7 tips to make your retirement resolutions stick

Chances are you’ll be greeting 2017 full of promises made to yourself, whether they’re for self-improvement or things to do or experiences to enjoy. Many of us will make vows about our money -- how get more of it or how to make the most of what we have.

Indeed, more than a third of respondents to a Fidelity Investments’ survey say they plan to make a financial resolution for the coming year. Fidelity’s 8th Annual Resolutions study found that of those people, half resolve to save more, 28 percent plan to pay down debt and 16 percent want to spend less.

These are surely admirable goals. The trouble is, for many people, their resolve fades by February or March -- they just can’t seem to make their good intentions stick.

If that describes you, Ken Hevert, senior vice president of retirement at Fidelity, shares these six tips for actually fulfilling your New Year’s resolutions to save more for retirement:

  1. Learn where you currently stand by assessing how much you’ve already saved and how much you need to save to meet your retirement goals. To help with this task, Fidelity has created a Retirement Score, similar to a credit score, that can quickly assess your retirement savings needs.
  2. Break your goal into smaller chunks. For example, start with the assessment mentioned above. Then move on to learning more about what options you have to save, either at work or through a local financial institution. Worried about picking the right investment? Don’t let that stop you from starting to save now -- you can always learn more about investing in the months to come. One possibility is to start with a “target-date fund” (one that adjusts its holding to remain appropriate as you age) that’s professionally managed for someone your age.
  3. Write down your goal. Research shows this actually improves the chances of your success.
  4. Share your goal with somebody you trust, such as a spouse, relative, close friend or trusted adviser. When someone else knows your plans, studies have shown that you often feel more accountable and work harder to reach your goals.
  5. Track your progress. Periodically check how your savings are building up. Seeing the progress you’ve made can motivate you to continue.
  6. Put your savings on auto pilot by signing up for automatic withholding from your paycheck, either through a 401(k) plan at work or through an arrangement with your financial institution.

Want to boost your motivation even more? Here’s a seventh tip: Look at a picture of what you might look like in a few decades. If you do this, research shows you’re more likely to feel sympathetic toward your future self, and you’re more likely to save to help out that future you.

You can find many online tools for projecting your future self. And while you’re online, look at a few calculators that estimate how much longer you might live.

Need even more motivation to stick to your goals? According to Fidelity, people who made financial resolutions at the start of 2016 are now more optimistic about their future, more debt-free and more financially secure, compared to those who didn’t make a financial resolution.

Here are two more tips for improving your retirement security:

  • Make sure you have an adequate emergency fund, so you don’t have to tap your retirement savings when the unexpected happens.
  • Celebrate your progress. Treat yourself to a reward when you meet your goals.

If you don’t plan to make a financial resolution for 2017, perhaps you might want to think again. Depending on the study you read, anywhere from one-fourth to more than 80 percent of working Americans are at risk of not accumulating enough savings for a comfortable retirement. Odds are good that you’ll benefit by increasing your savings.

It’s never too late to get started. Take steps now to improve your prosperity in 2017 -- and beyond. 

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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.