The turn of the year is the time many people make resolutions — financial and otherwise — but the number of people making financial resolutions as 2018 approaches is at an all-time low, Fidelity Investments reports in its annual New Year Financial Resolutions Study.

Twenty-seven percent of respondents in a Fidelity survey said they intended to make a financial resolution for the coming year, down from a high of 43% who considered doing so for 2014.

Fidelity noted that a sense of inertia appears to be setting in as the country enters the ninth year of a bull market. “Financial resolutions are on the decline because many people are feeling better about their personal financial situation and are generally optimistic about what 2018 will bring,” said Ken Hevert, senior vice president of retirement at Fidelity, said in a statement.

Forty-seven percent of respondents said they were in a better financial position this year, up from 45% in the 2016 study.

“Now is not the time to take one’s foot off the pedal,” Hevert said, “because good financial times can represent the best opportunities to help achieve your goals — and establish saving and investing habits that can get one through good times and bad.”

Caravan Survey conducted a telephone poll among two national probability samples, comprising 2,059 adults 18 older, in the last half of October.

The survey found that the top choices among respondents considering a financial resolution held steady from last year’s survey:

  • Save more — 55%, up from 50% in2016
  • Pay down debt — 25%, down from 28%
  • Spend less — 18%, up from 16%

Fidelity noted that saving was a major factor for the overall feeling of prosperity this year. Two-thirds of respondents who felt they were in a better financial position said this was in part because they had been able to save more.

Seventy-eight percent of millennials ascribed their improved financial situation to saving more — and 90% of this group expected to be better off in 2018.

Saving Objectives

Among those for whom saving more was a top financial resolution for 2018, 54% said they planned to do so for long-term goals, while 38% planned to focus on the near term.

This represented a shift away from a bigger focus on long-term savings goals seen in 2016, when 62% said they were focused on the long term and 32% on the short, according to Fidelity.

Of note, 43% of all respondents surveyed, and 62% of millennials, said they planned to increase their retirement savings rate by 1% or more of their salary in the year ahead. Shorter term, 54% of all respondents said they planned to build up their emergency savings as a result of recent natural disasters.

During periods of increased overall prosperity, charitable giving tends to occur. This was borne out in the new survey, with 58% of all respondents planning to increase their household philanthropy in the year ahead. Fidelity said this number has been consistent for the past two years, although it increased four percentage points from 2014.

Gen Xers led the way at 64%, followed closely by millennials at 63% and boomers at 56%.

Fidelity said beating financial stress was a good reason not to allow inertia to set in.

Thirty-eight percent of survey respondents reported feeling stressed about finances, half citing personal factors they have some control over, such as debt, expenses and saving. Fidelity said many of these stressors could be alleviated by avoiding procrastination and proactively saving more, reducing debt and curbing spending.

In fact, 70% of respondents reported that setting financial goals made them feel less stressed about their finances.

“According to the experts, 40% of daily actions aren’t decisions, but habits,” Hevert said. “How we choose to interact with money can become one such habit.”

He said that by learning to make smart saving and investing decisions that become automatic actions, “it’s possible to make 2018 the year you make your final financial resolution — and still end up more prosperous in the long term.”

The survey results offered some direction for sticking with a resolution or maintaining momentum beyond January. Respondents identified these motivators:

  • Feeling encouraged by progress made so far — 74%
  • Seeing bottom-line benefit of sticking to a resolution over the year — 68%
  • Breaking a goal into smaller attainable ones — 62%
  • Rewarding yourself when you reach your goal — 62%

— Check out Americans Are So Over the Financial Crisis … Or Are They? on ThinkAdvisor.