New Year's Eve clock (Photo: Shutterstock)

As they look forward to the new year, many Americans remain optimistic and determined to make their money work harder, with 72% confident that they will be in a better financial position in 2021, according to Fidelity Investments’ new year financial resolutions study.

Related: 10 Tax Tips to Take Advantage of By Year-End

This optimism shines through in an extraordinarily bleak year when more than two-thirds of Americans experienced financial setbacks in 2020, often because of job loss or an emergency expense.

Even those lucky enough to maintain their income still may have had to tap savings to help family members or friends.

The study’s findings were based on a CARAVAN Survey conducted by Engine Insights in mid-October among 3,011 adults.

Making a Resolution

“Americans are clearly ready to leave 2020 behind and start 2021 off on the right foot, including when it comes to their finances,” Stacey Watson, senior vice president with oversight for life event planning at Fidelity Investments, said in a statement

“This year’s top financial resolutions are consistent with what we’ve seen in the past; however, what makes 2021 unique is how people will achieve them, given the financial pressures and major life events many continue to experience throughout the pandemic.”

The survey found that 65% of Americans are considering a financial resolution for 2021, which is down marginally from last year, but still quite strong given the stresses many families experienced.

Younger generations appear to be more committed to actively improving their finances in the new year, with 78% of all Gen Z and millennial respondents considering a financial resolution, compared with 59% of all Gen Xers and baby boomers.

Related: The Millennial Retirement Puzzle

“Younger generations are building up their careers, families and finances, so it makes sense they have important financial resolutions to make,” Watson said.

“Still, Gen Xers and boomers also experienced significant financial challenges in 2020 and may want to consider making some resolutions of their own to build a stronger financial future, particularly when it comes to retirement readiness.”

Fidelity pointed out that the fact Americans’ top financial resolutions are consistent with those of previous years indicates that the fundamentals of building financial stability remain consistent in all types of environments.

Still, one in six respondents this year listed recovering from pandemic-related financial losses as among their top financial resolutions for 2021. When asked what motivates them to make financial resolutions, 56% said “greater peace of mind,” demonstrating the critical link between financial and emotional wellness, Fidelity said.

Resolutions are an important start, but it is important to keep good financial routines going strong well beyond January and ultimately have them become life-ong habits, according to Fidelity.

The study showed that the key to a successful resolution is the good feeling of making progress and setting clear and specific financial goals. One in five respondents said having someone to help keep them on track and hold them accountable also plays a role.

In fact, 77% of those working with a financial professional said they were able to stick to their financial resolution in 2020, compared with 50% of those who did not work with one.

Coping with Financial Uncertainty 

The study also provided additional proof regarding the effect the coronavirus has had on families’ financial stability. Twenty-nine percent of respondents said they were in a worse financial situation this year than last, well up from 19% who said the same thing in 2019 about the previous year.

When faced with financial setbacks in 2020, 45% of respondents said they had cut back on other expenses, 37% used their emergency savings and 23% took on debt using credit cards or personal loans.

One in five reported that they had borrowed money from friends or family, with Gen Z and millennials most likely either to have borrowed from or moved in with family members.

Thirty-eight percent of survey participants said they would spend 2021 in “survival mode,” focusing on the day-to-day in order to get themselves and their families through the year.

This outlook was more common among Gen Xers and boomers, and among women in the survey.

— Check out What Does Money Mean to Your Client? on ThinkAdvisor.