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Cash, Space, Peace

January can be one tough mother of a month. Named for the Roman double-faced god Janus, who looked both into the past and into the future, January has double duty as the time to recover from the holidays as well as the time to resolve, achieve, turn over new leaves and otherwise power into the new year.

Instead of pressuring yourself to start 2014 with a bang and a bunch of new habits, what if you took a gentler approach and made January a monthlong mental retreat, a time to reflect on the past and plan for the future?

January is a great time to slow down: Slow down the spending, slow down the eating, slow down (or stop) the drinking. It’s traditionally the time to get back into a routine — a healthier, more productive one, if possible. I know several people who abstain from alcoholic drinks for the entire month with great benefits. I’m going to try to save money by taking a break from my daily venti latte habit, by staying off the dangerous A to Z websites (Amazon and Zappos) and also by plugging in my Prius to get the “free” miles the charge provides. By the end of the month, that’s more than $300 in savings! If your credit card overheated in December, like mine did, every little bit helps.

The first month of the new year is a natural time to create space — my favorite activity. If you purchased or were given new items over the holidays, now is the time for “out with the old.” Be sure to go through your holiday gift wrap and decorations as you put them away. Cull the duds and reorganize the rest as you put it all away for another year. Use your journal to memorialize the holidays and plan for changes you’d like to make next go around.

As they say in 12-step programs, take it “one day at a time.” Just for today I’m not going to Starbucks. Just for today I’m going to have a salad and skip the french fries or chips or bread basket. Just for today I’m going to journal for half an hour, or meditate or exercise.

Take it one drawer at a time, too, to create space and order for the new year. Every morning, or even every moment, is a fresh chance to choose a positive activity. Sometimes taking a nap or going to bed early is the most positive thing you can do. It’s winter; allow yourself to hibernate a little bit.

Even if you are working 9 to 5, using the month as a double-faced time to reflect and plan can give it a retreat-like feel. Taking each of January’s 31 days one at a time to gently employ some restraints on spending, eating and other habits should leave you with more cash (or less debt), more space (between your body and your waistband as well as in your home) and more peace.