Getting out of debt is one of the most common New Year’s resolutions-it’s right up there with losing weight. And like losing weight, it’s a resolution that, more often than not, is broken before January comes to an end.
When it comes to money, it’s easy to set big goals only to have them crumble under the weight of unrealistic expectations, a lack of planning, and poor financial communication. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set financial goals for your family. Instead, it means being smart about the kind of goals you set and your plans for meeting those goals.
As you think about the year ahead, here are five resolutions you should never make:
1. We will spend less. Blanket statements like this always lead to frustration-one partner’s “less” is another partner’s “still too much!” So break down the kind of changes you want to make. Maybe you’ll decide to cut back in a specific area-eating out or clothes or movies. Or maybe you’ll commit to regular conversations about your spending. Whatever you decide, make sure that your goals are clear, manageable, and measurable.
2. We will not fight about money. Here’s a resolution you’re likely to break before you’re even done making it. Everyone argues about money because money touches every part of our lives. Instead of expecting agreement on money issues, learn how to fight fair. Pay attention to your Money Personalities and find ways to compromise. Disagreements don’t have to derail you.
3. We will have our finances under control by April. It takes a long time to turn a big ship around and your finances are one big ship. Give yourself time. Set small goals each month and stick with them. We recommend couples keep track of every dime they make and every dime they spend for one month. Once you have a realistic expectation of your finances, you can figure out the kind of changes that will make a true, lasting difference in your lives.
4. We will have a perfect budget. The problem is there’s no such thing. What works for one couple won’t work for another. What worked for you five years ago might not work for you now. So don’t worry about creating an airtight budget. Instead, focus on developing solid financial communication. If you’re not already doing a Money Huddle, start. If you haven’t done the Financial Relationship Index, do it. If you and your partner have never had an honest conversation about your finances, have one now. It’s never too late to start talking.
5. This is the year we get out of debt. Like we said, this is a goal that, for most people, is bound to fail. If you have a small amount of debt-say less than $5000–then knock yourselves out and get rid of it. But we find that many couples simply can’t whittle their debt down as quickly as they want. Then they get frustrated. Then they give up. If you have a large amount of debt, take steps to help you reduce it at a pace you can manage. Find a lower interest rate. Do a cash flow worksheet to figure out how much you can put toward your debt. Pay off higher interest rate cards first. There are all kinds of ways you can get a handle on your debt and start breaking it down.
It’s great to set financial goals for your family. Just make sure you are setting the kind of goals that actually help you build a stronger financial future.