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Here's how to make that financial New Year's resolution a reality

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Like millions of Americans, you've probably made some New Year's resolutions.

Now you need to figure out how to keep them.

One report puts the failure rate at 80%. Yet, more than 55% of U.S. adults think they'll follow through on their resolutions this year, a recent survey by the personal finance website Finder found.

Health and money typically top the list, and this year is no exception. Many hope that 2021 is a turning point, after a difficult 2020 that saw the coronavirus pandemic tank the economy.

In fact, 65% of Americans age 18 and older are considering a financial goal for the new year, according to Fidelity Investment's 2021 financial resolutions study.

"It is optimistic and hopeful to make resolutions because it is showing you have a vision for a better future and you want to help yourself get there," said Meredith Stoddard, vice president of life events planning at Fidelity.

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Just remember to be clear, specific and realistic in your goals, so you can up your odds of staying on track.

"You'll be more successful if you have a specific amount you commit to saving each month or week, and automate as much as possible," Stoddard said.

"Document your goals and progress so that you can cement them and see tangible evidence of how those small changes add up over time."

Here are some of the top financial resolutions and how you can make them a reality.

Save money

Socking away more cash is the No. 1 financial resolution this year, with 44% of Americans making it a top priority, Fidelity found.

For those out of work, saving money isn't practical right now. However, those with an income can try to find ways to make it happen.

Look at how your spending has changed. If you no longer commute to the office, put that money aside instead of spending it. The same goes for the money you are saving on eating in rather than dining out.

"It is really easy for that money to go right back on the door on something else," Stoddard said.

The idea is to just start, even if the sum is small. Automating your savings will help.

"A year from now, that will have added up to a lot more than nothing," she said.

Mark Leavens has two financial resolutions this year: save up for a new car and build up his emergency fund.
Source: Mark Leavens

Mark Leavens has two money resolutions this year, and they both involve saving. He wants to put money aside for a new car and he wants to bulk up his emergency fund.

He has about 14-15 weeks of living expenses saved up. His goal, however, is to have closer to a year's worth of money saved. Fortunately, the 30-year-old hasn't had to dip into it during the pandemic, but he saw friends who had to do so.

"I realized that while I have some savings, I need to be prepared for anything," said Leavens, who lives in Cincinnati. He works for Fidelity in Covington, Kentucky, doing client service management for companies' retirement plans.

He would also like to buy a car without having a car payment, or at least avoid a big loan.

To ensure his success, Leavens has the money automatically withdrawn from his paycheck and put it into two separate accounts.

"It never hits your checking account, so-to-speak, so you don't necessarily see it," he said.

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While he's not spending a lot of money now, when the pandemic ends he'll have to make some choices about cutting back on socializing or traveling.

To figure out how to fit savings into your budget, you can use the 50-30-20 budget rule, said Teresa Jacobsen, managing director at UBS Private Wealth Management.

Essentials such as rent and groceries should be about 50% of your budget, while 30% of your money goes towards discretionary spending and the last 20% goes towards savings and investments.

If you have debt, you can pay it down from that 20%.

Tackle debt

It's easy to rack up debt, especially when you are struggling financially. If you want to pay it off, first understand the different types of debt.

Typically, you want to pay down your credit cards. Your mortgage, on the other hand, is not a high priority to pay off, Stoddard said.

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First, find out the interest rates on your credit cards and write them down.

"That can be empowering," she said. "It helps you prioritize where you want to put the money first."

Use the same methodology with your student loan debt. Start by paying more towards your higher-interest rate loan. Even though the government has let people pause their payments until Jan. 31, pay if you can. It will go towards your principal.

Spend less money

Some people like to go all in, like instituting spending freezes on everything but the essentials. Yet for others that may seem overwhelming.

Keeping track of your spending can really make a big difference, Stoddard suggested. To make it easier, consider just using one credit card when doing your online shopping. Also, keep track of your subscription services, perhaps by creating a spreadsheet.

You can trim back on those you don't need.

"It can be easy to not pay attention to the recurring charges that are hitting your statements each month, so it can make a difference," she said.

Investing

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Despite the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic, the stock market hit record highs in 2020. The S&P 500 closed up 16.3% for the year, the S&P 500 ended 7.3% higher and the tech-heavy Nasdaq jumped 43.6%.

If you want to start investing, make sure you have a handle on your financial picture first, UBS's Jacobsen said. That goes back to knowing your spending, savings and taxes.

Once you know how much money you can invest, start researching. In fact, one of UBS's financial New Year's resolutions is investing in long-term trends like automation, smart mobility and renewable energy.

There are online resources available, including classes on online broker websites, or you can get help from a financial advisor — either long-term or just a few sessions to get yourself started.

"I would encourage people to just take the mystery out of all of this; take the fear out of it," Jacobsen said. "It is not going to bite you. It is only going to help in the long run."

Take advantage of employer perks

Another one of the UBS financial resolutions is maxing out your health-savings account (HSA), which are offered by employers to employees with high-deductible health-insurance plans. They allow for pre-tax savings for qualified health expenses. They can also be rolled over from year to year and used in retirement.

Also, contribute to your employer's 401(k) plan if you can. Every little bit helps, so do what you can to get started. If your company offers a matching contribution, try to set aside at least the amount to get that match, Jacobsen advised.

Getting back on track

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Don't beat yourself up if you get derailed at any point.

"If you made the resolution on Jan. 1 and you have gotten off track by Jan. 5, so what," Jacobsen said. "Start again."

Fidelity's Stoddard agrees.

"Life happens," she said.

"Don't be discouraged if everything doesn't go perfectly according to plan and remember that even small steps can make a big difference.

Your resilience and persistence will pay off over the long term."

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CHECK OUT: How much money you need to save per paycheck to max out your IRA in 2021 and reach three other big New Year's resolutions via Grow with Acorns+CNBC.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.