Anyone can make a New Year’s resolution — but keep it? There’s the rub.
Vows concerning money are common, and according to the 2017 Fidelity Investments New Year Financial Resolutions study, the top picks are to save more (50 percent), pay down debt (28 percent) and spend less (16 percent).
Despite the odds, here are five people who have not just made New Year’s financial resolutions, but completed them. If you’ve made a resolution regarding money, their stories — and a financial expert’s advice — may help you reach your own destination.
1. Raise a low credit score.
Darius Scott, a Durham, North Carolina, doctoral degree candidate and founder of the startup Endear, says one of his 2016 financial resolutions was to strengthen his weak credit score. When he began the year, his credit score was 515.
“I actually managed to increase my score a great deal after it took a hit from medical bills a while back,” says Scott. “I never thought I’d get it together … A little effort goes a long way.”
How did he do it? Scott repaid his lingering past-due medical bills, and set up automatic payments for all other accounts. “Then, I got a relatively accessible credit card because I didn’t have any open.”
By the end of the year, his credit score was 705, and opportunities he never imagined opened up.
“I’ve been able to earn miles with a Delta Gold Card (review) and have been paying off the full balance monthly,” says Scott. “And I was able to take advantage of an awesome opportunity to start a business.”
As a result, in 2017, Scott says, “I feel in control. Every time I see my budget squared away, a little stress goes away. I hadn’t realized I’d been carrying it.”
2. Never let an account mistake slip through again.
Even professionals make mistakes, and that includes Harrine Freeman.
The founder of H.E. Freeman Enterprises, a credit restoration company based in Washington, D.C., says for months she didn’t check her statements, which resulted in a slew of inaccuracies that she had to correct.
So in 2016, she made a resolution. “I decided to be more diligent about reconciling my financial accounts,” says Freeman. She began to carefully read every statement.
“In three instances I was able to get $100 credited to my financial accounts due to bank errors,” says Freeman, who urges everyone to do the same.
Checking your statements and correcting errors is not a hard resolution to keep, she says, and results are worth the time spent.
3. Fully funded retirement and medical plan contributions — in six months.
Holly Wolf and her husband are no strangers to financial resolutions. They’ve been making and keeping them for 15 years.
However, says Wolf, “Our retirement goals for 2016 were very bold. I was planning to maximize my 401(k) contribution, knowing I was going to lose my job in 2016.” The couple had to do it in the six months before her employment ended.
Additionally, they decided to max out their health savings account and contribute more than 10 percent of her husband’s self-employed earnings to his retirement fund, knowing they might not be able to afford to do so in 2017.
The Wolfs did everything they resolved by employing an old-fashioned method: They wrote their financial resolutions down and posted the notes in plain view around their home to help remind them to pare their spending to make their goals.
By the end of the year, they hit their mark.
The lesson: “I believe average people can save above average amounts of money simply by spending on what is important to you and not wasting it on what’s not,” says Wolf.
4. Deleted $80,000 in credit card debt.
Jay Sondhi, vice president of a lending company in San Francisco, says his troubles began in 2008. The mortgage meltdown impacted his business so drastically that he lost everything, including his retirement savings.
To make ends meet, he leaned on credit cards. “In 2009, I looked at my finances and realized I was borrowing from Peter to pay Paul,” says Sondhi. His total amount due on cards totaled $80,000.
For the past eight years, on New Year’s, Sondhi made a repayment goal.
“It was an uphill battle,” he says. “I had an Excel spreadsheet in my head for my spending. I moved from a big three-bedroom, three-bathroom home to a 300-square-foot place. I shaved down so many expenses.
“Massage every month? No. Chiropractor? Not going to happen anymore. Every bit helps out. It wasn’t fun, but you really can find the extra $500 or more if you try,” he says. “I knew a lot of other people who declared bankruptcy, but it was against my moral fabric.”
In 2016, Sondhi became debt-free.
In 2017, he says, “Things thing are more chill now, but I still have that habit I have the same spreadsheet, but with a bigger paycheck. Paying off the debt wasn’t debilitating, it was motivating.”
5. Accumulate a net worth of $100,000.
Judah Ross, a sales director in Austin, Texas, didn’t want to accumulate mere chump change in 2016. His financial resolution was grand — $100,000 grand, that is.
“My goal was to get my net worth above six figures,” says Ross. “Through hard work (sales is a great profession that really gives back what you put into it), aggressive savings and smart (or lucky?) investing, I was able to achieve it. And no debt.”
Ross already had about $70,000 saved from previous years’ goals, so he needed $30,000 to make it to the finish line.
His aggressive commitment to save involved contributing 10 percent of his income to his 401(k), which his company matched at 5 percent. “It’s amazing how much that adds up to quickly,” says Ross.
He also deposited all extraneous income into regular savings and personal investment accounts. By the end of the year, he had reached his goal.
Did this mean living a monastic lifestyle? No, says Ross: “I have lots of fun, but I find cheap ways to do it.”
Some of his saving secrets? “I’m big into rewards and points programs. My girlfriend and I took a two-week trip to Europe this year, but only spent about $1,000 out of pocket,” he says. “I use Groupon for as many activities as possible, and only buy them when they have an additional sale.”
None of these success stories surprise Brett Graff, a personal finance expert based in Miami. People who keep financial resolutions usually do so because they’re able to withstand some drudgery and hardship by focusing on the outcome in a unique way.
“They know what motivates them.” says Graff. “Contributing to a 401(k) is not exciting. but retiring on a lake or in an apartment in Manhattan they love is. The goal drives them. They think less about the task and more on what they’ll get when they meet the objective.”
If you are already faltering, “Be realistic,” he says. “If the resolutions are too lofty, you’ll lose sight.”
Don’t neglect the occasional reward along the way. It needn’t cost much or anything.
“For me, the most indulgent thing I can ever do is lie down for an hour during the day,” says Graff. “You may choose to watch a silly TV show or take a walk in the park…
“Then make one small step in the right direction, even if its super tiny, like taking the credit card statements out and placing them on your desk,” he says. “Don’t worry about the second step. It has to be pain-free so you’ll be motivated to take the next step.”
Editor’s note: This story, “Resolution keepers: 5 who transformed their financial lives,” was posted originally on CreditCards.com.