Fidelity notes that 2014 was another good year for American investors, with the stock market climbing to record highs and the unemployment rate moving below 6% for the first time in years. But according to the firm’s sixth annual “New Year Financial Resolutions Study,” the positive performance in both 2013 and 2014 may be causing some complacency that investors can ill afford.
According to the analysis, the number of Americans ringing in 2015 by making financial resolutions is on the decline, with only about three in 10 (31%) considering financial behavior changes for next year, compared to 43% in 2014. This could be problematic, Fidelity says, as the survey also reveals important reasons for individuals to take action and build a financial plan.
“The fact resolutions are down is troublesome, since the survey numbers indicate people who made financial resolutions at the start of 2014 are more likely to say they are now in a better financial position, demonstrating there are real advantages to making them,” notes Lauren Brouhard, senior vice president of retirement at Fidelity.
Brouhard says simple commitments such as saving an extra 1% or 2% of salary or paying off debt can have a tremendous impact on the financial and emotional health of a household. “The key to achieving your long-term goals and aspirations is creating a plan and sticking to it,” she adds.
For the fourth consecutive year, the top financial resolution continues to be “saving more,” cited by 55% of those who would make a financially minded resolution this year. Fidelity says the median commitment is an additional $200 a month on average.
The second- and third-ranked resolutions, paying off debt (20%) and spending less (17%), have also remained consistent over the last four editions of the survey. Encouragingly, “develop a plan to reach longer-term goals” was also a popular choice, cited by 14% of respondents. This is a more than twofold increase since 2011, Fidelity notes, when it was at a single-digit low of 6%.
In contrast to the diminished interest in setting financial resolutions, Fidelity’s survey shows many Americans report increased confidence around the condition of their household ledgers, with 41% of respondents feeling better about their present financial situation than they did the same time last year. This is the highest level reported since the question was first asked in 2010, and a 58% increase over 2013 numbers.
In addition, 36% say they are carrying less debt than the year before, another survey high. And, 64% expect their bonus or tax refund will be at least the same—if not larger—in the year ahead.
Fidelity says one surprise this year is that feelings of increased personal prosperity are most strongly felt among the younger generations of savers and investors polled. According to the survey, fully half of people born between 1979 and 1996—a group Fidelity labels Gen Y—say they are in a better financial position this year, with only 8% indicating they are worse off. Furthermore, Gen Y is also at the head of the generational pack when it came to making progress in reducing the amount of debt in the past year.
For those who say they made a resolution at the start of 2014, more than one-half (51%) now feel they are better off financially. In contrast, only 38% of those who did not can say the same.
Although the simple act of making a resolution is not enough to ensure financial prosperity, Fidelity says it may provide the motivation needed to take the steps that get people headed in the right direction. To that point, the survey shows 42% of those surveyed find sticking to financial resolutions easier than sticking to other common resolutions, such as exercising regularly or pledging to give up smoking. And, for those who made a resolution last year, almost three in four (74%) say they succeeded in at least getting halfway to their goal. Even better, 29% were completely successful, Fidelity says.
“These findings validate the importance of taking small steps to get on a path to a more secure financial future,” said Brouhard. “Challenging yourself to save more and invest for the long term is not as hard as it may seem and can truly improve your peace of mind. Even a one percent increase in savings in the year ahead can have a profound impact on your financial security.”
To help people make and stick to financial resolutions, Fidelity has published a new analysis called “New Year Outlooks Special Report,” available at www.fidelity.com/resolutions. The firm also put out an infographic outlining key survey findings.
The survey was conducted by telephone among a national probability sample of 2,014 U.S. adults 18 years of age and older. Interviewing was conducted from October 23-27, 2014 by ORC International.