We’re three weeks in to the new year, and how are you doing with your goals? This is usually the time when things start to fall off the rails. The gym visits become less frequent, the junk food sneaks back in, the time management takes a back seat, and that money-saving? Too many post-holiday sales made that one hard to keep up, too.

It doesn’t have to be all for naught. Sometimes all you need is a little kick in the pants. More importantly, sometimes what’s needed are a few tips and tricks to keep you on track. So I thought today I’d throw a few of my own tips your way, some things that have helped me to keep on target.

Livestrong and Your Healthy Lifestyle. A few years ago, I dropped 40lbs and 6 sizes. I did it by changing how I look at food. Putting unrealistic restrictions on what you eat (cut out the carbs! 0 fat! Eat only cabbage soup!) is a sure fire way to fail a weight loss program. Not only do diet restrictions up your chances that you are going to cheat, when you go off the program and start eating regular food again, you typically gain the weight back in record time.

The #1 best way to lose weight is to count calories. That’s it. There is no other magic solution. I lost weight by limiting myself to a certain number of calories a day, and essentially being able to eat what I wanted within the calories I’d been given. That meant, if I wanted to splurge on some chicken wings, I could, as long as I balanced that out with other healthy choices throughout the day. Exercise was a big component too, and I would get bonus calories for going on a 40 minute walk or doing some yoga.

Over the past year or so, my weight has crept back up a bit (I’ve gained a size) and I decided it’s time to nip it in the bud before it gets out of control again. I was searching through the iPhone App Store one day and I came across Livestrong. Livestrong is a calorie tracking tool that allows you to enter and track your weight, and it contains a database of every kind of food you can imagine, and the associated calories for that food. At the beginning you enter a few details like your current weight and you weight loss goal, and throughout the day, you enter what you eat and what exercise you’ve done. Livestrong keeps track of how many calories you have left, so you know exactly where you stand at all times. The first week I was on it I lost 3 lbs, and I’ve averaged a healthy 2lbs per week since I started using it. It’s convenient, free, and most importantly, it works!

If you are serious about losing weight and being healthier (and have an iPhone), give the Livestrong a try. If you don’t have an iPhone, feel free to leave links to other online calorie trackers in the comments. Also check out the web site (Livestrong is Lance Armstrong’s foundation, incidentally) because there are some great healthy lifestyle tips.

Saving Money. I don’t have a lot of money saving tips, and there are plenty of other people out there who are far more educated about money than I am. But for me, one of the key ways I save money is by thrift store shopping.

Now, I am no fashionista, to be sure. I enjoy nice clothes and accessories as much as the next girl, but I am not really that in to designer stuff. That said, a girlfriend generously gave me a beautiful little Coach purse for Christmas which I love – not because it’s Coach, but because it’s so damn cute.

Perhaps it’s because of my thrifty Scottish roots, but I don’t like to spend a lot of money on clothes. I think most clothing is way overpriced for the quality you get, and I also hate malls and big box stores. Sure, online shopping is an option, but by the time I pay the U.S. dollar conversions and the shipping, I might as well give up on my budget entirely.

Years ago, I discovered the glorious thrift store (thanks to the same friend who bought me the Coach purse, incidentally). Since then, I have become a thrift store junky, spending hours combing the racks for stuff. I estimate now that about 80% of my clothes are thrift store finds. Here’s an example of what I got on a weekend jaunt to my local Value Village:

  • 3 pairs of brand name jeans
  • 1 turtlneck sweater (also brand name)
  • 1 zip up wool blend sweater
  • 1 pair of black leather boots
  • 1 t-shirt

I estmate the total cost, had I bought these all brand new in a mall, would be over $500. The stuff I bought was all practically brand new, and mostly name brand. My total cost? $67 (taxes in).

If you want to get really serious about saving money, then take a look at how much you spend on clothing. Got kids? Why would you EVER go to a brand name store to spend $60 on a pair of jeans for your toddler that they are going to grow out of in 3 months? Kids consignment and 2nd hand stores abound, and the best part about these is you can trade in your kids’ old stuff for store credit.

Oh, and if you still MUST have that $400 designer purse or $300 pair of boots? The money you save by buying stuff at thrift stores will more than pay for those things.

By the way, the trick to successful thrift store shopping is to have plenty of time to do it. Block yourself a good hour or even two to comb the racks. There’s a lot of junk in these stores, but plenty of great stuff too. You just need the time to look.

Live Now. Perhaps the most important thing to remember when it comes to your new year goals is that it’s okay if you fall off the wagon. We’ve all done it. The important thing is that you recognize it and keep moving forward to your goal. The beauty of life is that every day that we wake up and get another chance to try it over again. If you didn’t do so well last week on your healthy eating plan, make a plan to start fresh today. If you spent a little more than you should have on the weekend, make a plan to hang on to your dough this week. Don’t get hung up on your past mistakes. You only have right now. Keep on going, one day, one moment at a time and before you know it, those pants will be looser and your bank account will be bigger.

Now, over to you – how do you stay on track with your goals?