Canadians optimistic that 2024 will be better than 2023: Maru poll
The champagne is gone, the ball has been dropped, and the holiday bills are starting to roll in.
That means there's no time like the present to make a New Year's resolution — especially one that might help take some of the sting out of those bills.
Experts say it really is possible to use Jan. 1 as an opportunity to turn over a new financial leaf.
“There are certain times of year that are the best times to set a goal, and one of those is most certainly New Year's," said B.C.-based Kerry Taylor, a financial journalist and creator of the financial website Squawkfox.com.
"There’s science called the fresh start effect, and it’s a really cool way to make resolutions stick. What it is, is a psychological phenomenon where we feel more motivated and excited to attack a goal based on the time of year.”
That's good news for the 38 per cent of people who have chosen "improve finances" as their New Year's resolution for 2024, according to Forbes magazine, which polled 1,000 U.S. adults in October.
Money-related resolutions are always a popular choice, second only to the perennial "lose weight" or "get fit" New Year's pledge. But financial New Year's resolutions feel especially timely this year given Canadians have spent the past 12 months grappling with grocery store sticker shock, rising interest rates and increasingly unaffordable housing costs.
"I know people are motivated to have more in the bank account, whether that’s tackling the mortgage or paying off credit card debt," Taylor said.
"But Jan. 1 doesn’t make the change for you. It doesn’t guarantee the success, which is where a lot of us go astray. So to make that goal stick, you have to actually do the work.”
When it comes to resolutions, making them stick is less about willpower and more about habit formation, said Vancouver-based Natasha Knox, a financial therapist who helps clients think, feel, communicate and behave differently with money.
Knox advises resisting the temptation to overhaul your entire financial picture at once. Instead, she suggests starting with an extremely small goal — what she calls a "micro- or nano-goal."
"There’s quite a lot of science around habit formation," Knox said.
"And when you're trying to form a new habit, you want to start with something so easy it requires no willpower at all."
That means, if your goal is to save more money in 2024, start by increasing the amount you auto-transfer to a savings account each month by a "miniscule" level, she said.
And if your goal is to spend less, try a "no-spend day" rather than tackling a more ambitious "no-spend January."
"Measure it in small chunks. Try it for a single day, then maybe the next week pick two days. And then by spring, maybe you have a no-spend week," Knox said. "That’s a lot more sustainable.”
Vanessa Bowen, founder of Toronto-based financial coaching service for women Mint Worthy Co., said the new year can be a good time for people to sit down and reflect about why they make the money choices they do.
"We talk a lot about money management, but we never seem to talk about money mindset," she said.
"So let's say someone says, 'OK, my resolution this year is to pay down my debt.' OK, that's great. But if they hold a mindset that they'll always be in debt, or they believe that getting out of debt is hard and they don't have enough money to get out of debt, their actions will always align with their mindset."
To understand your own money mindset, Bowen recommends thinking about the financial beliefs you may have adopted from your parents, your own triggers and habits around money, as well as visualizing how you want to think and behave about money in the future.
It can also be a good idea to set up weekly "money dates" with yourself. This is dedicated time you set aside on a recurring basis to touch base with your financial goals and evaluate your progress.
"If you just set a goal and hope and pray it will happen, it won't happen," she said.
"But if you have a plan and have these weekly check-ins, you're more likely going to stick to your resolution way past February."
Other psychological tricks experts recommend include "temptation bundling" — where you take something you don't like to do, like paying bills, and bundle it with an indulgence, like eating chocolate.
Another trick? Visualizing yourself as a senior citizen. That trick, in particular, can help you create empathy for your future self and encourage you to care for yourself by saving for retirement.
Whatever the goal, however, it's important people don't put too much pressure on themselves. Knox recommends finding a friend or family member with a similar goal, so you can cheer each other on when things are going well and commiserate during setbacks.
"That has a lot of value. We're social creatures," she said.
While these are difficult financial times we live in, almost everyone can benefit from taking the time to make small changes that will help set them up for a more prosperous new year, Bowen said.
"It's progress over perfection," she said.
"It's not to say that you're going to have a 100 per cent mark at the end of 2024, but I think small steps will help people to make the incremental changes that our society and economy needs right now."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 4, 2023.