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Of all the months of the year, December just might be my favorite.
We get to spend so much quality time with friends and family. We celebrate our connections with our loved ones and the spirit of the Christmas season. December is a time of warmth, connections, joy and celebration.
Plus, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the year we’re putting behind us and set big goals to ensure next year is even better!
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If you’ve been following our How to Create a Financial Plan for the Year series, you’re ready to finish strong with a successful December. If you’re just joining us, jump right in or go back to review our financial goals from January.
Action Items for December:
- Reflect and Learn
- Tackle All Your Resolutions for Less
- Set BIG Financial Goals
1. Reflect and Learn
As you look back on the past year, December is a great time to reflect on the financial lessons you’ve learned. Examine each area of your finances. How are your fixed bills looking? Is there room to bring them down even further? Pick up the phone and call to negotiate! Cable companies and internet providers often offer great holiday rates to attract new customers, so use those deals to your advantage.
Reflect on your current budget and review your progress over the last twelve months. Do you see areas where you’ve been able to decrease your spending, find ways to save and pay down your debt? Have you created an emergency fund? Are you seeing your debt decrease?
When we reflect on the lessons we’ve learned, it doesn’t mean we should beat ourselves up about the areas where we fell short or times we’ve stumbled on our journey. Reflection is about discovering the lesson and “why” behind each experience.
Approaching mistakes as growth and learning opportunities helps us build up a growth mindset, a proven secret to success. Rather than throwing in the towel and giving up when we see financial challenges in our way, we should use these challenges to grow and make our resolve even stronger.
So, what did you learn last year from your financial endeavors? How did having a plan help you tackle your financial hurdles and achieve goals?
When it comes to financial goal setting, another area to examine is your motivation. Many of us are motivated by rewards. Look back on what worked during the last year. Did you operate better when you used a cash budget (like the envelope system)? Did you find areas of your budget where you think you could push yourself harder next year?
If you ate at home more often, what meal planning tactic worked best? Planning our meals ahead, preparing freezer meals and prepping on the weekends are all great methods for successfully going out less and eating in more. Review what planning techniques worked best for your family and use those lessons to make your upcoming year even more successful.
As you extract the lessons from the year, you may want to write them down in your journal or Living Well Planner. Use the budgeting pages to adjust and plan your future monthly budget and meal plans accordingly.
2. Make Your Resolutions for Less
Every year in January, thousands and thousands of people sign up for a gym membership. Stores are filled with file boxes, totes, workout equipment and even cooking equipment to sell to waiting customers. Weekend warriors are ready to tackle their resolutions on January 1st!
What happens by February? The gym is empty (but the gym owners will keep collecting for the next 12 months).
When we set resolutions, it gets pricey. In fact, some of us may view the cost of resolutions as a motivating factor. We believe if we pay for a gym membership we’ll feel more motivated to lace up our sneakers and hit the treadmill.
It’s time for a little tough love. You don’t need to spend money to achieve your resolutions. In fact, you may find it even more motivating if you give yourself rewards for achieving your goals, rather than rewarding yourself ahead of time and hoping your guilt will push you to justify your purchase.
If your goal is to get fit this year, lose weight or start living a healthier lifestyle, there are plenty of ways to do it for free. Walk or jog at your local mall, on an indoor track at the high school in town, or at your local rec center (often much less expensive than a gym membership). Use a free app to track your food and watch your calories.
If you’re hoping to eat healthy meals at home more often, start by making the familiar items in your pantry. Use up the food on hand, rather than placing a big Amazon Fresh order and finding it spoiled in a week when you return to your familiar ways. Add one new healthy dish to your weeknight repertoire. When your family likes it, add another.
When I started making freezer meals in the crockpot for my family, my husband’s initial reaction was, “No way!” So he became my taste-tester. I made it a goal that whatever I made (before I shared it on my blog) needed to be deemed delicious by both my husband and kids. It needed to be fast, easy, and bonus points if it could be made ahead and frozen. As I built up my cooking abilities, suddenly I had weeks of great meal ideas. I started prepping my meals all at once on Sundays and making 10 meals in an hour. It took time to build up to success.
If your goal is to organize your home, start by cleaning out all the items you no longer need or use. Go through your house, room by room and step by step. Use the plan outlined in 31 Days to a Clutter Free Life to organize your home without spending money on extra organizers, closet systems and equipment.
As you clean out the items you’re no longer using, sell them! Post them online on Craigslist, eBay or other sales spots. Take the items to a consignment store. You’ll end up ahead financially rather than starting out the year behind.
When we spend money on the front end of our goals, our motivation often diminishes quickly. Once the gym or the fancy closet organizers lose their luster, we’re stuck in a loop of financial obligation, paying for items and memberships we barely use. We end up feeling like we’ve failed and it’s demotivating, when it should be the opposite.
If you’re ready to set a resolution, great! Set your resolution, keep it for a month and then reward yourself. If you work out for a month, reward yourself with new sneakers, a yoga mat or workout DVD. If you cook at home for four weeks, then invest in that new slow cooker you’ve been eyeing. Once your closet is organized, use the money from the clothes you’ve consigned and purchase a set of quality hangers.
Resolutions don’t require an investment up front!
3. Set BIG Financial Goals
Guess what? This year has made you a financial goal CRUSHER! Even if you’ve faced challenges over the past year, you’ve now learned what works and what doesn’t. You know where your motivation comes from and what will make you even more successful in the next year.
We’ve discussed breaking your goals down and many of us are familiar with the SMART goal setting technique. Chances are, you’ve probably set strong goals for next year, but while your goals might be achievable, are they going to stretch you beyond your comfort zone?
Here’s the deal, I want you to aim BIG! Think of this time next year. If the sky was the limit, where would YOU want to be financially?
What are your big financial dreams? Do you want a house? A boat? Are you hoping to save up for a dream vacation? Retire early?
When we aim small we often hit our target, BUT we never know how far we could have gone if we’d only aimed higher. So, if there’s a big financial goal in your heart, set it!
Make your goal so big it scares you. Yes, it’s important to keep the steps to our goals realistic…to an extent, but we should also push ourselves out of our comfort zone. We should learn to push ourselves beyond our limits and aim for what productivity expert and bestselling author Chares Duhigg calls a “stretch goal.”
That big, big goal should be our focus. It narrows our drive and tells us what we should be working toward. It keeps us from spinning our wheels on tasks that don’t really move us toward the big thing we truly want.
Set your big goal and aim high.
Once you’ve set your big financial goal, set up your time frame. Calculate backwards—what do you need to earn and save each month to hit your goal? What do you need to change or adjust in your life to start to bring this goal to fruition?
I know the thought of a big, huge goal may seem absolutely impossible right now. I’ve been there, believe me. But here’s the deal—if we don’t aim for it, we’ll NEVER achieve it. If we shoot beyond the stars, we may only get to space, we may only hit the moon, but we’ll get far further than if we never believed in the possibility.
If you want big goal setting inspiration, check out the Magic of Thinking Big. This book will change your mindset, help you let go of your fear of failure and help you realize your dreams are within your reach.
Bonus: Best Purchases in December
In December, stores are moving items fast and consumers will often pay top dollar for the perfect Christmas present. This means the best rewards come to those who wait.
If you hold out until after Christmas, you’ll find deals on Christmas decorations, clothing, housewares and even toys. It’s not a bad time to stock up on wrapping paper, tinsel and trim for next year. Gift sets such as cosmetics, home décor, and pre-packaged items go on sale right after the holidays. Watch for these items in neutral themes—buy ahead and store in your gift closet to use as gifts all year.
Post-Thanksgiving fall items will go on sale as well. It’s a good time to purchase paper plates, napkins and autumn themed goods and decorations.
On December 18th, many stores offer free shipping online (it’s one of the last days to buy before Christmas). If you need to make a last-minute purchase, the 18th is the day to do it!
Gift cards are offered as door-buster deals during December. Watch for gift card offers. If you receive gift cards that don’t fit the bill, trade them online at stores like Giftcard Zen or Cardpool for cards you’ll use and love.
Citrus fruits are in season, so stock up on your vitamin C during the winter months. Squash and pumpkin are readily available along with kale, chard and other winter greens. It’s a great season for a comforting soup. Watch for sales on roasts, turkey and ham around and right after the holidays. If you have room, buy now and freeze for your next dinner party.
Stay warm and cozy this holiday season. Enjoy the wonderful month of December and all the holidays offer! Cheers to a great New Year!