I made a new year’s resolution last year, but can’t for the life of me think what it was. I just have to hope that I was so efficient that I ticked it off in January and then could forget about it. But I doubt it.
Meanwhile, as of this month, my friend Ruth can now identify five different constellations in the night sky. In 2015, she decided that each year her resolution would be to learn one new one.
It’s simple and achievable, so she does it. And over time those constellations will start to add up.
But my advice – which I hope I too will heed – is to work with your own foibles and flaws rather than against them.
This year, if I stick to one simple, memorable resolution I think I’ll stand a better chance of completing it than something more ambitious or convoluted that I risk forgetting by February.
Or possibly sooner. According to fitness app Strava, 17 January, or the third Thursday of the month, is "quitters day", or the day we're most likely to give up a new year's resolution.
In other ways I do work with my weaknesses.
I know, for example, that I do best when willpower is taken out of the equation. That’s why a direct debit goes straight from my current account into my savings on the day I get paid, so I don’t even have an option to spend it. If, instead, I saved whatever was left over each month, I wouldn’t save half as much.
I also know that I work better with absolutes. One year I gave up buying any clothes. I find that much easier than cutting back, because there are no decisions to make. When I ask myself, ‘Can I justify this purchase?’ I find it’s much easier when the answer is simply ‘No!’
I’ve also been reading lots of books about behavioural economics, which tell us things about our own behaviour that feel intuitive once we’ve been told them but we often don’t recognise until they are spelled out for us in black and white.
“I prefer to pay for treats in advance”
One idea that resonates with me is that we tend to enjoy an experience such as a holiday more if we pay for it in advance. You feel what economists call the “pain of paying” beforehand, so you don’t associate it with the experience, which by the time it comes round feels free and so all the more delicious.
So where I do splash out, I try to pay in advance where I can, to get the most enjoyment out of the expenditure as possible.
But what other options are there?
In our list of weird and wonderful budgeting ideas, one expert suggests freezing your credit cards in blocks of ice.
That means you have to wait for your cards to thaw before you use them – making impulse purchases impossible. Well, if it works…
A second idea is never to pay full price for anything. Another example of an absolute rule that acts as a helpful obstacle to impulse spending.
What works for you? I’d love to hear about the ways you’ve found to manage your money that work with and not against you.
Good luck with keeping your resolutions.