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The Secret to Setting New Year's Goals That Stick

Kimberly Palmer

Americans like to make New Year's resolutions, even if they don't always follow through with them. But health-related goals tend to be more popular than financial ones, according to a survey from TD Ameritrade released last year. It found that about one in three Americans will make money-related resolutions, while the most popular resolutions relate to health, self-improvement and work-life balance.

If you're looking to follow through on your resolutions, you might want to consider breaking your goals into small steps. That's because when people choose big, overwhelming goals, they usually fail, says BJ Fogg, director of Stanford University's Persuasive Technology Lab. "Big leaps almost never work," he says. "They need to break it down into baby steps that they can do."

For example, if you want to save more money, Fogg says you should first think about what that means in terms of a behavioral change. Do you need to start bringing your lunch to work? Avoid budget-busting restaurants? Set up an automatic payroll deduction that goes into a savings account? He recently launched a program, tinyhabits.com, to help people make small changes every day, which can then grow into a larger shift.

[Read: How to Achieve Your Money Goals.]

Goal achievement expert Kerri Salls urges clients to be as specific as possible when describing their goals. "I want to earn more money," for example, is a relatively vague resolution. "Dig deeper to make it more specific," Salls suggests. Do you want to get a second job? Get a raise? Earn a new commission? Describing the method will make it easier to know what you have to do.

Salls also says focusing on motivation - why you want to achieve your goal - can also help. "It's not usually about the money itself. What will the money be used for? Do you want to be able to take more vacations or retire?" she asks.

If you're still brainstorming for your 2014 money goals, here are five suggestions, all of which can be broken into smaller steps and customized:

1. Boost your credit score - especially if you're planning a big purchase that requires a loan, such as a home or car, in the near future. To do that, FICO, a company that calculates credit scores, suggests that you avoid opening new lines of credit, since that can hurt your credit score, and avoid charging close to the total available credit on your cards. That's because maxing out cards can have a lasting negative impact on your credit score.

[Read: 25 Ways to Improve Your Finances in 2014.]

2. Fill out your emergency fund. Three or six months' worth of expenses is no longer enough, especially if a layoff turns into an extended unemployment stint, says Catherine West Olivetti, an attorney based in Hilton Head, S.C., and an expert on recovering from financial distress. She urges people to store at least 12 months of expenses in their emergency fund, which can cover them during unemployment. "The reality is that it takes longer to find a job than many people realize," she says.

3. Give yourself a career audit. Career coach Ford Myers urges anyone looking for a job to first look closely at what they really want. He suggests writing down a description of your "ideal employer" and perfect job description. He also urges taking a closer look at your external appearance, attitude and professional strengths, to see if a few tuneups could increase the chances of impressing job interviewers.

4. Adopt healthier habits. Smokers pay more for health insurance, according to ehealthinsurance.com spokeswoman Carrie McLean. For women smokers, premiums go up 22 percent on average per month, and men's premiums go up by 13 percent. Meanwhile, obesity also leads to higher rates; people with a body mass index that qualifies them as obese pay 22 percent more each month for their premiums, compared to those with normal body mass indexes.

[See: 10 Ways to Upgrade Your Finances in 2014.]

5. Ignore holiday windfalls. If you receive a bonus, raise, tax refund or generous holiday gift in cash, Today Show financial editor Jean Chatzky suggests pretending it doesn't exist. "Funnel a bonus or tax refund directly into savings, without giving yourself a chance to spend it," she says, and if you have credit card debt, use the money to pay it off. Otherwise, she says, that money could easily disappear on less meaningful expenditures.

What are your 2014 money goals?

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