Alison Griffiths

The last few weeks have been chock-a-block with the media’s favourite end of year pastime — looking back. We’ve read, heard and seen the best of this and worst of that, including the good, bad and ugly of humanity. I won’t add to the retrospection.

Instead, I’m going to get a jump on 2013 with some advice about what financial resolutions to make and how to keep them.

There are, of course, all the usual suspects for your New Year’s money vows; save more, spend less, do your taxes early, no more retail therapy, etc. Herein lies the reason why 70 to 80 per cent of resolutions, financial and otherwise, eventually fail. The goals are too big, too hard and poorly defined.

Instead, zero in on resolutions that are small, clear and relate to your behaviour.

For example, one of my weaknesses is the printed word, specifically magazines. There’s hardly a subject I won’t shell out for in magazine form.

But when they started piling up unread, I had to take action. Rather than vow not to buy any more, I examined my behaviour. Most of the magazines were purchased during grocery shopping. Aha! When I turned that chore (which I disliked anyway) over to my husband, the magazine bill dropped dramatically.

I didn’t change my behaviour, rather the situation. The only trouble is that now he’s fuelling my addiction for me. In 2013, I will have to do a little behavior modification on him.

A close friend confessed that her weakness is Saturday mornings. She and her husband have breakfast at a local café then hit the big box stores. They enjoy their weekend ritual. But in this case, happiness results in spending. Rarely do they arrive home without purchases in hand.

The solution? Change the situation and the behaviour will follow. In 2013, they will sign up for a Saturday morning gym class with brunch to follow. Since she visits her grandparents most Saturday afternoons and hubby hangs out with some buddies, the big box store ritual will be short-circuited.

If my suggestion doesn’t work for you there may be a good reason. Science author John Tierney, writing in the The New York Times last January, offered a fascinating point of view based on the findings of social scientist Roy Baumeister. “He and many of his colleagues have concluded that the way to keep a New Year’s resolution is to anticipate the limits of your willpower.”

Often those who have tremendous self-restraint and discipline in many areas of their lives fail miserably when trying to lose weight, reduce alcohol consumption or even be better money managers. I am constantly amazed at how many of those in senior financial positions tell me they have a terrible time sticking to resolutions about their own money.

Tierney reports that research indicates we actually have a limited amount of willpower and when we use it up at work or raising children there’s none left for personal resolutions.

Once you have a clear financial resolution, one method of keeping it is to borrow someone else’s willpower — a friend’s, colleague’s or family member’s. But be wary of enlisting the support of an enabler. If you overspend while in the company of a significant other that person is likely having the same discipline problems as you.

If your spending or lack of saving is acute and broad based, you might seek professional help in establishing financial goals and changing the situation (and thus behaviour) which leads you down the wrong path.

Credit and debt counselling through a reputable and charitable national organization such as Credit Canada Debt Solutions (1-800-267-2272) isn’t just for those teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. In fact, simply talking to a counselor and admitting your money problems is very therapeutic, especially when there is no judgment involved, just a desire to find a solution. Borrowing the willpower of a professional will strengthen your own.

Be careful of so-called credit counselling firms or agencies that are in the businesses of making money from your financial problems. They catch your attention by promising to eliminate debt but increasingly consumers are reporting high fees and lack of success in negotiating with creditors.

Another option is to make your financial vows public through social media and hope for support from friends and followers. There is even a website http://www.stickk.com/ (created by Yale University economists) which allows you to create a resolution and select help from a referee or even add financial penalties if you don’t stick to it.

Your money resolutions may have failed in past years, but a few tweaks might mean money in your pocket.

Contact Alison at griffiths.alison@gmail.com or http://www.alisongriffiths.ca/.