Rethinking Resolutions: Setting goals one month at a time

by Emily from Frugal Living NW on December 31, 2013

Emily posted this back in January 2012 but it’s good to revisit as we head into a new year. Enjoy!

New Year’s Resolutions. Blah blah blah. Even if you started January off with a bang, we’re 12 days in. Which is more than enough time to fizzle out and fall back into your old habits.

In college, I worked at a gym for three years. I always found it funny that our numbers tripled on January first. Like clockwork, we had a big group of eager exercisers with shiny shoes and good intentions. By the time February rolled around, we were back to our regular group.

I’m in the same boat. I always love the promise and purpose of setting resolutions. I can hammer out a list faster than you can say type-A personality. I love having a plan. Sticking with all my ambitious goals for an entire year? That’s where it gets tough.

Then 3 years ago, a flash of inspiration hit me: What if I don’t bite off an entire year’s worth of resolutions, but break up my goals into months instead? My husband was willing to give it a shot. We sat down and listed out 12 things we would like to accomplish in the coming year and attached each one to the month that seemed to fit it best. The results? It worked, and we were hooked.

Each year’s list looks a little different. We mix and match and rearrange. Our goals last for one month, then we move on to something else (You’d better believe the first thing I do in February is make a big fat chocolate cake). There is definitely some carryover, though, and some goals we try to adapt for the rest of the year. If you have older kids, you could have them help you build your family’s list!

Here are some of our favorite goals from past years:

January – Cut out desserts.

February – Do a cooking or crafting project 2 times a week with the kids.

March – Buy only essentials. Cut out all extra spending.

April – Read 2 books each.

May – Try 4 new-to-us restaurants.

June – Organize the garage & declutter the house. Hold a garage sale.

July – Meatless Month (Too ambitious? Try 2-3 times a week)

August – Try 3 new recipes a week.

September – Walk or bike ___ miles as a family.

October – Explore 4 new-to-us places in the Pacific NW.

November – No complaining.

December – Celebrate 25 days of Christmas (Advent & activities).

Here are a few reasons we stick with it:

:: It gives us an opportunity to tackle those items gathering dust on our to-do list. In past years, we have included things like building a fence, refinishing a cabinet, and organizing pictures into our months. It turns those good intentions into an action plan.

:: It helps us become more disciplined. It could be something as simple as cleaning bathroom sinks once a week to something as challenging as working out five days a week. We all have areas of our lives where we wish we were more focused and consistent. Just think: March could be devoted to flossing your teeth! Your dentist will thank me.

:: It breaks us out of a rut to try new things. We love to eat in new restaurants, cook new things, and explore new places. By setting a number and making a plan, it actually happens. I hate getting to December and thinking, “We didn’t do anything new-challenging-interesting this year.” A monthly resolution solves that.

:: It challenges us to think outside of the box. Are budgets tough or savings nonexistent for you? What if you cut out all unneccessary spending for an entire month? Trust me, it’s much harder than it sounds. We did this for one of our months last year. I cut out all implulse buys, avoided Target entirely, and forced myself not to shop as a form of entertainment.

It was an eye-opening experiment. Did we carry it over into the next month? No, but the lessons stuck with us, and it’s something I hope to do for one month out of every year just to keep us on our toes.

:: It takes the sting out of New Years Resolution failure. Most people I know don’t make “resolutions.” Why bother? I won’t stick with them anyway. With our monthly plan, sometimes my husband and I have great success; other months are complete flops.

We don’t get discouraged about the months that don’t work out, though, because there is a new challenge around the corner. This year, with so much up in the air, we are planning to set our goal/resolution each month instead of charting out an entire year.

Read Kari Patterson’s post, Setting Manageable & Measurable New Year’s Resolutions, for more on this topic.

Leave a comment! Does this sound like something that would work for your family? What would be on your list?

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

christine January 5, 2014 at 3:51 pm

Really, really love this – so much so that I had to blog about this for my company site ( (Hope that’s okay!) I talked about setting monthly goals in a professional/networking context. Thanks for sharing, Emily!


Howard December 31, 2013 at 4:20 pm

Every year I resolve to eat more corn dogs; one of these years, I will accomplish that.


Kari Patterson January 18, 2012 at 12:25 pm

I love this idea! Totally doing this… thanks Emily!


Tiffany January 13, 2012 at 9:34 pm

This is exactly how I manage our goals for the year. I have mine broken down into categories such as kids, books to read, service projects, hospitality, etc. And then each of those is broken down into 1 goal per month. I have accomplished so many more things this way!


Trina January 12, 2012 at 11:06 pm

I love this idea! What a great way to make a short-term commitment do-able and interesting and fun … but have some lasting change from what you learn! Am going to get up out of this computer seat and discuss this idea with my husband! RIGHT NOW!


Julie D January 12, 2012 at 3:37 pm

“I can hammer out a list faster than you can say type-A personality.”

As I get older I make more realistic and nurturing goals. I used to do the “lose 200# in 20 days” or “run 5 miles a day” routine when I was younger, but now I make goals like “stretch each day” or “do something fun each day” or even “organize the basement by the end of the year”.


Chip January 12, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Bravo Emily! I too am into resolutions and lists…in fact I usually have lists of my lists. I agree that the problem with list or resolutions is sometimes they get so big or the goals so large that I am unable to sustain the changes throughout the year. This year I decided to change things up. Specifically, I changed my large “to-do” list to one which only has 3-4 items on there…things like (I know this is silly) cleaning the three ceiling fans we have. I was able to get it done over the course of two evenings, cross it off the list (boy, that feels good) and move onto a now smaller list and the next project. Once I have completed all four items, I will make another small list. Same thing goes with resolutions…instead of resolving to lose X (or in my case XXX) number of pounds, I resolved only to get back to the gym two days a week…Tuesday and Thursday evening. If I want to go more often, great, but the commitment is for only those two days. I also resolved to eat better…not to diet…just eat better. I believe if I do both of these things, which seem less daunting, I should be able to shed some pounds and be in better health. I love all of your monthly suggestions. Thank you for a well written plan for the new year.


Kelly January 12, 2012 at 8:49 pm

I love lists too! Sounds like you’ve set some attainable goals for the year…Good luck!


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