eating my pasta and full fat butter which is a great fit for me. I track my progress and listen to podcasts and joined Facebook groups. I read Delay, Don’t Deny by Gin Stephens. Like in our debt free journey my husband and I like to do month challenges like “no desserts for a month” (weight loss challenge) or “no eating out at a restaurant for a month” (money saving challenge). We can do anything for one month and then at the end of the month reassess how it went and sometimes keep the habit or adjust it for the next month. In January we’ll be doing a “do a YouTube workout 4 times a week this month” challenge. And you can bet I’ll have a paper tracker on the wall for us to track it!
I can’t skip the research step because the goal is to lose weight or get out of debt or save an efund-it’s not “follow this specific program exactly” and if I know all the variety of ideas I have lots of levers to pull as we work towards our goal. Different tools work in different situations. That flexibility is super important for my longterm success. Great example of this-I started out walking a couple miles outside everyday, but now that it’s winter and raining I don’t have the gear to walk a long time outside so I stopped doing that and switched to YouTube videos walking workouts.”
Offset your goals to start sometime other than January 1st:
Abbie said, “I see New Year’s Resolutions regarding fitness center memberships generally failing for many reasons. Many people have sincere intentions on January 1st and so they discover sadly that the fitness centers are very crowded. It is awkward sharing swim lanes with people that are uncomfortable in the water. The solution would be to have rolling resolutions over the months. Fitness centers could encourage fitness seekers to start regular routines well before the New Year begins. For me, a health crisis has always been a bigger motivator for action compared to a calendar date. After recovering from acute sciatica, I vowed that I would find some way to swim several times a week. To this end I wear a wet suit for swimming during cold weather. I am employed part-time where there is a pool available for me at lunch time. When I vacation, I look for places where I can swim. When I cannot swim, I discipline myself to do 20 minutes of exercises on a mat. For the month of January, I simply tolerate the additional swimmers. I know that most will only be around for a short time. Commitment to a New Year’s Resolution without other motivators is really hard for most people.”
Jennifer said, “I don’t make resolutions. I make the change when I recognize there is a need to do it. If I realize I need to lose weight in July, I do something about it then instead of waiting 6 months and gaining that much more weight. If my spending is out of control, I cut back right then. It’s easy to let things get worse or out of control if you wait. It’s even easier to make excuses if you know a change is coming soon. I better spend/eat/drink/smoke more now because I am quitting next week/month.”
Kelly wrote, “I do yearly and monthly goals. If I want to change something I don’t wait till the new year.”
Anneliese suggests, “Very specific goals, with 3 month duration – new resolutions every 4 months, which are incorporated into daily routines, a daily checklist to track them, and matching planner pages so I’m seeing my resolution to-do list several times throughout the day.
Since I’m dealing with chronic illness, it’s important to craft goals/resolutions to address my health rather than functioning. My budget, exercise, weight, productivity all depends on my physical health – and isn’t that really true for everyone?! When my health is managed, the productivity, exercise, budgeting, etc behaviors spontaneously appear. So most of my resolutions are dealing with sleep, nutrition, movement/gentle exercise, and remembering to enjoy frugal comforts.
For 5 years my resolutions included aspirations like “cook more.” But now, my resolutions to address my ability to cook include drinking something and resting with my feet up at 3 p.m., monthly meal plan, with pattern-planning for all the behaviors in the food cycle (inventory, grocery list, shopping, prepping/portioning, thawing). I might not feel well enough to cook, but at least now there are leftovers or ingredients ready for my family to cook.
It took me 6 years of attempts at resolutions to figure it out 🙂 What doesn’t work? Resolutions without a plan to accomplish them. Resolutions without a system to help you remember them. Resolutions that don’t get incorporated into your daily routine. Resolutions you aren’t physically capable of. Resolutions that aren’t fully within your control. You already know what you’re not getting done. But before a resolution can be successful you must understand *why* it’s not getting done.”
Beat your personal best:
Kellie said, “I’m competitive with myself. I try and beat my previous best, e.g.. if I look back and see I spent x amount last January, I’m going to try and spend less this January!”
Be willing to experiment and figure out what’ll work for you:
Natalie said that what helps her is, “Remembering the ultimate goal and being willing to change things up if it’s not working. For example: I wanted to take vitamins every day. I tried to keep them in the kitchen and take them with dinner, but I kept forgetting. I tried to keep them in the bathroom and take them when I brushed my teeth, but I kept forgetting. I finally tried moving them to my nightstand and taking them first thing in the morning and it stuck. If I had been stubborn and tried to force myself to stick with the first attempt, I would probably still be forgetting my vitamins. But my goal was to take vitamins, the timing didn’t matter.”
Lindsay shared, “1) I read a lot about the science of habits. It’s so interesting and helps me come up with ideas! Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies quiz was helpful in understanding what habit forming strategies might work best for me, and Atomic Habits was persuasive in thinking about how to frame a habit (as a system, rather than just as a goal).
2) strategies most effective for me are scheduling (planning exact times in a day to do things), monitoring (tracking steps, marking down on a calendar or habit tracker app to see if I’ve met my goal), and pairing (combining a habit that is less than pleasurable with a pleasurable thing; like treadmill and a good podcast or a work assignment with some chocolate).
3) outer accountability is less helpful for me because I’m what Gretchen Rubin’s framework calls an upholder. I just have to make a very specific plan. Since outer accountability can be helpful for many, I organize several accountability groups related to Decluttering and financial goals to help others create goals, check in, and offer support.
4) what doesn’t work for me is a big leap. Going from not writing a book to a goal of writing a book isn’t going to work. Saying I’ll work on the book for five minutes every day, scheduling when and where that will happen, setting and reminder and tracking progress will support me in doing it. A specific plan of baby steps help.”
Andria shared, “I don’t do resolutions. I do “what if’s.” For me resolutions are a set up to feel like I’ve failed. A what if is like a challenge to myself. What if I: stopped eating sugar, started journaling, stopped buying things new? How long could I keep that going? If the change works for me, I keep it. If not, I let it go.”
Include FUN goals in your annual resolutions:
Charlotte wrote, “Every December I make a bucketlist for the new year. It includes some new years resolutions (working out, financial, work-related goals) broken up in smaller subgoals. Then I add a whole bunch of fun things to do throughout the year. Like new restaurants to try, family to visit, number of books to read, trips to make, some personal development etc. I keep the bucketlist easily available during the year. Anything crossed off is an accomplishment. I’ll usually get about 80% done which is great. At the end of the year it’s fun to look back and try to finish some last things. Planning the year helps me be intentional about the things I should prioritize instead of time just passing by.”
Focus on creating a habit, not achieving a goal:
Lisa said, “The best way I’ve found to stick with any goal or resolution is to focus less on the end goal and more on cultivating a habit. So instead of “Get healthier,” it’s “Eat a fruit or veggie with every meal.” Instead of “Read more,” it’s “Visit the library once a week;” etc. Focusing on the habit instead of the goal works much better for me (as a recovering perfectionist) because then I’m not so married to the end result that I feel like I’ve “failed” if I don’t hit perfection.”
Rebecca wrote, “My recent approach is about building habits. Like if I want to loose weight, I don’t set a weight loss goal, I set goals to build habits around things that will help me lose weight. For example, I might say I want to increase my fruit/veg consumption and build a habit of working out regularly and NOT on the number on the scale. maintaining the number on the scale may or may not be sustainable but exercising regularly and eating veggies is. I’ve also started asking myself daily questions, as explained in the book Triggers. Checking in with myself daily helps me see where I’m succeeding on the small things over time and where I need to reassess my priorities.”
Brianne said, “I set intentions or mantras for the year instead of goals. Each time I make a decision or am feeling unsure, I come back to my intention and make my decision based on what aligns with it. I feel it helps me get where I want in life and beyond, whereas goals feel so static. ie: Setting a goal to walk 4 days a week: “I only walked 2-3 days a week so I didn’t meet my goal of walking 4 days a week” aka failure, or “I already walked 4 days this week so I have the rest of the week off” aka no incentive to go above and beyond. Whereas if I set an intention to feel good being active, some weeks it might feel good to walk only once or twice, other weeks might be more than once a day! All is good and no matter what, I’ve achieved what I set out to do!”
Samantha suggests reading,”Atomic Habits (the book) and focusing on the type of person I want to be (the person with energy that loves moving) rather than an outcome (lose 5kgs) or a process (run 5km everyday).”
Keep your goals where you can see them:
Krista said, “I put anything I want to do on a dry erase board on the refrigerator… for example if I want to increase my fruit/veg intake I put fruit/veg followed by 6 or 8 tick marks, whatever I think is realistic and mark them off during or at the end of the day. Erase and start over. It’s super simple but works every time. I do this for pretty much everything. That way the goal or intent is right in front of my face instead hidden away in a notebook or planner.”
Allison wrote, “For financial stuff, budget apps like You Need a Budget have been amazingly helpful for me. I used to just do pen and paper budgets but I guess I’m finally adapting to technology?!?!”
Irene says to, “Track your progress. For instance, every time I make an extra student loan payment, I write the amount on a sticky note and put it on a particular wall. It helps me see the progress I’m making and remain motivated.”
Here’s a list of the resources suggested in the above advice:
- Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–Becoming the Person You Want to Be, by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter
- Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, by James Clear
- Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies Quiz and her book, The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too)
- The Minimalists podcast
- The Frugalwoods Uber Frugal Month Group Challenge (someone else recommended it–not just me, I swear!)
- Meet The Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living, by me (look, a reader recommended it–not me!)
- Delay, Don’t Deny: Living an Intermittent Fasting Lifestyle, by Gin Stephens
- The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future, by Ryder Carroll
note: some of these are affiliate links
Ok enough from me–I’m off to read all these books and set ALL THE GOALS!!! Oh wait, no, just a few goals and ones I can actually achieve and will stick with. Yes! That! That’s what I’m going to do!