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Not sticking to your 2013 financial resolutions? Don't fret yet

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Are you having trouble keeping to your New Year's resolutions? Don't be alarmed if you are.

During the past five years, 43 percent of those who set finance-related New Year's resolutions fail to achieve them, according to a telephone survey by Harris Interactive conducted on behalf of the American Institute of CPAs.

The top financial goals for 2013 are paying down or eliminating credit card debt, increasing emergency savings or planning for retirement — all three of which emphasize the importance of getting your financial house in order.

If you share these goals but have broken some of your financial resolutions, or are worried you will, here are practical tips to help you make them stick.

Get back on track

Staying true to your original plan for an entire year can be hard, but remember you always can get back on track. Say you decided you were going to pay down outstanding debt this year, but you stopped or never got started, despite your best intentions. Don't give up! Most of the year is still ahead of you. You have plenty of time to work toward your goal.

Set time limits

If you resolved generally to start saving more in 2013, it's too easy to put off action until later in the year. Many people who do this often look up one day and realize the year has passed and they haven't taken any steps needed to reach their goal.

One good idea is to cut the year into smaller pieces. It's smart to start out with a short timeframe — three or six months, for example — and pledge to meet a defined goal within that period. If saving money is your top resolution, keep in mind that you can have your bank do it for you by having money deposited directly from your checking account into a savings account each week.

Reality check

Some people surrender when it comes to resolutions because their goals are built on lofty expectations that are too difficult to achieve.

For example, if minimizing debt is one of your resolutions, accept the fact that it will take time. Determine the minimum that you think you can realistically pay off in the coming year — say 5 percent or 10 percent of your outstanding balances — and dedicate yourself to doing it. If you get there sooner than you expected, resolve to pay off another 5 percent or 10 percent.

If debt reduction isn't working at all, then decide that you will not add any new debt to your balances in 2013. By setting reasonable objectives, you're more likely to succeed.

Cut back to basics

If you have a long list of resolutions, it will be tough to find the time and commitment to tackle them all. Instead, focus on one or two positive steps you'd like to take and devote all your energy to them.

If your goals include pumping up your retirement fund as well as saving for a vacation house, it may be best to postpone trying to finance that house until you have your retirement account in order. Choose a few goals that represent your highest priorities. You will have more energy and incentive to take the necessary steps to achieve them. You can always add new goals once you've attained the most important ones.

Whatever your financial objectives, a local CPA can provide the advice you need to help reach them. Be sure to turn to him or her with all your financial questions.

For more resources, or to find a CPA near you, visit www.picpa.org/consumers.

For more information about Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA), visit www.ineedacpa.org.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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