5 realistic financial resolutions

By Marianne Curphey

When it comes to New Year's resolutions, many people are motivated to make changes to their lifestyle. Common themes are better health, more family time and, of course, improved finances. But sometimes, resolutions such as "I want to improve my finances" are too vague to stick, and by the time spring rolls around, they've melted along with the winter snow.

With more specific goals in mind, though, you can make your resolutions last. We asked financial bloggers and experts to share their top tips for the new year. Here's what they said: financial-resolutions

1.  Pay down your debts.
Now is the time to tackle any debt hanging on from years past, before splurging on January sales. And don't be tempted by new credit card offers, either. If you have credit card debt, you should try to get it paid off as part of your New Year's resolution.

To tackle your credit card debts, make a list of how much you owe and to whom. Target high-interest debts first, and move balances to 0% balance transfers cards wherever possible.

Top balance transfer deals on offer as of January 2017 include the Barclaycard Platinum 40 month balance transfer card (with a 1.93% balance transfer fee) and the Halifax 41 month balance transfer card (with a 3.18% fee).

"Once you've made the transfer, try your hardest to clear the balance before the 0% period comes to an end," says Jasmine Birtles, founder of personal finance website Money Magpie. "Credit conditions are still pretty tight up at the moment, and there's no guarantee you'll be accepted for another 0% deal when your current one ends."

If your debt is too high, or paying all of it off doesn't work with your budget, you could also resolve to pay off a certain percentage of your debt, or vow to clear out £X before next December.

However you want to do it is fine, but keep the numbers manageable and hold yourself accountable, or commission a friend to help keep you on track. Once you've zeroed out your balances, resolve not to build them back up again.

2. Plan ahead.
This year, make it a point to delay gratification and wait to make a purchase until you can afford it without credit, recommends a spokeswoman for the debt charity StepChange.

"Don't use credit impulsively," she says. "If you are thinking about using credit, consider if you could save the money first and then make the purchase later. If you do need to use credit, shop around for the best deals and plan how you are going to repay it."

You should plan ahead with budgeting, too. When you sit down to write up your new budget, consider all details, such as birthdays, annual trips or even spiked electricity bills in certain months. You can use last year's spending records to spot trends in your budget and try to account for them this year. Hopefully, if you're able to see the higher expenses coming, you can save up for them instead of pulling out your credit card, or at least create a payoff plan in advance.

3. Make the most of cashback cards while you can.
If used correctly, a credit card can earn you some extra cash in the new year, says Iona Bain, who shares financial advice for young people on Iona's Young Money Blog.

"My top tip is to apply for a cashback card to give you a flying start in the New Year," she says.

Just make sure cashback credit cards fit your lifestyle. They may be worthwhile only if you spend a lot on your credit cards, as the amount you get back is tied to the amount you spend.

 "Also, you must commit to repayments every month or you'll be hammered by interest charges that cancel out any extra money you'd otherwise pocket," Bain says.

The American Express Platinum Cashback card offers 5% cashback, up to £125, for the first three months. However it does have an annual fee of £25, so you'll need to make sure you'll earn at least more than that fee back over the year to make it worthwhile. Or you can check out the Santander Zero card or the Santander All In One card.

Cashback and other rewards are in decline, though, so you may need to jump on these deals while they're still around.

4. Review your cards and PINs.
The new year is the perfect time to cancel any credit cards you don't use, says Annie Shaw, a financial journalist who runs financial advice website CashQuestions.com.

"They are not only a security risk -- you could lose them and not notice for a while if you aren't using them regularly -- but having a quiver full of cards could damage your chances of getting credit elsewhere," Shaw says.

Shaw also suggests having a different PIN for each of your cards.

"If a thief watches you using your card and sees you entering your PIN, you don't want him to steal your purse and plunder all your accounts," she says. "It's bad enough if you lose money from one."

Worse yet, your bank may not refund the stolen money if it believes you've been careless about keeping your PIN secure. It's also a good time to change your PINs and passwords, which you should do regularly.

5. Get in the savings habit.
Andrew Hagger, financial commentator and founder of MoneyComms, suggests using the new year as an excuse to get more aggressive about saving.

"As much as we want to save and know that we ought to save, the hardest part for many of us is actually getting started," he says. "So if you're serious about building a savings balance, why not put it at the top of your to-do list for the new year?"

Set up an automatic payment so that money automatically goes into savings on payday.

"That way it won't be sitting around in your current account tempting you to spend it," Hagger says. Just be sure you don't transfer more than your budget can afford -- it's OK to make some sacrifices to build a savings (such as fewer dinners out), but your necessities should come first.

See related: 4 tips for avoiding balance-transfer traps; Risks of having more cards than you need; 4 wrong ways to pay credit card debt

Updated: 4 January 2017