Every New Year, people vow to lose weight, save money and quit smoking (or drinking). But there’s a right way to do something… and a way that practically guarantees failure. Below, we’ll list tips to help you keep those resolutions well into the New Year. We’ll also share common missteps people make on their quest for self-improvement, despite their best efforts and good intentions!

New Year Resolution #1: Lose Weight

I’m not here to promote any special diet or exercise program, mostly because nobody’s paying me to do that. But also, I’ve been on a diet essentially my whole life, it feels like. But what I do know is that it’s virtually impossible to lose weight through exercise alone. So, I’ve listed some basic guidelines and mistakes to avoid in your quest for optimal health this year.

Do: Track calories & make practical changes you can stick to

Not sure how many calories you need to eat in order to lose weight? According to the University of Utah Nutrition Clinic, aim for 10 calories per pound of body weight. This formula works equally well for men and women. That means a 200-lb. man needs 2,000 calories daily, while a 130-lb. woman should aim for a 1,300-calorie target.

Have a demanding job, weird schedule or chronic health issue that makes weight loss especially difficult? Try intermittent fasting. For many people, weight loss isn’t as simple as a basic math formula telling you “eat fewer calories.” Maybe you have hypothyroidism, or work 12-hour shifts sitting down 2x per week. In cases like this, intermittent fasting can often produce results when previous diets failed (or only showed temporary results).

Don’t: Try juice cleanses, dieter’s tea/teatoxes or fad diets

You keto converts are sharpening your knives for me already, right? Look, I know keto dieters can lose a ton of weight quickly. But here’s what they don’t tell you about any high-protein, low-carb diet:

  • Once you stop, weight piles back on… usually more than what you lost.
  • Your heart disease risk increases.
  • Diabetics: Adjust your blood-sugar medication within a few days.
  • Giving up fruit and veggies can cause vitamin and nutrient deficiencies.  
  • Kidney stones, low blood pressure and constipation are fairly common.
  • It’s unsafe for people with pancreas, liver, thyroid or gall bladder-related health issues.

Last but not least, going keto’s expensive. So if you’re on a strict budget, it’s very difficult to do (or maintain long-term). Juice cleanses are equally bad for you – remember, you’re literally drinking liquid sugar instead of eating fiber-rich foods. Constipation, kidney stones, pounding headaches and electrolyte imbalances are common juicing side effects. Plus, who wants to spend $60/day on thick, weird-tasting drinks?

Finally, avoid dieter’s tea/tetoxes at all costs! Nearly all “flat tummy” teas combine the same two active ingredients: Senna and caffeine. In other words, you’re drinking liquid laxatives that dehydrate you. Permanent colon, gut flora, liver and kidney damage can follow as a result of regular use.

New Year Resolution #2: Quit Smoking/Drinking

Surprised to see me put these two things in the same category? You shouldn’t be. Many people that quit smoking backslide only when they drink alcohol, for example. And both drinking and smoking are highly social behaviors that people tend to do together, especially during group outings. Quitting any addictive behavior, especially a social one, is incredibly hard. If you managed to do either one successfully on your first attempt, then bravo! I’m very impressed.

Do: Perform a cost/benefit analysis (or download an app that does it for you) to stay motivated and on track

To my friends and family members who already quit smoking: I’m so proud of you! Nicotine gum’s a great way to manage cravings once you stop. But the #1 thing everyone swears by is a free phone app to track their progress. Smoke Free shows daily metrics (like total money saved to date) and offers “mission” tasks that help you stay focused.  

Think a similar approach won’t help you quit drinking (at least, temporarily)? Many people without drinking problems decide to take a New Year “break” from alcohol. It can help you spend less money on bar tabs, sleep better or lose weight. But the best way to make this New Year resolution stick involves making a cost-benefit analysis. Track alcohol-related metrics through a free phone app like DrinkControl to stay motivated, such as:

  • Total calories saved
  • Improved sleep times/quality
  • Financial savings
  • Mood and energy improvements

Quitting drinking or smoking in the New Year gets easier when you see positive gains on a daily basis.

Don’t: Gradually cut down or switch to e-cigs/“virgin” drinks

Some smokers switch to e-cigs, though that method might scare off some resolution-makers this New Year. Others sip on “near beer” or virgin drinks while socializing with friends to make giving up alcohol less awkward. But the fact is, the hardest thing about quitting smoking or drinking is letting go of ritual behavior. Using a handheld electronic device that produces smoke plumes likely won’t help you break that pattern. Trying to drink less is equally hard, because once that alcohol goes in, your inhibitions fall away. Ever heard of anyone making better decisions while drunk than they normally do sober? Exactly!

New Year Resolution #3: Save More & Spend Less

When you’re on a tight budget, saving money or spending less is difficult. But with the right help, this New Year resolution gets easier to keep. I’ll include tips for creating a monthly budget and saving up for either an emergency fund or big-ticket purchase. Let’s make sure covering a $400 surprise bill is one resolution you can keep this New Year!

Do: Use the 50/30/20 rule to create a budget you can stick to as well as save some cash

Most people have no idea where to start when it comes to managing money. But luckily, the 50/30/20 rule makes creating a budget you can stick to very easy. It works like this:

  • 50% = how much of your monthly income to spend on items you can’t live without, such as housing and utility bills.
  • 30% = amount spent on things you want, like restaurants, entertainment, travel, gifts, clothes, etc.
  • 20% = savings/paying off debts.

Some free tools that can help you do this include:

  • Google Sheets to track monthly income and expenses. It’s basically a free online version of Excel if you already have a Gmail account.
  • NerdWallet’s 50/30/20 budget calculator.
  • Free money-saving smartphone apps. I won’t recommend a specific one, because every person’s goals are different. Mint, Acorns and Chime are popular apps that automate savings as well as investments.
  • Estimate your credit score with this free online calculator.  

Don’t: Pick an arbitrary dollar amount to save each month or cut up your credit cards

Look, tons of people love financial advice gurus such as Dave Ramsey. And while his tips work for many people, cutting up your credit cards won’t actually save you money. What if you have a true emergency and need to access it? If you’re trying to kick a compulsive shopping habit, try this instead: Fill a plastic storage container with water. Then, drop your credit card inside, pop on the lid and put it in your freezer. You’ll have to thaw it first, but still have it available to cover surprise expenses (i.e., a hospital bill).  

Deciding you’re going to save an extra $100/month in the New Year is another recipe for failure. If you’re trying to save more and spend less, picking a number that sounds good isn’t helpful. What if you can’t afford it? If you don’t have a savings account, then where does that $100/month go? To make your New Year resolution successful, pick a savings goal that includes a specific dollar amount. Then, use your 50/30/20 budget skills to create a realistic savings plan and timeline to reach your target.

If your New Year resolution’s to reduce debt, check your credit card and loan interest rates. Pay down high-interest balances first, then work your way down the line. Cleaning up your credit score? Lenders want to see your credit utilization rate stay below 30%. In other words, if you have a $12,000 credit line, aim to keep your monthly balance below $4,000.