Controlling spending is near top of list of New Year's resolutions

STAYING AHEAD

December 29, 1991|By JANE BRYANT QUINN | JANE BRYANT QUINN,1991, Washington Post Writers Group

NEW YORK PHC DB — New York -- Researchers study everything, even New Year's resolutions. For some 15 years, assorted surveys have been identifying each New Year's most popular intents.

This year, for the first time, a money resolution made the "top three" list. Fifteen percent of us are resolved to get control of our personal finances, according to a poll by the Gallup Organization.

The top wish for 1992 (and mine, I might add) is to lose weight. That's a perennial.

Controlling your money came in a close second. Another perennial -- stopping or reducing smoking -- came in third.

In past surveys by other researchers, controlling your money typically came in sixth or seventh, says Dr. John C. Norcross, professor and chair of the psychology department at the University of Scranton. That it moved up so high is clearly a sign of the times.

Some 40 percent of Americans

make New Year's resolutions, but most are not serious. Within the first week, one-quarter of the resolutions are broken; within the first month, around one-half, Dr. Norcross says. By the end of the year, only 15 percent to 20 percent of resolvers remain observant.

Looking on the bright side, however, roughly one in five of us do manage to change our lives in a significant way, after declaring ourselves on Jan. 1. So it's not unreasonable to think that you really might be able to organize your financial life.

But it won't be done by willpower alone.

That's a recipe for failure. Succeeding at a New Year's resolution takes an organized plan, Dr. Norcross says. Here's how he suggests that you go about it:

* Gather information about your problem. Is your spending out of control? Have you neglected to keep your insurance up to date? Are you paying no attention to your investments? Are your financial files totally disorganized? Do you actually know where your money goes? Think about what's wrong and how it got that way.

* Define an attainable goal. Many resolutions fail because you're unrealistic about what you can do. For example, you might say, "I'll save $400 in January," even though that's more than 10 percent of your income.

No surprise, then, when you fail. Better to say, "I'll save $100 a month this year" and then succeed.

* Get the cooperation of your family and friends. You'll never get a handle on your finances if your spouse won't help and your children pester you for goodies. Let your friends know that saving money is a new priority, so you'd rather not make a date for an expensive restaurant.

* Get rid of any temptations around you. For example, you might put all but one of your credit cards into a drawer. Or quit reading retail ads. Or throw out mail-order catalogs without flipping through them.

* Substitute a new, good behavior for the old, bad one. Save money at the start of each month rather than waiting to see what's left when the month is over.

Buy a file cabinet (cardboard will do) and start a financial filing system.

* Apply willpower. Make a public commitment so that everyone knows what you're up to, and keep reminding yourself that you're capable of change.

Post signs on your refrigerator. Wrap your credit card in a folder marked "Handle With Care." Write a list of things you intend to do and mark them off one by one.

* Reward yourself. Every month that you keep your resolution, pay yourself a compliment. Or buy a candy bar. Or duck out and see a movie.

* Persist. People who keep their resolutions do make errors, Dr. Norcross says. When that happens, it's important not to blame yourself or get discouraged. Instead, tell yourself that a slip is not a fall and plow ahead toward your desire. That will make you the one person in five who succeeds.

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