Back to Basics: A Budget That Sticks for 2018

We make all kinds of promises to our future selves at the end of a calendar year: I'll go to the gym, I'll stay off Twitter and Facebook, I'll buy organic, I'll write my book. One typical top-tier resolution is overhauling our personal spending. A million and one different websites and budgeting gurus will tell you they have the trick to solve all your problems. Whether they work or not comes down to a lot of factors.

Experts will tell you that New Year's resolutions fail so often because we try to make enormous changes to our lives all at once. If you're working to dig yourself out of debt or just build a nest egg, it's tempting to throw everything at the wall and see what new habits stick. But even though saving and paying off loans can feel agonizing, if the external pressure isn't enough to really help you change things, you might consider switching up your perspective.

Blogger Anna Newell Jones has written for years about her journey to pay off nearly $24,000 in debt, which she accomplished in 15 months. A lot of these stories involve finger-wagging about living rent-free with your parents and relying on presumed familial wealth. Jones tried some more extreme budgeting, including a "spending fast," but first she did something so basic, it might seem easy to overlook.

First, she analyzed the past three months of her spending, to establish patterns and priorities. That's a great place to start, but if you're having trouble adjusting to sudden austerity, consider working your way to up to more budget cuts. Try building habits slowly and checking in with yourself at regular intervals; focus on paring down different categories of your budget in stages. You can adjust your timeline depending on how successful you feel about your spending, and you don't have to beat yourself up, because saving or paying off a little bit is way better than nothing at all.

However you commit to organizing your money in 2018, remember that the biggest changes often happen with baby steps. Celebrate your little wins and build on them. This strategy is definitely also a privilege, and it's not for everyone, but if you're feeling a bit panicky about your checking account, give these methods a shot and see where they take you.