Struggling with your resolutions? Don’t worry. To err is human, to fail is divine.

…Well technically it’s ‘to forgive is divine’ but I’m glossing over that as this column is all about forgiveness, failure and giving yourself a break.

It’s February and many people have made it to the end of January with their finances a bit bruised and battered – and their good intentions in tatters.

The problem with making New Year’s resolutions is you’re often setting yourself up to fail. Choosing one moment each year to turn over a new leaf means when things don’t go to plan – and most of us will fail in in one way or another – we tend to give up on giving up. That’s because psychologically, NYE resolutions are an ‘all or nothing’ option. If we cock up, we think we’ve blown it completely.

In reality, we need to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and start over. Very few people manage to make significant changes to their lives without putting a foot wrong (who are these people anyway?!)

So the number one rule when it comes to resolutions is to accept that they won’t always go to plan, but keep going.

So forgive yourself, accept the occasional failure and make February your month to turn things around. Here’s my guide.

Set yourself achievable targets

February is the shortest month of the year, unlike January, which lasts for ever. So this month is a best time of the year to see if you can stick to a plan. It doesn’t matter that February has already started, give it a go!

From a psychological perspective, when setting timescales, don’t think in terms of forever. Try to make changes to your life in small chunks. So try exercising for 3 days a week for 30 minutes. If you manage that, try a 2-week period. Build in a few days off even as you grow in confidence – and accept that work, family and circumstances will get in the way sometimes and that’s not your fault. Just pick up where you left off.

Keep it simple

Start small and work your way up.

If you want to make some changes to your life, then start with a long list, then whittle it down to a few things to begin with. There are lots of apps and websites that you can use to measure and record your achievements, from giving things up like booze and fags, to exercise and living a healthy life. But ask yourself: can you update these apps in less than a minute or two each day? The more complicated you make things, the harder it is to stick to a routine.

Speaking of apps and websites, only use ones that allow you to chart both bad and good progress. Annoyingly, too many apps send you back to the beginning if you have a little slip. For example, I use Drink Aware to keep on top of my alcohol intake.  The app allows me to register if I have a few drinks and warns me if I’m drinking too much. I’ve yet to find a stop smoking app that allows for the occasional cheeky fag in a weak moment, so avoid ones that make you start over all together if you’re worried about willpower.

Delete things

A really easy and liberating way to make positive changes to your life is to delete things from your phone or laptop. Without temptation at your fingertips, it’s a great way to make a big impact really quickly.

To give you an example, I deleted all of my takeaway food delivery apps on 01 January this year. Instantly, my meals improved in quality because I couldn’t cheat and go for the lazy option. I not a fan of cooking and trying to shift my lifestyle to preparing healthy dishes that required effort wasn’t going to work as a resolution. But as the month progressed and my desire for fried chicken and pizza faded, I found the quality of the food I was purchasing was dramatically improving.

Instead I downloaded an app to log the food I consume on a daily basis so I can get a better feel for my eating habits. This is not for everyone (beware the slippery slope that is calorie counting) but it can help. I log my meals when watching the tele at the end of the day, so it’s not a faff. It takes me around a minute to do this.

Have a mental health detox too. I deleted Twitter/X from my phone and now only use it for work from my laptop. Removing that echo chamber of awfulness has improved mental wellbeing enormously! You could also turn off phone notifications so you aren’t chained to that mini-computer by your side. Try move your charging points away from the sofa and the bed too so you aren’t reaching over to death scroll every two minutes.

Don’t fork out for resolutions

If you’re feeling motivated to make some positive life changes, it’s tempting to fork out some cash on the projects you’ve committed to. But resist the urge to spend money until you’ve proved to yourself you can meet a few basic targets.

We waste millions on gym memberships, health plans and good intentions every year because businesses know that we are less inclined to cancel subscriptions, because that mean admitting defeat. So use free, trial versions of subscriptions or contracts first to see if they work for you before committing. Make a note in your diary when the trial ends so you don’t end up paying for the service. Try YouTube exercise videos that don’t require equipment if you want to get fitter. You could also experiment with free online recipes before signing up to a monthly delivery of expensive or exotic food ingredients.

Rewards are key

Which brings me to treating yourself. It’s important to have something to look forward to if you’re doing without fun stuff or making changes in your life that aren’t easy.

Get your diary open again and pick a date in the future (not to far at first). On that date, commit to treating yourself to a reward in recognition for achieving one of your resolution targets. That could be a day out, a nice meal in a restaurant or a mini shopping spree.

I use a non-smoking app that doesn’t let me make mistakes (that’s a good thing in my case!) But it does tell me how much money I’ve saved through not smoking. In January, I’d saved myself over £500. I’ve just booked a cheap citybreak abroad with that money (and had change left over).

Money is tight for many of us right now though, so knowing what you’ve saved is a bit different to actually having money in your bank account. So if you are giving something up, why not transfer the cash to a savings account so you can get the benefit of that money?

I use Hyperjar, which allows me to save money in virtual ‘jars’ for little things, like a night out or the weekly shop. But it also meant I could put the ciggy cash in to a jar so I could actually spend it on that holiday at the end of the month. There are loads of other online apps and savings accounts too, but I’d look for ones that allow you to save small amounts so you can see your progress even if money is tight.

Financial resolutions and savings

If you’ve decided to make your money work for you, then don’t go rushing for investment schemes or (God help us) cryptocurrency. Start with the best savings account rates we’ve seen in a decade.

You get the highest interest rates if you are willing to ‘lock in’ your cash away for a period of time, so think about the money you need to hand for emergencies and the cash you are able to lock up for a bit to get the best rates. This isn’t necessarily a long time. Short term deals can be 7 to 30 days and longer terms with the best rates are only a year to 5 years, though you can go for longer if you want.

That money is untouchable though. Some financial businesses might allow you to get your cash in emergency circumstances. However, expect big fees ora  significant or total loss of interest if you do.

Another option is the notice account which will let you get your hands on your money after a ‘notice’ period has elapsed. The longer that notice period, the better the rate of interest.

Finally, we have ISAs, which are basically a tax-free way to save. Though investment options are available the cash ISA is worth considering at the moment. You can put up to £20,000 in each cash ISA every year. As with savings accounts, you can get easy access and fixed deals. You can take out a new ISA each year but you can keep your cash in your existing ISAs ‘rolling over’ so if you have £20,000 plus yearly interest, this is ‘compounded’ next year – you then get interest on the total savings plus interest the next year. So your savings grow and grow.

Featured in Mirror – Martyn James

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