BOSTON – This past summer's bout of market volatility may have had one positive side-effect: the sense of complacency many Americans may have felt last year about their finances may be wearing off. At least, if making financial resolutions is any indication: according to Fidelity Investments®' seventh annual New Year Financial Resolutions Study, the number of Americans ringing in the New Year by making financial resolutions is on the rise, with 37 percent considering one, compared to 31 percent in 2015.
"While the market volatility of August may be out of sight, it's not out of mind. Periods of economic uncertainty tend to be a reminder about why having a financial plan—and sticking to it—is important," said Ken Hevert, senior vice president of Retirement at Fidelity. "Committing to financial goals such as saving more and paying off debt can have a tremendous impact over time on the well-being of a household, which may be why people who make resolutions on money matters tend to feel better about financial wellness than those who don't."
This year, the top three financial resolutions are:
- Saving more (54 percent)
- Spending less (19 percent)
- Paying off debt (16 percent)
Interestingly, "paying down credit card debt," another top resolution, is at an all-time high of 11 percent, more than double what it was last year (five percent). For those identifying saving as a top priority, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) preferred to set aside money for long-term goals such as college, retirement, and health care—up from 57 percent in 2014. Among the 32 percent saving for short-term goals, six in 10 said they would use their savings to build up an emergency fund, up from 52 percent in 2014, perhaps motivated by recent economic volatility.
Another encouraging indicator is that despite this past summer's market turbulence and uncertainty about where the economy could be headed next year, people appear to feel optimistic about what the New Year will bring, with nearly three-quarters (72 percent) predicting they will be better off financially in 2016. That said, many enter the New Year well aware of potential roadblocks that could derail their efforts. (Note: an infographic on the key findings can be found here.)
Top financial concerns going into 2016
Three key concerns are weighing on the minds of Americans as the New Year approaches. "Unexpected expenses" tops the list at 62 percent, followed by "the economy" (53 percent), fueled in large part by worries over global instability, as well as market volatility and interest rate concerns.
"Health care costs in retirement" follows closely behind at 47 percent—and perhaps with good reason. Fidelity's recent Retirement Health Care Cost Estimate1 reveals that on average a couple, both aged 65 and retiring this year, can now expect to spend an estimated $245,000 on health care throughout retirement, up from $220,000 the year before. Concern over the cost of health care is reflected in other Resolution findings, too: for those saving more for long-term goals, an all-time high 41 percent cited saving for retiree health care costs as an important focus. Furthermore, of those who indicated they've accumulated more debt this year, 19 percent identified unexpected or increased medical costs as the top reason—a figure that's almost tripled from 2011, when only seven percent cited it as the No. 1 reason. (Note: an infographic on health care findings can be found here.)
Making Resolutions linked to better financial wellness
Can making financial resolutions actually improve your economic outlook? The research suggests doing so can, in a number of ways:
|People who made financial resolutions at the start of 2015 are…||…in better financial shape…||…than those who don't make a financial resolution.|
|More optimistic.||51 percent feel strongly they will be better off financially in 2016||Only 38 percent strongly agree with this statement|
|More debt-free.||45 percent say they are less in debt this year compared to last year||Only 33 feel the same way|
|More financially secure.||43 percent say they are in a better financial situation this year than last||Only 38 percent feel the same way|
What's more, actually achieving what you resolve to do can have an even bigger impact on your financial condition. Looking strictly at those who nearly or completely achieved their 2015 resolution2, 56 percent said they were in a better financial situation this year, compared to 34 percent of those who didn't come as close to achieving their resolution. And, 51 percent said they were less in debt, compared to 40 percent who didn't stick with their resolution last year.
"While the act of making a resolution is certainly not enough to ensure financial prosperity, it can provide the motivation needed to get you headed in the right direction," said Hevert. "The next step is to stick with it. Identifying clear objectives can be a great motivator. In addition, sharing resolutions with your spouse or partner can help boost your likelihood for success. In fact, forty-one percent of those who made it closest to the finish line when it came to last year's resolutions were more likely to have talked that resolution over with their partner."
Need help sticking to resolutions? Tips for getting started
For those interested in making a financial resolution, but wondering if they have the will power to stick with it, here's a suggestion: 77 percent of respondents who are most successful when it came to sticking to resolutions identify the ability to see the bottom-line benefit over the year as the most powerful motivator.
"When making financial resolutions, we encourage investors to set the stage by making smart financial moves before December 31, such as maximizing contributions to workplace retirement plans, IRAs, and charities, as well as revisiting portfolio returns and asset allocation, among others," said Hevert. "This can be a great way to identify what areas you need to improve upon in the year ahead—and also an effective strategy for putting yourself on better financial footing, whether you plan to make resolutions or not."
To help make and stick to financial resolutions, Fidelity has published a new Viewpoints called "10 resolutions for 2016—and how to get started," available at fidelity.com/resolutions, which introduces a brand-new widget that allows you to select your top resolution from a list and then link to resources that will keep you on track for achieving your goals. In addition, "Ten things to do before year-end" offers a financial reality check, with guidance on preparing for 2015 taxes and saving in the New Year.
For more information on Fidelity's New Year Financial Resolutions Study, an executive summary can be found on Fidelity.com.
About the New Year Financial Resolutions Study
This study presents the findings of a telephone survey conducted among two national probability samples, consisting of 2,013 adults, 18 years of age and older. Interviewing for this CARAVAN® Survey was completed on October 15-25, 2015 by ORC International, which is not affiliated with Fidelity Investments. The results of this survey may not be representative of all adults meeting the same criteria as those surveyed for this study.
About Fidelity Investments
Fidelity's goal is to make financial expertise broadly accessible and effective in helping people live the lives they want. With assets under administration of $5.2 trillion, including managed assets of $2.1 trillion as of October 31, 2015, we focus on meeting the unique needs of a diverse set of customers: helping more than 24 million people invest their own life savings, nearly 20,000 businesses manage employee benefit programs, as well as providing nearly 10,000 advisory firms with technology solutions to invest their own clients' money. Privately held for nearly 70 years, Fidelity employs 42,000 associates who are focused on the long-term success of our customers. For more information about Fidelity Investments, visit www.fidelity.com/about.