2011: year of New Year's resolution rethink?

As cash-strapped families slog through the recession, "losing five pounds" is starting to seem a bit flimsy

Published December 27, 2010 8:46PM (EST)

Lori Biancofiori has been looking forward to 2011 for a long time. That's when she hopes to leave 2009 behind for good.

Her husband was laid off, her salary shrunk, the transmission blew on their car and they racked up $17,000 in credit card debt. Now, nearly three years later, her hubby's working again and up for a promotion after months of clipping coupons, slashing expenses and sticking to cash.

The Chicago couple has never been more serious about a New Year's resolution: to dig out of the hole by March.

"We want to start trying for a family in the summer," said the 33-year-old Biancofiori, who works in human resources. "We've been putting it off since fall 2009. There was no way we could afford daycare with the mess we were in."

Has the uncertainty of 2010 prompted a resolution rethink? Does vowing to lose five pounds feel downright frivolous as the Great Recession lingers for so many?

Kelli Calabrese, 41, and her husband have been up against a costly property dispute, bad investments, three home floods, two broken water heaters, a few broken bones and the demise of numerous big box appliances over the last three and a half years.

Her husband lived through stints of joblessness in the mortgage industry and underemployment as they raise two kids. They spent thousands on repairs to their house in Flower Mound, Texas, ahead of a sale only to have the deal fall through $15,000 later.

"This year extravagant trips, a new car and investing 20 percent of my income will not be making my resolutions list for 2011," said Calabrese, a personal trainer. "We've learned to re-identify need and greed."

The economy remains a big focus heading into resolution time at Mylifelist.org, a social network for goal-setters with more than 10,000 members.

"The major recession-related trend we've noted isn't smaller goals as we anticipated," said the chief operating officer, Shelagh Braley. "What we found are more people are using the site's tools for practical planning, including budgeting and setting aside a longer preparation time to make their achievements happen."

In that respect, Calabrese is a patient woman.

"My joy is not going to be tied to my circumstances," she said. "I'm going to focus on things that feel right to my heart and not the typical material things that I strove for and achieved in the past."

Scott Crutcher's circumstances in Venice, Calif., included laying off staff at his Web design firm and cutting back at home after his wife lost her job last fall. They've got two daughters, 3 and 7.

His New Year's rethink isn't a downscale. He's done that already. In 2011 he's reaching for the sky by learning how to mountain climb so he can summit Mount Rainier in Washington state. He's putting aside a bit of money each month to pay for it.

Taking on a challenge completely out of his comfort zone ("I prefer warm weather and live at sea level") and feeling capable is important to Crutcher, 35, as he heads into the new year.

"It's a tremendous test of will and strength," he said. "Committing to a long-term training program will get me fully involved in something bigger than my daily life."

The cost? He figures $1,731 should do it if he rents rather than buys most of his equipment.

Losing his job as a construction manager last February led to a major resolution rethink for 26-year-old Tyler Tervooren in Portland, Ore. "The tough times inspired me to make 2011 the best year of my life," he said.

Rather than sitting behind a desk thinking about high adventure, he plans to have some: running a marathon in South Africa on a private game reserve, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, making his way to Russia to trek up Mount Elbrus.

How's he paying for it? By blogging -- about risk-taking.

"I decided to start my own business because there were no jobs available," Tervooren said. "As long as I can find an Internet connection, I can keep the business up and running."

Setting moneymaking and money-saving goals is driving some people who never bothered in the past.

"My New Year's resolution is to have a marketing plan, versus not having one," said Mary Beth Klatt, a freelance writer in Chicago who has developed two craft-related iPhone apps.

At 25, Marcie Polansky in Austin, Texas, decided two months ago to get serious about making her money stretch. With no investing experience, she's been using GoalMine.com, a site that lets people who can't meet minimums elsewhere into mutual funds for as little as $25. She now has an investment plan that's easily trackable online free of difficult jargon.

"It seems like every year I make financial New Year's resolutions, only without any focus to them," she said. "I wanted to save, to explore the world of investing, but I didn't know how or where to start. It makes me feel like a grown-up, like I'm committing to a long-term goal."

By Leanne Italie

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Great Recession