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4 ways to refocus your savings resolutions

January 17, 2012

By Sheryl Nance-Nash | Money Rates Columnist

A lot of Americans promised on January 1 that they would get on top of their finances and save more money this year, and you may be among them. Maybe you even made some initial progress toward this goal by cutting out some trips to the coffee shop, bringing a lunch from home to work for a week, or even sticking your credit card in a block of ice in the freezer.

But if you already feel your resolve withering, you may be searching for ways to recover that New Year's motivation. What does it take to really commit to saving until your goal is obtained? The tips below can help you refocus your efforts and continue building your savings accounts.

1. Develop a vision

Before you begin to save, ask yourself what your vision is. This vision should focus on the ways your life would change if you met your savings goals.

"Having a zero balance on a credit card is not a vision," explains Karen Carlson, director of education at InCharge Debt Solutions. "Neither is figuring out how to live on 90 percent of your paycheck so you can faithfully stash 10 percent for retirement. These are great motivators, but they are not what drive people successfully to a life of financial prosperity."

So think carefully and often about the specific benefits a stronger financial situation would have on your life. Those mental images can be a source of strength when your motivation weakens.

2. Know your limits

While the pull of emotion can lead you astray from your goals, emotion can just as easily cause you to set over-ambitious targets. The idea of saving $10,000 in the next year may inspire you, but it's not a worthy goal if it isn't realistic for your situation.

"If your goal is to go from zero to $50,000 this year, you're setting yourself up for failure," warns financial planner Derrick Kinney with Derrick Kinney & Associates.

Setting sky-high expectations can kill motivation and intensify feelings of failure, so be sure that your goals are attainable before you reach for them.

3. Put it in writing

Writing down goals is a great way to solidify your intentions. Is your dream a second home, a lavish vacation or an early retirement? Vague goals such as "save more money" are very difficult to follow and make it hard to measure your progress, so think specifically about what you want to achieve.

Include on paper how you will achieve those goals. Will you need to set aside 2 percent of each paycheck? Will you resolve to eat out no more than once a week? Seeing your goals and plans in writing gives them a tangible quality and can help to remind you of the reasons you set them.

4. Look for an edge

Take advantage of technology where it can help you achieve your goal. Automate savings so money is taken from your paycheck without giving you a chance to be tempted. Use a calendar that syncs with your email so you get reminders on your goals. Take advantage of all of the tools at your disposal -- especially the free ones.

And don't go it alone. "Have an accountability partner, someone who will hold your feet to the fire and pep you up when you get discouraged," says Gail Cunningham, a spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Having a supporter to prop you up in difficult times is yet another way to fight a lack of motivation.

When all else fails, remember to keep your goals in mind and the vision you had when you set them. "To find your motivation and avoid temptation, keep your eyes on the prize," says Kinney. "What do you really want to accomplish financially?"

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