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Setting New Year's goals you'll really stick to

Q. One of my husband’s and my resolutions for 2014 is to improve our finances.  Can you give us tips on the best way to do this?

A. It’s the time of year when people are making resolutions, but I encourage you to set goals for the year instead.  Resolutions seem to be short-lived, but a goal is something you work towards for the whole year.  Goals are flexible and personal – if you want to adjust them throughout the year, you can.  I also encourage you to write down your goals. Many people are amazed by how much they can accomplish just by writing down their goals.

There are some things you can do to set financial goals that you’re likely to achieve. First, your goals need to be personal to your financial situation. What do you want to accomplish in 2014? Do you want to increase your savings or retirement funds?  Do you want to pay down debt?  Do you want to purchase a home, replace a car, go on vacation, stop living paycheck to paycheck, or improve your credit scores?  No goal is too small or too large to write down.  Determining your goals will require you and your husband to discuss what you both want to accomplish.  If you set a financial goal, but only one person is working towards the goal and the other is not, it’s difficult to make progress.  In fact, sometimes one person can sabotage the other’s progress if both don’t agree on the goals.

Next, make a simple list of the goals the two of you jointly decide upon.  Review the list and make two columns:  goals you can accomplish in one year or less, and goals that will take more than one year to accomplish. For the goals that will take more than a year to accomplish, write down action steps you can take to bring you closer to achieving those goals.

Then, you and your husband can prioritize your lists and action steps, and assign timelines to them if you want.  That’s what a course on goal-setting would tell you to do.  I have found that taking a small index card and merely writing down my goals for each year makes a substantial difference.  Carry the card with you – either in your wallet or checkbook – where you’ll see it often and will be reminded of what you want to achieve.

This simple act of focusing on what you want actually does help you accomplish it.  If you know you want to save $1,000 and pay off your debt, for example, and you get a tax refund, you and your husband will know exactly what you want to do with it. Staying focused on your financial goals means you’re less likely to fritter away your tax refund – or bonuses, overtime or financial gifts – and more likely to save that money or use it to pay off debt.

While you may not accomplish every single goal you set, you’ll be amazed by how much you can actually achieve by just writing things down on an index card.  Good luck, and let me know what you have accomplished at the end of 2014.

Bonnie Spain is the executive director of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Black Hills, a United Way member agency. For more information, email

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