Get SMART about budgeting in the new year

Whether your new year includes some 'holiday spending' sticker-shock or a resolution to get your budget in order: both can pose challenges.

We are very good at spending more than we have. American consumer debt sits at about $14 trillion dollars, and a survey finds about a third of us don even bother with a budget.        

A Brookings survey finds, on average, $0.78 of every dollar we have goes toward basic expenses like housing, food, transportation, and healthcare. That leaves just 22% percent for unexpected or overlooked expenses like a car repair, or pet car, or a road trip. They can all throw a wrench into any spending plan.        

Houston C.P.A. and financial planner Ed Gardner says, "Most people don't keep their goals, because they don't know how to set their goals."        

While each individual set of financial circumstances is unique, Gardner believes there are some standard approaches that can benefit anyone. One of his favorites is the SMART plan. It's an acronym that can help goal-planning. 'S' means being 'specific' about what you want to do with your money. How will you 'Measure' your progress to know if the plan is working? Is the goal 'Attainable'? Right alongside that, is it 'Realistic'? And, finally, what is the 'Timeline' for success?        

"They need to make a road map of their future goals: What they'd like to have," says Gardner, "What you have to do with what you make, is to put some money away to help you get to that goal a lot easier."        

Some strategies to help set and meet those goals include: Tracking your spending. Get a notebook and write down where every cent goes. And trying a 'budgeting app' can help teach how to set aside enough money for your expenses.      

Anything that helps get from 'goal' to 'reality' is beneficial.