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Local experts spill their secrets on how to be richer, thinner and happier in 2012

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Christopher Olsen

Laurie VanDyk

Jennifer Grainger

Posted: Saturday, December 31, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 6:25 am, Sat Dec 31, 2011.

It sounds like a good idea at the time, buying that gym membership and promising yourself that you will go and work out as often as possible to meet that new target weight you hope to hit by swimsuit season.

But two months into the new year, you get busy, work piles up and other things just seem to get in the way.

Your goal has become a sham.

But all that can change, says Dennis Kaufman, manager at Twin Arbors Athletic Club.

The goal, he said, is to discipline yourself, even if it means you don't actually go out and exercise.

"The trick is to come up with a habit," he said. "Sometimes, you don't really feel like walking or going to the gym in the morning. Get up anyway, and do something else around the house. Commit to the habit, because your schedule will be better if you exercise one way or another versus not at all."

Getting a gym membership is also not the only way to solve the problem, Kaufman added.

While gym memberships can cost good money, as long as you set aside time to exercise in your weekly schedule, you should be good to go.

"One of the analogies people use is 'time is money,' but that is a lie," he said. "And the reason is it's a lie is because if you run out of money, there are ways to get more. But if you run out of time, they bury you. People think we are immortal ... we aren't."

In addition to exercise, diet is another factor that can help you keep the pounds off.

Limit yourself to one plate per meal, Kaufman said, and make sure that rather than more meat and potatoes, you try to have a larger serving of fruits or vegetables.

He added that it is alright to snack — just do it in a healthy way.

"One of my favorite things to munch on late at night is apples and peanut butter," he said. "Something like that, you can eat just enough so that you make the hunger go away, but that you don't stuff yourself."

Another trick to remember for the new year? Sometimes you are not hungry, but thirsty.

Try drinking water when you think you may be hungry shortly after eating a meal. Turns out, your body is telling you that you do not need more food, but rather you need more fluid.

Get better with money: Maui on $1?

Spending less than you make is the easiest way to get out of debt and take hold of your financial future in 2012. But actually saying it and doing it are two very different things.

Christopher Olsen, a Lodi financial adviser with 26 years experience, said to start with what he calls an "autopsy budget."

First, write in the given monthly expenses that don't tend to change, such as rent or mortgage, health insurance and property tax. Then over three months add in everything you spend, including perhaps the $100 a month on Starbucks.

"Then you'll see, 'Are the lattes worth more than the children's college education?'" Olsen said in reference to saving for the future.

Here are other tips from Olsen on making financial progress:

  • If you have more than one credit card, don't make extra monthly payments on all of them. Instead, focus on the one with the highest percentage rate until it is paid off, then move balances to that credit card.

"People who go through this process and pay their debt off ... never run up the debt again," Olsen said.

  • Review you monthly bills for cable, Internet service and cellphones to ensure you're paying only for what you need. Also, providers will often give you a better deal if you call and ask to change your contract, according to Olsen.
  • Refinance your home loan, as most rates are under four percent.
  • Never buy a timeshare at a presentation. Olsen said he has purchased a number of timeshares on eBay.

"My best one was a week at The Ridge Tahoe for $1. I have done some excellent exchanges from this, including a week in Hawaii for a three-bedroom place in Maui on the beach."

  • Never buy a new car. Instead, Olsen buys a one-year-old car after conducting research, including running the vehicle identification number through CARFAX. "Some say cheap, others say frugal," he added.

— Jennifer Bonnett

Finding love and making it stick

If 2011 seemed unstable and felt like it was moving too quickly, Jennifer Grainger says to expect more of the same in 2012. Grainger is a life sculptor in Lodi whose work focuses on women who are at a crossroads in their relationships, those who know they can't stay but don't know how to leave.

Grainger predicts that 2012 will see people polarizing into positive and negative groups. This means relationships, companies and even public institutions might be breaking up to make room for new structures.

"It will be a year of a lot of letting go and finding a new way of looking at things," she said.

Grainger offers this advice to those who have resolved to improve their love lives in the new year: "Positive happy people are love magnets. If you want love in your life, get off the whiny victim path. Take charge of your life by carving away what is not working and reshaping what remains into a life you can love. No one grows themselves by themselves. Get a coach. Every good coach has a coach herself."

— Sara Jane Pohlman

Career: Dress up and lose the gum

For those whose New Year's resolution is to get a job — or a better job — get ready for some big changes to the way employers want you to apply.

It's more important to have a good personality than job skills, according to Janelle Lopez, branch manager of Blue Ribbon Personnel Services, with offices in Lodi and Jackson.

Some companies do it the old-fashioned way by going through resumes and job interviews, she said. Others ask people to apply on the company website.

The most important thing that employers look for is people skills, Lopez said.

"It's not just important to have the basic skills of a job," Lopez said. "You need good customer service, teamwork and (be good at) taking initiative. Employers are really looking for the full package."

One employer in Jackson recently told Lopez that he'd rather have someone with good customer service skills than a computer whiz or somebody who works very quickly. The company can teach computer skills, she added.

"In this economy, every customer has to be treated exceptionally," Lopez said.

Laurie VanDyk, a Lodi resident who serves as operations assistant for Premier Staffing in Stockton, has some other tips. They include:

  • Be nice to the receptionist.
  • Be up-to-date on today's technology, and multi-task. That includes knowing how to use email, text message, tablets and smartphones.
  • Look up the company on the Internet so that you will have questions to ask the employer.
  • Have two interview outfits to wear, the second one being available if you're called in for a second interview.

"There's still an enormous amount of competition," Lopez said. "Companies have cut back to their barebones staff."

Employers may look at resume for 10 seconds before deciding whether the applicant is worth a second look.

"Nobody has time to read someone's life story on a resume," Lopez said.

More and more applicants are getting discouraged these days because they're not as likely to hear back from an employer, so they don't know whether they're being considered for a job, Lopez said.

Although many employers request that applicants not make follow-up phone calls because they don't have time to field them, it's a good idea to send an email or fax a note, saying they're still interested in the job, Lopez said. "It's fine to follow up, but do it in moderation."

VanDyk has some other job-hunting tips that seem like she's stating the obvious. Some examples:

  • Know how to read, write and speak well. Be clear and well-spoken when interviewing.
  • Don't chew gum. It is amazing how many candidates think they can hide the gum between their cheeks and gums, and still conduct an interview.
  • Turn your cellphone off. Don't just put it on vibrate.
  • Don't smell like smoke. After you take that shower and prepare for your interview, do not smoke a cigarette until you are out of that interview.
  • Bring your own pen.

— Ross Farrow

Kick the habit with the help of a group

As the clock strikes midnight New Year's Eve, everyone is at the peak of excitement over bettering themselves by sticking to resolutions. But by mid-February, you start hearing the old mantra: Resolutions are made to be broken.

But some resolutions are more complicated — more serious — than others, like overcoming an addiction to tobacco, alcohol or drugs. These types of conditions affect your quality of life and your health.

According to Lodi social worker and therapist Anna Winn, if you are trying to break an addiction, it's important to establish what you tried in the past and why it didn't work.

For example, many have used nicotine patches, hypnotherapy and electronic cigarettes to quit smoking.

Winn says everyone responds differently. Don't give up trying just because the patch didn't work for you. Another method will.

A group setting or support system is helpful in successfully breaking any addiction. For those trying to quit smoking, the National Cancer Institute offers a smoking "quitline" (877-448-7848) and a website, www.smokefree.gov, with individualized counseling and resources.

There are varying levels of alcohol addiction. Some drink more than they should but still manage to be functional in daily life, while others have lost their jobs, families and homes due to alcohol.

"They tend to get to a point where they have to quit drinking," Winn said. Eventually, those who abuse alcohol will see issues with relationships, health or work.

Winn says it's important to realize if there are any co-existing conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder, or grief or loss. They may be contributing to the addiction, and may make it easier to find a way to get over the addiction.

When helping people with drug or alcohol issues, Winn will discuss the extent of the addiction and then steer them toward help, whether it be in attending Alcoholics Anonymous or residential or outpatient care.

Changing your lifestyle can also help you have an easier time breaking an addiction. If you are trying to quit drinking, don't hang out at a bar with a drinking buddy. Instead, create a positive environment for yourself.

When people feel they've lost themselves to addiction — often drug or alcohol users who have lost their jobs and homes — they enter one of the Salvation Army Hope Harbors programs, either the local recovery program or one of the many programs for veterans.

Kim Williams is the Hope Harbor captain, and says the first step new program members do is test clean so they can join the program.

Getting out of a drugand alcohol-filled environment is a key to the program's success. Members can also participate in a 12-step program, a Celebrate Recovery group on Friday nights, and work at the program.

Whether you're breaking free from smoking, drugs or alcohol, the main thing is to have the will the stop.

"You have to stay focused and look around and consider what you want out of life," Williams said. "It's a marvelous thing to be clean and sober."

— Lauren Nelson

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