Q. We make a reasonable living. We don’t want to spend another year living paycheck to paycheck. How can we create a realistic plan to get ahead in 2018?

A. If you want to stop living paycheck to paycheck, then it’s wise to think about why you consistently find yourself in this position in the first place. Are you carrying too much debt? Are your regular monthly expenses too high? Do you pay your monthly bills, but then spend whatever remains? Are you spending money in areas out of habit rather than spending your money intentionally. It’s not uncommon for people to answer yes to all of these questions.

When you can be honest about what may be causing your financial issues, then you can start thinking about small, concrete steps that can help you stop living paycheck to paycheck. Would a small emergency fund — anywhere from $500 to $1,000 — stop the cycle of paycheck-to-paycheck living for you? Could paying down debt or reducing your monthly expenses be the solution for increasing your cash flow?

Now is the time many people are thinking about their financial goals or resolutions for 2018. Too often, people don’t take the time to think about what they want to change or accomplish with their finances. They don’t set goals or make a plan. As a result, they become frustrated that they cannot get ahead no matter what happens. Setting goals that reflect what you want to accomplish is the first step to getting what you want. If you have a spouse or significant other you should set goals together.

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Whatever your goals for the year to come, you move closer to reaching them when you write them down. It doesn’t have to be anything more than a few words jotted down on an index card. Once you put those goals in writing, put your index card in your wallet or checkbook. This way, whenever you plan to spend money, you’ll be reminded of your financial goals for 2018.

If you have a spouse or significant other, each of you should have a copy of this goal card. Make sure you have the same goals on your cards. To accomplish a shared goal, you will no doubt have to practice a little bit of give and take. Nevertheless, nothing says your goals are set in stone. As the year progresses, you may want to modify your goals.

The simple act of writing down your goals and focusing on what you want is the surest way to accomplish what you want in 2018.

Bonnie Spain is the executive director of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Black Hills, a United Way member agency. To contact her, email credit@cccsbh.com

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