The beginning of a new year is often a time to reflect on the previous year and look ahead.
In doing so, many residents resolve to improve themselves by making resolutions.
Saving money, managing debt, getting fit and losing weight are atop the list of most popular resolutions for 2009, according to the federal Office of Citizen Services and Communications.
Saving money and managing debt can be accomplished by simply managing your cash flow, said Will Rogers, a senior financial adviser for Ameriprise Financial in Evans.
Like losing weight, changing spending habits isn't always easy.
"Changing your cash flow is as complicated as changing your weight," said Rogers, who also is a certified financial planner and charted financial consultant. "Eat less, exercise more. Spend less, save more. Neither one is necessarily easy. They are just simple."
Rogers said the best way to successfully follow through with a financial resolution is to change spending habits until they become automatic. He said to keep a diary of all expenditures to see where money is going, then create a spending plan and stick to it.
"You prioritize. You decide what you want to spend your money on," Rogers said, adding that any expenditure outside the plan over a set dollar amount should be discussed with a spouse or other person who can hold you accountable for spending outside of your plan. "It is not a permission thing. It is an accountability thing."
Most people have a handle on their large expenses such as mortgages, vehicle payments and utilities, Rogers said, but the big budget busters are the items closely related to a need such as purchasing a mansion instead of a more affordable home, or driving a Mercedes when a less-expensive vehicle will do.
Small expenditures can add up fast, Rogers said. So cutting out extraneous, impulse buys like a daily fancy coffee drink is a good way to save a little cash.
Rogers said most people are better off paying down high-interest credit card debt than saving or investing extra money.
"If you need help restricting your use of credit cards, wrap your credit cards in paper first, because this protects it, then wrap it in duct tape," Rogers said, adding that the cards are still accessible for emergencies. "The stronger the better."
He also suggests putting 10 percent of take-home pay in a savings account.
"When you first start this, have the savings in truly a regular savings account that is just awkward or inconvenient to access," he said. If money for needs runs out before the end of the month, the money is accessible.
Once residents have some money built up and are comfortable with their new saving habits, Rogers suggests moving the money from a savings account into a ROTH individual retirement account.
Rogers said investment safety comes with diversity.
"In my opinion, the safest investment is a collection of three or four really, truly different types of investments, each with its own risks, but the risks are different than the other three or four," he said. If the market negatively affects one kind of investment, it is unlikely it will affect them all.
Like managing debt and saving money, getting fit and losing weight can be a slow process that easily can become discouraging.
Hayley Zielinski, a personal trainer and Activate America coordinator at the Marshall Family Y in Evans, said people flood into the gym in January gung-ho about their new rigorous workout routine that often leaves them fatigued, discouraged and sometimes injured.
Start out slow and build up to a more strenuous routine to prevent injuries and build stamina, Zielinski said.
"They need to find what suits them," she said.
Those looking to join a gym, especially newcomers or those taking on a new exercise plan, should get familiar with the gym, its equipment and staff through a fitness orientation.
"They must always, always make an orientation with a fitness trainer, whatever gym they go to," Zielinski said.
"They need to know how to use the equipment safely and correctly."
An orientation is often a tour given by a certified trainer through the gym to explain how to use the equipment. The trainer also can help plan an exercise regimen to match the goals, fitness level and limitations of those looking to shape up.
Working out at a gym also can become a social activity.
"People just form friendships in the gym, because it is really not just about getting healthy and fit," Zielinski said. "It should be a place where you are meeting new friends and just doing new things."
Those looking to add more activity to their daily lives without joining a gym can increase the activity of everyday tasks.
Cleaning house, gardening and walking around the neighborhood are ways to move a little more at home, while opting to take the stairs instead of an elevator or parking a little farther away from a store can add a few extra steps to the day.
"They can buy exercise DVDs ... there are so many on the market that cater to beginners," Zielinski said, adding that everyone should be checked by a doctor for medical problems and other physical limitations before beginning an exercise routine.
Like getting a handle on financial issues, dieting and losing weight is not an easy road, but is based on simple principles.
"It is not rocket science. There is no magic pill," Zielinski said, adding that crash or fad diets can cause more harm than good. "It is calories in versus calories out."
Those looking to lose weight in a healthful way need to eat sensibly and burn more calories than they are taking in.
In the end, Zielinski said, to succeed in losing weight and getting fit, people must stay positive and find a regimen that they can do and enjoy long-term, including the activity, the gym and the diet.
"It is all about something that you can do for the rest of your life," Zielinski said.
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