The Hidden Costs of Our Most Popular New Year's Resolutions
Angela Colley — Good Idea/Bad Idea
Good news—if you’re planning on making a New Year’s resolution, you’ve got about an 8 percent chance of actually succeeding, according to recent statistics. Hooray! But before you throw in the towel (or the gym membership), there is one very good reason to make that resolution anyway—research shows people who do make specific resolutions every year are 10 times more likely to reach their goals.
So, while you may achieve your personal renaissance eventually, why do so many of us fail the first time around? The reason you start off strong Jan. 1 only to lose steam by February (or much, much earlier if we’re being honest), is likely because the costs involved are more than you bargained for. Common resolutions like getting in shape, quitting smoking, and sticking to a budget are noble goals, but they can also be time-consuming money-sucks if you don’t plan right.
This year the Make Change team decided to do the legwork for you so you can beat the odds. Here’s what we found out when it comes to winning at three of the most common resolutions:
Resolution 1: Lose Weight
Losing weight is the No. 1 New Year’s resolution—the end to a holiday season many of us spend shamelessly indulging in treats and feasts. With that magical Jan. 1 date looming, you can almost justify the number on the scale because, come the new year, you’re going to suddenly drop back down to the weight you were before the freshman 15 hit in college.
An increasingly common way that newly minted health nuts start the year off is with a “detoxifying” juice cleanse. Companies that offer juice cleanses claim they’ll purify your body by giving your insides a chance to reset. The problem, however, is that unless you’ve been poisoned, you likely don’t need to detox. The kidneys and liver are super efficient at filtering our blood and removing any waste that comes from the foods we eat.
And while you might expect that several days without a square meal would mean your wallet would get fatter while your middle gets slimmer, think again.
If you’re planning on making your own detox drinks, you have to buy tons of produce in order to make even one day’s worth of juice. For example, in a single-day cleanse featured on The Dr. Oz Show, you need six apples (they even get specific with the brand), four carrots, three cucumbers, ginger, celery stalks, kale, lemon, lime, tomatoes, two red bell peppers, one onion, parsley, six clementine oranges, one sweet potato, two large beets, one orange, and Swiss chard. That’s about $50 in produce in a California grocery store. If you do the cleanse for the recommended three days, you’re looking at $150.
There’s also the option of purchasing a juice cleanse from a health store or juicery, which can run anywhere from $39-$70 a day (not to mention the armful of disposable, plastic bottles you’ll chug through each day). Suddenly the dollar menu at your local drive-thru is looking downright responsible.
Working out is perhaps a better alternative than only dieting to lose weight, because you’re increasing your caloric burn to lose fat and build muscle rather than just decreasing your calorie intake to shed pounds.
But that’s pricey, too—the average cost of a gym membership is around $58 dollars a month, and about $39 per month goes to waste if you break down the cost per day versus the number of days you actually go. That’s if you go—67 percent of gym members never make it to the gym. Fitness centers know this, of course, which is why many of them offer special deals on memberships for December and January, or offer discounted rates if you buy the whole year in advance.
In a University of California at Berkeley study conducted in 2005, economists Stefano DellaVigna and Ulrike Malmendier determined that people fall for these deals because they grossly overestimate their willpower to work out regularly. In the study, participants were offered the choice between a contract of about $70 per month and a $10-per-visit package. If they went more than seven times in a month, the contract option was better. But on average, those who chose the contract option went to the gym fewer than five times a month and ended up paying about 70 percent more per visit than if they had chosen the pay-per-visit option.
The Verdict: If you combine a juice cleanse with an annual gym membership, you’re looking at $750 to $1,000 for the year. Also, because resolutions to lose weight generally follow overindulging during the holidays, they tend to be cyclical, which means you might be wasting that money every year. Imagine all the non-edible treats you could indulge in instead. A better way to hit your resolution may be to commit to tweaking your daily habits: Limit your soda intake, or cut it out entirely; bring your lunch to work instead of going out for calorie-laden fast food; join a local sports league to get your heart rate going throughout the week. Resolutions should be sustainable, and making even small lifestyle adjustments can do a lot for your waistline and your wallet.
Resolution 2: Stick to a Budget
If budgeting were easy, Americans likely wouldn’t be shouldering a collective $1 trillion in credit card debt. Staying on the thrifty track means monitoring your inflows and outflows frequently, which seems like a helluva lot of work if you’re a semi-lazy person like me. To have any hope of sticking to this resolution, the No. 1 financial resolution of 2017 according to a recent survey, I had to find an easy way to pull it off.
Since the pen-and-paper route was never gonna happen (semi-lazy person), I started with the built-in budgeting feature offered through my online banking company. The promise was big: Everything you buy on your debit card (or linked credit cards) is automatically sectioned off into categories which are then used to generate a pretty, easy-to-understand pie chart. It sounded awesome. It was not. Since everything was automatic, I had no control over what expenditures went into what categories. A pajama purchase at Aerie became “entertainment,” my Uber Eats charges went into “transportation,” and when I paid my rent via wire transfer, it got marked as “other fees,” taking up the biggest slice in my nonsensical budget pie chart.
After the automagical approach completely failed, I tried Mint, one of the most popular free budgeting apps. Mint has a ton of features. Expenses are tracked automatically or manually. You can set goals, and even see how the value of your car influences your net worth. Nifty—at least in theory. In practice, those features take forever to manage. I spent three hours setting everything up and at least 20 minutes a day manually checking every expense and relocating it to the right budget category. Half the features I didn’t even use out of fear I’d spend my entire lunch hour messing with my money.
Finally, I broke down and paid for another popular budgeting site—YNAB (short for You Need a Budget) . YNAB isn’t free—it costs $50 a year to use the service—and it doesn’t offer as many features as Mint, but it was easier to manage in the long run. Startup wasn’t easy. Of course, I boldly blazed through the tutorial only to be dumbfounded when it came time to start tracking. I got frustrated and quit (twice), but once I actually adulted-up and figured it out, everything was smooth sailing. I still use the site, which bodes well for your New Year’s resolution, too.
The Verdict: Budgeting isn’t the most expensive resolution you can make—the most I spent was $50—but choose wisely when it comes to assistance. Complicated tracking apps may look cool, but you’ll waste a ton of precious time trying to manage it all. Look for something simple that makes sense to you, and you might be able to save some serious cash.
Resolution 3: Quit Smoking
If you still smoke in 2016, you’ve probably already heard every single very good reason to quit. And amazingly, you’ve managed to ignore them all until now. Or they just haven’t inspired the iron will it takes to banish the addiction once and for all. But if you have steeled yourself to kick the habit this holiday season—perhaps as some kind of calendar-related resolution—take a minute to consider the relative benefits, and costs, of your quitting options.
First, you’ll be glad to hear that, despite claims to the contrary, quitting smoking is not that expensive of a resolution to pursue. In fact, unless you’re checking yourself into some kind of Swiss smoking-cessation sanitarium in the Alps, there’s almost no way to quit that won’t be worth the long-term savings of not buying tobacco.
Cigarettes, after all, are expensive as hell. Smokefree.gov features a calculator you can use to figure out how much you could save by quitting today. Services based on your likelihood of becoming riddled with deadly cancer, like insurance, also become more affordable when you ditch the smokes.
Studies support the efficacy of the cold turkey approach over other quitting strategies—convenient, as suffering through withdrawal is also the cheapest way to go. But it’s certainly not the gentlest option, so let’s look at how much your quitting crutch of choice will drain your bank account.
According to WebMD, in many places, “the price tag for using Nicorette gum is about the same as a pack-and-a-half-a-day smoking habit.” Three month’s worth of the gum will set you back about $240, and enough nicotine patches for three months costs something like $180.
While vaping has both proponents and detractors, and seems like a pretty good mitigation tool, it’s certainly not cheap. Purchasing and dealing with the various hardware and supplies can also be its own involved, disgusting, compulsive hell—do you want Mango Tango vape juice, or the (ugh) pancake flavor?
Then there are the emotional tolls and lifestyle setbacks. For one, smoking is still really cool (don’t blame me, this is science, I don’t make the rules), and quitting will inevitably come with a substantial drop in personal coolness. Lost in a throbbing fog of nicotine longing, in the week after tossing the coffin nails, you’ll also probably alienate your family and friends with pointless rage and over-the-top emotional scenes. You will have to replace the dishes you smash.
While the bad news is that everyone you know is up your butt about kicking your filthy habit, that’s also kind of the good news. There are government-sponsored programs, nonprofit organizations, ads on television and billboards, and well-meaning busybodies all over the world ready to remind you that inhaling burning leaves into your lungs is bad (and conceptually speaking, pretty weird when you think about it). It’s the most motivating guilt trip you could ask for, and it won’t cost you a dime.
The Verdict: Even considering the costs of cessation aids and the looming dark human drama, it all seems like a small price to pay for not dying prematurely. Whether you just started last year or you’ve been sucking ’em down to the filter since the ’70s, there are still clear health benefits to quitting now. It’s not going to be easy. Nicotine is just behind heroin and crack on the list of hardest addictions to break. But you owe it yourself, your loved ones, and your bank account to put down the cigarettes in 2017.
So, while the odds might be stacked against you, that doesn’t mean you still can’t win at your latest resolution. Just don’t throw all your money or time at the problem. Weigh your options, slow your roll, and you’ll hang in until at least February. (We’re mostly kidding, you got this.)