updated 1/2/2011 2:27:32 PM ET 2011-01-02T19:27:32

With 2011 here, you may already have an idea for a financial resolution. The only problem with New Year's resolutions is that it can be difficult to stick to them, even with the best of intentions. Here's what to look out for to make sure your shiny financial New Year's resolution doesn't get tarnished.

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Unrealistic resolutions
It can be great to set a goal so high that it gives you the motivation to push hard to try and reach it, but if the goal is too far out of reach, you're likely to feel disconnected and give up when you don't make any visible progress.

A goal should be just slightly out of reach of what you can realistically achieve. For instance if you know you can save aside $500 a month, then setting a goal of saving $600 a month will be a bit of a challenge, but not so much that you'll get frustrated and give up if you don't reach it.

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Focusing on the negative
When people slip up, they tend to be really hard on themselves for having made a mistake, but the key is not to dwell too long on it and become discouraged. Acknowledge it, vow to do better and try again.

For instance, if your plan was to track your spending but you happened to forget a whole bunch of receipts for a day, don't despair. Don't write off the whole month as a failure, but try again the next day and continue along as if you had never stopped. Researchers have found that it takes around 66 days on average to form a habit and ranges anywhere from 18 to 254 days. Missing a single day doesn't reduce your chances of forming a long-term habit.

Not setting firm guidelines
The thing about goals is that they are just dreams until a plan and a deadline are attached to them. If you have set a goal that is too vague, such as "I should pay off my credit card this year sometime" rather than "I will pay off my credit card this year by September by putting $500/month towards it," it is a clear sign that your resolution will probably not be a resounding success.

Investopedia.com: 6 New Year's resolutions for the financial system

Re-visit your motivation for what you want to do this year and set a firm goal in your mind using the words "I want" or "I will." Afterward, come up with a plan with all the steps laid out and the people you need to contact to make your goal a reality. Then assign milestones and a deadline for everything you want to achieve. Now all you have to do is execute your plan and review it on a regular basis.

Ignoring your progress
It's important to be aware of your progress and provide positive reinforcement when things go well. We all love a little reward for a job well done, and it is no different with New Year's resolutions. Set milestones after you reach each financial goal such as at the quarter of each year at three, six, nine and 12 months.

If by the first milestone (three months), you've reached your goal of clearing a quarter of your debt, acknowledge your progress and reward yourself with a reasonable treat that you've been foregoing for the past few months.

Investopedia.com: 9 ways to trim the fat from your spending

Keeping it to yourself
One of the well-known tricks to staying on track with your resolution is to find and use a friend or a group of people to support you. If you communicate on a regular basis with like-minded people, you will feel more motivated to stay on track because your goals will be constantly on your mind.

The support that comes from many encouraging voices can really make a difference, and being accountable to your support group can also keep you focused on your goal; you will think twice about your actions if you have to come clean at the end of the day.

The bottom line
Achieving any goal is a challenge, especially when it's a New Year's resolution, because it means you have to work at it for the next 365 days. Keep in mind that anything worth achieving will not be easy, and we wouldn't learn anything if we weren't challenged to grow as individuals. Remember to keep track of your progress, pace yourself, give yourself a break and reward your accomplishments.

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Explainer: The top 10 business stories of 2010

  • Image: BP CEO Tony Hayward surveys gulf spill repair work
    AP

    In 2010, the economy rebounded fitfully from the Great Recession — starting strong, wobbling at midyear but showing enough vigor by year's end to quell fears of a second recession. Yet Americans hardly felt relief under the weight of high unemployment, which began the year at 9.7 percent and is now 9.8 percent.

    An oil spill devastated the economy and environment along the Gulf Coast and hammered energy giant BP's stock price and reputation.

    China muscled past Japan to become the world's No. 2 economy, a reminder that the global economic order is shifting and America's supremacy is diminishing.

    It was a year of job shortages and swollen budget deficits that disheartened Americans and caused deep losses for incumbent Democrats on Election Day. The Federal Reserve tried with scant success to jolt the economy with record-low interest rates.

    The struggling economy was voted the top business story of the year by U.S. newspaper editors surveyed by The Associated Press. The oil spill in the Gulf came in second, followed by China's economic rise.

  • 1. Economy struggles

    Image: Unemployment brochures are seen on display at the employment training facility, JobTrain, in Menlo Park, Calif.,
    AP

    Climbing out of the deepest recession since the 1930s, the economy grows at a healthy rate in the January-March quarter. Still, the gain comes mainly from companies refilling stockpiles they had let shrink during the recession. The economy can't sustain the pace. The lingering effects of the recession slow growth.

    The benefits of an $814 billion government stimulus program fade. Consumers cut spending in favor of building savings and slashing debt. Businesses hesitate to hire. Cities and states lay off workers. Growth slows through spring and summer.

    Unemployment stays chronically high. In May, the number of people unemployed for at least six months hits 6.8 million — a record 46 percent of all the unemployed.

    Pointing to the deficits, Congress resists backing more spending to stimulate the economy. The Federal Reserve seeks to fill the void by announcing it will buy $600 billion in Treasury bonds to try to further lower interest rates, lift stocks and coax consumers to spend.

    As the year closes, the economy makes broad gains. Factories produce more. Consumers — the backbone of the economy — return to the malls. Congress passes $858 billion in tax cuts and aid to the long-term unemployed. Yet more than 15 million Americans are still unemployed. Economists say a full economic recovery remains years away.

  • 2. Gulf oil spill

    Image: Plaquemines Parish coastal zone director P.J. Hahn lifts his boot out of thick beached oil at Queen Bess Island.
    AP

    An explosion at a rig used by BP kills 11 workers and sends crude oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. The spill devastates the fishing and tourism industries along the Gulf Coast and causes environmental damage that may last for decades. BP sets up a $20 billion fund to compensate fishermen, restaurateurs and others whose livelihoods were damaged.

    The oil giant still faces civil charges and a criminal investigation by the Justice Department and lawsuits from hundreds of individuals and businesses. BP's stock market value shrinks by more than $100 billion after the April 20 disaster before bouncing about halfway back.

  • 3. China's rise

    Image: Workers install scaffolding at a construction site as a Chinese national flag flies near by in central Beijing.
    Reuters

    China passes Japan as the world's second-biggest economy. The World Bank says it could surpass the United States by 2020. China's gross domestic product is spread out over 1.3 billion people — amounting to about $3,600 per person. That compares with GDP in the U.S. of about $42,000 per person. In Japan, it's about $38,000 per person. China's thirst for raw materials and other products helps the rest of the world recover from the recession. Still, the U.S. and Europe complain that China gives its exporters an unfair competitive edge by keeping its currency artificially low.

  • 4. Real estate crisis

    Image: Home for sale
    AP

    Housing remains depressed despite super-low mortgage rates. The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage dips to 4.17 percent in November, the lowest in decades. But home sales and prices sink further. Nearly one in four homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, making it all but impossible for them to sell their home and buy another.

    An estimated 1 million households lose their homes to foreclosure, even though the pace slows after evidence that lenders mishandled foreclosure documents. Some did so by hiring "robo-signers" to sign paperwork without checking their accuracy.

  • 5. Toyota recall

    Image: Toyota Master Service Technician Mike Blomberg inspects a gas pedal assembly.
    AP

    Toyota's reputation for making high-quality cars is tarnished after the Japanese automaker recalls 10 million vehicles for sudden acceleration and other problems. Toyota faces hundreds of lawsuits alleging that some models can speed up suddenly, causing crashes, injuries and deaths. Toyota blames driver error, faulty floor mats and sticky accelerator pedals for the unintended acceleration. The uproar damages its business. Toyota's U.S. sales rise just 0.2 percent through November in a year when the industry's overall sales climb more than 11 percent.

  • 6. GM's comeback

    Image: GM headquarters
    AP

    General Motors stock begins trading again. It signals the rebirth of a corporate icon that fell into bankruptcy and required a $50 billion bailout from taxpayers. GM uses some proceeds from its November initial public offering to repay a portion of its bailout. (Washington still holds about a third of GM's stock.) GM's recovery helps rejuvenate the industry. Sales of cars and light trucks rise 11 percent through November compared with the same period in 2009. Shoppers who had put off replacing their old cars return to showrooms.

  • 7. Financial overhaul

    Image: Barack Obama, Christina Romer, Timothy Geithner, Barney Frank, Paul Volcker
    AP

    Congress passes the biggest rewrite of financial rules since the 1930s. The law targets the risky banking practices and lax oversight that led to the 2008 financial crisis. The law creates an agency to protect consumers from predatory loans and other abuses, empowers regulators to shut down big firms that threaten the entire system and shines more light into markets that have eluded oversight. Republican critics say the law goes too far, imposing burdensome rules that will restrict lending to consumers and small businesses.

  • 8. European bailouts

    Image: Athenians walks behind a board showing exchange rates at a foreign currency exchange shop in Athens on Wednesday.
    AP

    Greece and Ireland require emergency bailouts, raising fears that debt problems will spread and destabilize global markets. European governments and the International Monetary Fund agree to a $145 billion rescue of Greece in May and a $90 billion bailout of Ireland in November. The bailouts require both countries to slash spending, triggering protests by workers. Investors fear that debt troubles will spread to Spain, Portugal and other countries, weaken the European Union and threaten the future of the euro as its common currency.

  • 9. 500 million Facebook users

    Image: Mark Zuckerberg
    AP

    Facebook tops the 500-million-user mark. It expands its dominance of social media and further transforms how the world communicates. If it were a country, Facebook would be the world's third-largest. Facebook tightens its privacy settings after criticism that personal information is being disseminated without users' knowledge or permission. Founder Mark Zuckerberg is named Time magazine's "Person of the Year" and is the subject of a high-profile movie about Facebook's creation.

  • 10. iPad mania

    Image: Customer uses an Apple iPad
    AP file

    Apple Inc. unveils the iPad, bringing "tablet" computing into the mainstream and eroding laptop sales. Apple is expected to sell more than 13 million iPads this year. The iPads sell about twice as fast as iPhones did after their 2007 introduction. The price of Apple stock rockets more than 50 percent in 2010. Competitors scramble to try to catch up. They include the Dell Streak, BlackBerry PlayBook, the Samsung Galaxy Tag and HP Slate.

Photos: Year in business cartoons

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  1. (Jeff Parker / Florida Today, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. (Larry Wright / The Detroit News, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. (Arend Van Dam / Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. (Daryl Cagle / MSNBC.com, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. (John Cole / The Scranton Times, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. (Nate Beeler / The Washington Examiner, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. (Pat Bagley / The Salt Lake Tribune, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. (Nate Beeler / The Washington Examiner, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. (Larry Wright / The Detroit News, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. (Larry Wright / The Detroit News, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. (Nate Beeler / The Washington Examiner, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. (John Trever / The Albuquerque Journal, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. (Pat Bagley / The Salt Lake Tribune, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. (Nate Beeler / The Washington Examiner, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. (Jimmy Margulies / The New Jersey Record, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. (Daryl Cagle / MSNBC.com, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. (Nate Beeler / The Washington Examiner, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. (Nate Beeler / The Washington Examiner, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. (Jeff Parker / Florida Today, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. (Eric Allie / Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. (Mike Keefe / The Denver Post, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. (Jimmy Margulies / The New Jersey Record, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. (Pat Bagley / The Salt Lake Tribune, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. (Daryl Cagle / MSNBC.com, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. (Cam Cardow / Ottawa Citizen, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. (Cam Cardow / Ottawa Citizen, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. (Mike Keefe / The Denver Post, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. (Gary McCoy / Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
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Data: Latest rates in the US

Home equity rates View rates in your area
Home equity type Today +/- Chart
$30K HELOC FICO 4.40%
$30K home equity loan FICO 5.80%
$75K home equity loan FICO 4.54%
Credit card rates View more rates
Card type Today +/- Last Week
Low Interest Cards 13.70%
13.70%
Cash Back Cards 17.66%
17.91%
Rewards Cards 17.05%
17.17%
Source: Bankrate.com