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12 Alternative Financial Resolutions for 2014

This article was written by in Planning. 31 comments.


New Year’s resolutions have become so cliché that the process of making them has become a joke. People settle for mundane goals for the year like “losing weight,” “quitting smoking,” and “getting out of debt.” These are great goals, of course, but most who think about these only when the calendar changes soon forget their plans, continue their lives as before, and lament their failure when they reflect as next year approaches.

Part of the problem is that these goals are not specific enough for anyone to take seriously. Gurus and bloggers are pushing forward the idea that goals need to be “SMART” — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based — as if it’s a new concept. This is a helpful way to look at your resolutions if you want to approach your life as a project manager. A better approach is to realize that time moves very fast, and with busy lives it’s better to make modest goals and focus on each small step that moves you in the right direction.

New year hatThe most popular New Year’s resolutions are tiresome. It’s no wonder people don’t keep them. Few people can be passionate about losing weight or getting out of debt, and even if they are, it will take a lot of work to change the behaviors (or medical conditions) that caused the circumstances needing improvement. These can be multi-year goals, and if your entire success relies on completion within 365 days (366 in a leap year) you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Here are some different ways at looking at financial resolutions that are not only achievable within the year but are more interesting than what many may typically resolve to do. While there are twelve listed here, you’re more likely suited for success if you focus on just one. The year will be over before you know it, but your resolutions should always be aligned with long-term goals for yourself or your personal mission statement.

1. Spend money on things that are important.

Your spending habits reveal what is important to you. If you spend more money buying video games for yourself than you spend on activities with your significant other, you have decided on some level that you favor your time with a computer game more than the one you love. The higher value each dollar has to you, with the importance of one dollar related to your level of disposable income, the bigger the importance of whatever you choose to spend that dollar on.

Look where your money goes. You may need to track your spending if you’re not sure. You’ve defined what’s important to you by your expenses. Your shelter (rent or mortgage) and food are obviously important and form the basis of your expenses, but beyond that, you can rate how important any activity is to you by comparing your level of spending. If you don’t like what you see, resolve to spend your extra money — after you cover necessary expenses and saving — on the things you want to be important to you.

2. Create something every month.

FoodThe culture in this country is one of consumption. We consume food, media, and resources. In order to consume, we spend money. This year, change your role in society. Become a creator rather than just a consumer. You can create something that other people consume or something that you consume yourself.

  • Cook more often than you prepare frozen meals and dine out.
  • Create your own adventures instead of watching movies and television.
  • Write in a journal rather than reading a best-selling novel.
  • Engage your mind creatively, taking photographs, making art, or performing music.

3. Learn a new skill.

This could be the year you focus on trying new things. The best new skills to learn would be those that are related to your interests and passions. Here are a few examples, but think about the things that make you happy and decide on a skill that enhances your attitude.

  • If you’ve had a favorite vacation destination in mind in a foreign country, start learning the language and culture.
  • If you like running but haven’t taken this type of exercise seriously yet, train yourself for a 5K race.
  • Learn how to play the piano.

Many new skills can take more than a year to learn. Don’t consider your year a failure if you don’t complete your mission to learn something new. Keep taking small steps that move your life in the right direction, and whether you complete your goal within one year is less important.

4. Earn money from your hobby.

Coin CollectionConsumerism Commentary started as a hobby, but after a while, it became apparent that writing could also be a business that generated income. In some cases, though, turning a hobby into a business can turn an enjoyable activity into a chore. Turning your hobby into a business is not the best option for everyone, so this has to be a personal decision. If you like collecting coins, do you want to be a coin dealer? If you’re particularly skilled at photography, do you want to market yourself and compete with professional photographers?

Not everyone wants to start a business, but keeping your activities small can keep the business aspect of your hobby to a minimum. Strike the right balance between hobby and business so you still gain a maximum amount of pleasure and satisfaction from the activities you enjoy.

5. Start a blog to track your finances.

I have first-hand experience about how helpful it has been to publicly track my own finances. This is a great way to maintain focus on any goal. By making your progress public, you are holding yourself accountable for your success. And if your goals are interesting to others, even strangers, they can join you in your quest and offer support — and more often, criticism — when you need it. Draw some inspiration from Naked With Cash as well as how I tracked my finances from 2003 through 2011.

Rather than using a blog to track your success, allow the blog to be your success. Start a website using WordPress or Tumblr and write anonymously about the financial issues in your life. You don’t need to be a great writer, but if you continue, your writing will improve. Don’t be concerned about building an audience or earning money. Writing for its own sake helps clarify financial issues, particularly when you read what you’ve written over a period of time.

Tracking your finances in software like Mint.com or Quicken isn’t always enough. When you look at your finances with the intent of writing about them, your brain performs at least a minimum amount of analysis, and this is a step further than most people take with their finances.

6. Support local businesses.

The 3/50 Project is an initiative that encourages consumers to spend $50 among three local businesses each month. Keeping your money local helps improve the economy in the community where you live, and it helps you build relationships with your neighbors near you and across your town. Similarly, as much as I don’t like the real motivation behind American Express’s Small Business Saturday, many mom-and-pop business do in fact see benefits to encouraging AmEx customers to enter their stores.

Following an initiative can provide extra motivation for achieving a goal, but you can do this without an initiative as well. Supporting local businesses is a possible resolution that most people don’t consider. Usually, people resolve to save money, and that could mean shopping online or visiting big-box or warehouse stores. Spending money in these locations does not help a community thrive — at least, not directly.

The same is true about local community banks and credit unions. By moving your money away from big banks, you are taking a financial action that is more beneficial in the area where you live. This is a simple, achievable resolution for the new year.

7. Sell or give away your stuff.

ClothingThis could be the year you focus on decluttering your life. When I moved into my current apartment a few years ago, I seemed to have so much space available. I fell into the typical habit of expanding the way I live to fit into my new environment. If you look around your living space, you can probably find a number of things you don’t need. Here are just a few suggestions of where to start:

  • Look through your closet and give away the clothes you no longer wear.
  • Sell your old games, electronics, movies, and books on eBay or Amazon.com.
  • Organize your papers and shred old documents you no longer need to keep.

This sounds like a good weekend project rather than a New Year’s resolution, so to make this worthwhile, consider running through this process on the first Sunday of each month. Each time, you’ll find more to eliminate. If unchecked, “stuff” can take over your life. If you have so much it’s burdensome, your possessions can own you rather than the other way around. Reduce and eliminate your dependency on things that take up space.

8. Spend more time with activities that make you happy.

I mentioned above that you can determine what’s most important to you by following the money. The same thing is true about time. If you were to analyze every waking minute of my day, you’d see that I spend most of my time working on my business and most of the rest of that time with my girlfriend. Or that’s what I’d like to believe. I, for one, spend a good portion of time entertaining myself with movies and television. Productivity nerds would fairly criticize me, but I do find value in resting my brain by allowing a local grumpy doctor solve medical mysteries so I don’t need to or by watching a clever con game unfold.

But buy spending my time this way, I’ve traded my enjoyment in creativity, like photography and music, for sitting in front of a television. Decide what’s important to you and schedule time to dedicate to those activities. I’m not a fan of keeping a schedule, but when you can schedule activities you enjoy rather than scheduling corporate meetings, you will end the year happier and more fulfilled.

And the reason we make resolutions at all is because we are unhappy with something in our lives. If we can spend more time on enjoyable activities, we won’t be nearly as unhappy.

9. Volunteer with an organization that matches your values.

Until the government decides to offer a tax deduction for volunteer work, this potential resolution won’t have a direct effect on your finances, but it could inspire you in ways that do affect your money. The first step is creating a mission statement for your life. In fact, defining your mission can be a complete resolution itself for the year, as defining a meaningful mission requires thoughtful self-reflection that goes beyond the confines of a lunch break at work.

Once you have an accounting of your values and life goals, it’s easier to determine what organizations share your view of the world. Spending time with these organizations and the people who share your philosophies can be rewarding. Often, the reward is through personal satisfaction and pride but there can be a financial aspect, as well. You may decide that you want to use your wealth to improve life for a community, or you may decide that you would like to motivate yourself harder to build your own wealth to help you complete your life’s mission.

10. Be happy with what you have.

The drive to want more for ourselves creates motivation to move forward, to earn more money, and to improve our financial habits. When there’s a mission behind this drive, a purpose in life, it makes that motivation more meaningful. Your should also stop wanting for a moment to consider that if you are reading this article, you were most likely lucky to be born in a situation or community where wealth-building, education, and even sanitation are possible. The “pursuit of happiness,” along with life and liberty, concerned the founders of the United States, but happiness is easily within reach.

Resolve to consider all the positive things in your life: your family, your wealth (no matter how bad your financial situation is, it could be worse), your friends. Consider the opportunities you’ve been given that helped you achieve what you have so far as well as the work you’ve put into shaping your life.

11. Don’t settle for low-quality relationships.

Unfortunately, there are often people in your life who bring you down. You don’t want to surround yourself with yes men, but if you look at your extended circle of friends, chances are you have a few with whom spending time makes you feel good and a few who often dampen your mood. While you don’t want to eliminate relationships with people from whom you can receive kind criticism, it is beneficial to reduce time with people who consistently have a negative attitude.

I’ve discovered this over a long period of time. I’ve always held onto friendships, regardless of the quality, because I believed that every close connection was as important as another. Perhaps I grew up, or perhaps I just had less time to spend with people. Perhaps there have been a few events where I had placed faith in a friend and had been disappointed, and another friend advised me I shouldn’t have such “high” expectations for my relationships. There are enough great people in the world not to have to settle for mediocre people in your life. If you feel you are consistently lowering your expectations, it may be time to spend time with others — as long as you are doing as much as possible to be a good person, yourself, in your inter-personal relationships.

This is the age of Facebook. People brag about how many “friends” they have, and it’s more of a thrill of collection than an enjoyment of real connections. Resolve to enhance the quality of your relationships rather than quantity. Although this goes against most “networking” advice for professionals who want to advance their career, it’s an approach for people who want to advance their life.

12. Let go of your grudges.

Just like it will benefit you to reduce your exposure to people with negative attitudes, consider expelling the negative feelings you’re harboring towards others. I don’t believe that positivity in itself brings about wealth — you can’t increase your bank account by just thinking about how nice it would be to have a bigger bank account, regardless of what New Age aficionados tell you — but letting go of thoughts that prevent you from accepting opportunities and greeting the world optimistically will help put you in a better position to take advantage of good things that come your way.

The above resolutions are not specific. You can use them — or better, just one or two — to guide your thoughts and attitude for the coming year, or you can use them to create a basis for measurable targets that come December 31 you can say you reached. Some tie directly into your finances, and others are related laterally. All of them can help you go beyond the typical neglected resolutions like “losing weight” and “saving money.”

Do something worthwhile and meaningful with your self this coming year..

Photos: L. Marie, Ancient Art, LizMarie_AK

Updated April 23, 2014 and originally published January 2, 2014. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar krantcents

This year I am volunteering! It was one of my 2011 goals that I had to defer because I was a displaced teacher. Instead of volunteering, I spent most of the year making sure I had a new assignment.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,485 (Platinum)

That’s great! I’ve backed off many of my volunteering activities in the last few years, but I’m looking at some options this year.

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avatar Viviana

I am so on the same page – I am wanting to spend my money on things that give me joy such as going out to brunch once a month which had been cut out of the budget the past couple of years. Now I am thinking there is more to life than being frugal.

I am also finding myself less and less interested in negative people. This is a big deal for me because I am more a glass half empty girl but have been consciously working on being more positive.

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avatar Julie @ The Family CEO

What amazing messages this post contains. I love all of these resolutions but #2 is my favorite. It’s so rewarding to create instead of consume. Happy (Alternative) New Year!

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avatar wylerassociate ♦162 (Cent)

this is a great post, i like many of these resolutions. Now if I can just make the time to do that managing work & famiy life.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,485 (Platinum)

For people who are very giving their time to family and jobs, it’s difficult to find time for personal development. Find some time for yourself, everyone needs it.

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avatar shellye ♦107 (Cent)

This is a great post, Flexo. I love how you take the typical “New Year’s Resolution” piece and put a very realistic spin on it. My favorite is #1 – spending money on what’s important. I think one reason people don’t like to talk about money is that we tend to immediately judge folks by how they spend their money, rather than realize that we’re all different, and have different priorities. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I also appreciate #11; I have spent a couple of years pruning some less-than-fruitful relationships in my life. It’s not always easy, and can take some time (obviously) but off-loading the downers in my life has not only resulted in less stress, but has probably saved me money in the long run by not hanging out with those people anymore (movies, dinner, shopping, etc).

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avatar Barb

Volunteering can help with finances; one of my volunteer activities is ushering at a few local theaters. It allows me to see theater, something I love, at no cost, instead of spending hundreds of dollars. In 2011, I saw 21 shows…and didn’t pay for 8 of those. (And for a number of the others, got greatly reduced prices using Goldstar and other discount ticket sites.)

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,485 (Platinum)

That’s true. I’ve also seen shows and other performances for free as a result of volunteering. I hadn’t heard of Goldstar — that looks like something worth exploring.

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avatar shellye ♦107 (Cent)

I second the Goldstar recommendation. It’s a great place to pick up tickets to a comedy show or theater performance for 50% off, sometimes more.

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avatar Aaron

Love the idea of creating something every month. I don’t think we use our creativity enough – and giving ourselves permission or an “agenda” item to do so would probably prove quite beneficial.

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avatar Cindy

Really enjoyed this article! I read your daily’s and really enjoyed them. I also do alot of the things you have mentioned here. Especially like the creativity and Support small business becuase we do both and get much enjoyment from them. (Not to mention we have a small business and create) We are a little older than yourself but also track in quicken for our personal finances, Keep up the great work.

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avatar Monica

Great ideas and a reminder that we should re-evaluate what is important to us and set goals to change our situation if we are unhappy with it. Regarding #4, I think fear of the unknown and fear of failure prohibit many people from following their true passion. I’m not saying that you should drop everything and be an artist, but you are right that there are ways to incorporate your interests into ventures that can make money. Really enjoyed your article Flexo!

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avatar Mike

I’m always looking to learn something new, so I think that’s a good one. I’ve been meaning to start learning Italian so when we eventually make it over there to see my wife’s family I’ll have half a clue about what’s going on.

Letting go of grudges is a good one too. Life is too short to let bad feelings linger.

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avatar The Happy Homeowner

Great post, Flexo! I always make sure to balance my financial goals with personal/health/giving back goals as well. I find that the more well-rounded your plan is for the upcoming year, the less likely you are to burn out/lose focus because you’re not interested. Best of luck to you in 2012!

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avatar Tyler S.

My Favorites:
Create Something – Why not offer some of your own talents or knowledge for others to learn from? We can’t always just be taking everything in! You’ve got to put everything you take in to good use.
Learn a New Skill – Whether it’s to impress people at dinner parties, or maybe earn some extra money, we all should be stepping out of our comfort zones more often. It’s a great way to grow as a person.
Let Go of Grudges – This will never be easy, but life is to short to let bitterness eat you up inside forever.
Now if we could just get everyone to practice these! Looking forward to great things in 2012 :)

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avatar UH2L

Great post Flexo. Many of these items are things I strive to do anwyay but making them as resolutions might make me more inclined to follow through.

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avatar Anonymous

I love all of these alternative goals, but I zeroed in on #2 and #5. Create something every month or every chance you get. I am surrounded by so many talented and creative people in my life, and I am finally taking some initiative and working on creating some cool things together! I am also starting an herb garden in my tiny patio, so that I am consuming less…when I want fresh basil, I’ll just pick it! As for #5, my blog has helped me immensely when it comes to understanding my finances. I’m still only paying off a little bit of debt each month, but I feel accountable. I’m ready to admit my mistakes on there, and I know I might go backwards sometimes, but overall, writing about it and figuring it out is a huge step forward in my financial life!

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,485 (Platinum)

At one point in my life, I was surrounded by creative people. Over the last decade or so, I’ve moved in the opposite direction. It’s not that I don’t love everyone in my life now… but as my priorities shifted and I built my business, I’ve had less time to spend in the creative activities I’ve participated in before.

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avatar Gina

I really like #2 on this list. It’s something I’ve been encouraging my family (especially my husband) to do, but I like how you’ve worded it. It’s easy with the kids to turn off the tv/computer and send them outside, but it’s harder for us adults!

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avatar qixx ♦1,890 (Half-Dollar)

Flexo,

The food next to create something looks good. Where did you get the image (and hopefully recipe for it)?

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

OK, Flexo, you’ve outdone yourself on this one. Choosing the catagories you did for this heading, was indeed creative.

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avatar Mel @ brokeGIRLrich

#3 & #4 both made it onto my financial goals for the new year (monetize my blog better and learn how to play the trombone), but I really like your #9. I think I’m going to add that to the list as well.

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avatar Alicia

This is a great list. I’ve decided to volunteer my time, and I’m working at making the blogging/accountability thing as we speak.

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avatar Martin

Here’s another one — stop being a little bitch! Get things done, take some risks, and stop being so afraid.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,485 (Platinum)

Always good advice, Martin!

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avatar DonnaFreedman ♦80 (Newbie)

I, too, like the “create something” resolution. Maybe a piece of writing, maybe a new website, maybe just a really good meal out of what’s in the fridge and pantry. I wonder if people might look at cooking differently if they considered it a chance to create something?
Also like “let go of grudges.” Working on it!

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avatar HAWKEYE

Be aware……….Cap1 360 does NOT allow a beneficiary on your acct.

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avatar Ceecee ♦53 (Newbie)

This is much better than your average list of resolutions. I like the first……it reminds me of a book I read in the past year titled, “All the Money in the World.” It is all about spending according to one’s values. Also, the “create something” one…..nothing makes you feel better than creating something new.

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avatar Jack L

I avoid New Year’s resolutions entirely.

Anything worth doing on January 1 is worth doing any day of the year. Besides, sooner begun is sooner done.

Instead, every Jan 1 I make two lists:

- what I did this year that I enjoyed or was a positive thing to continue in the new year
- the negative things I did or happened to me, that I want to let go

The first list gets saved and read several times in January as the focus for the new year. The negative list gets destroyed – shredder, fireplace, whatever’s handy. Physically destroying a record of your bad thoughts, deeds, experiences helps my mind let it go to make room to focus on the good.

Not exactly financial wisdom, but a clear mind makes clear goals, be it about money, work, or life in general.

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avatar Ivan Widjaya

I am all for creating something, giving things away and being contented. But more than the three, the most important one is being contented as this is the core on how you can learn to save some money.

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