It feels great to make New Year’s resolutions — but following through on them is much more difficult. In fact, according to U.S. News and World Report, 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail by February.
It doesn’t have to be this way, particularly if you want to improve your financial life in the coming year. Just front load a little bit of work right around January 1, and you’ll be able to conquer the following money resolutions without having to lift a finger over the rest of the year.
Resolution: Build an emergency fund
You know that you should have a savings cushion to protect yourself in case of an emergency, but putting aside the money for an emergency fund never seems to make it to the top of your to-do list. No matter how many times you’ve resolved to cut out the lattés and bank the savings, it never seems to happen.
Do it now: Adjust your withholding
If you regularly get a large tax refund each year to the tune of thousands of dollars, you can effortlessly build your emergency fund without having to quit your latté habit. Just imagine how quickly you could build up your emergency fund if that extra money went into your savings account instead of taking a trip to the IRS and back.
While you’re feeling resolved and virtuous, adjust your withholding to do just that. Start by visiting the IRS withholding calculator to determine how many withholding allowances you may take. Remember that the withholding allowances you claim do not determine your tax bill, only how much you pay in taxes per paycheck, so your answers on the calculator can be approximate.
Once you have figured out your allowances, request and fill out a W-4 form from your employer’s human resources department. At the same time, set up an automatic transfer of the difference into your emergency fund. You can do this either through your bank’s website, or with a direct deposit from your employer.
And just like that, with an afternoon’s worth of paperwork, your resolution will work for you throughout the year without you thinking about it. (See also: 7 Easy Ways to Build an Emergency Fund From $0)
Resolution: Pay off debt
According to The Motley Fool, the average American household owed $6,183 in credit card debt, $10,397 in student loan debt, and $9,206 in auto loans as of the fourth quarter of 2016. Resolving to get those balances paid off in the new year will not only free up more money each month, but will save you thousands of dollars in interest payments over the life of the loans. But finding extra money in your budget to send to your creditors is just as difficult as finding spare cash for an emergency fund. So how can you fulfill this resolution without feeling the pinch?
Do it now: Set up weekly or bi-weekly payments
Whether you are looking to pay off credit card, student loan, auto loan, or even mortgage debt, you can channel the power of your calendar to help you reach that goal. Many creditors will allow you to send partial payments on a bi-weekly or weekly basis. Instead of making one monthly payment, you can break it in half or quarters and pay it bi-weekly or weekly instead.
Not only will this allow you to send in more payments, but it can also save you interest on your credit card debt because you are generally charged interest on a daily basis. The best part is that your payments will feel basically the same to you, while they are working harder to eliminate what you owe. (See also: 5 Ways to Pay Off High Interest Credit Card Debt)
Resolution: Increase your retirement savings
Retirement is so far away that it’s hard to even take the prospect seriously. But you know that you should be saving more for retirement, and you really do mean to look into contributing up to your employer match in your 401(k) — you just never get around to actually doing it. Enough is enough: This will be the year that you actually increase your retirement savings and get on top of planning for your future.
Do it now: Have 1 percent automatically transferred to your retirement account
A quick trip to your human resources department can help you get this resolution working for you throughout the year. First, determine how much you need to contribute to your 401(k) to receive the employer matching amount. Even if there is no way you can afford to contribute up to the match, start by having an additional 1 percent transferred to your account.
While you’re there, set up an automatic increase of your contribution by an additional 1 percent in three months, another 1 percent for six months down the road, and another 1 percent for nine months from now. These automatic bump-ups will make sure you are contributing to your retirement without having to think about it, and the changes will be gradual enough for you to easily weather them. (See also: Stop Making These 10 Bogus Retirement Savings Excuses)
Resolution: Spend less
You make a good living, but it just seems like there’s not enough money at the end of your month. The problem is that resolving to spend less money usually results in living like a monk for the month of January, then going on a shopping binge the minute those Presidents Day sales are announced. But just how can you spend less money without resorting to these sorts of yo-yo money diets?
Do it now: Negotiate your bills
Take an afternoon to call your service providers and ask for a better price. There is no better place to spend less money than on your regular bills, since those are predictable and can make a big difference in your budget. While it may feel a little odd negotiating with service providers, the results can range from modest to impressive — and it certainly can’t hurt you to ask.
Consider calling your cellphone and internet service providers first, as they are often open to negotiation to keep loyal customers. It costs them far more money to woo a new customer than it does for them keep you happy. Make sure you do the research to know competitive prices — both among other providers, as well as the new customer pricing with your current provider — so you have some leverage for your request. (See also: The 6 Monthly Telecom Bills You Can Negotiate)
You can also potentially negotiate your rent payment with your landlord, especially if you are a reliable tenant who is planning on staying put for a while. You could ask your landlord for a longer-term lease in exchange for a lower monthly rental payment, which can be a win-win for you both.
Resolutions don’t have to be daily chores
Though New Year’s resolutions are often about changing your daily habits, making the most of your financial life doesn’t necessarily require such diligence. Instead, take a little time right now to set automatic financial decisions in place that will take care of you all year.
Then all you have to do is sit back, relax, and watch your resolutions handle themselves.