Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The new year is a time to start over, with a clean slate. Perhaps last year you set financial goals and targets for yourself but along the way life happened and your goals were forgotten.

The SMART system is one suggested way of setting goals. It looks great on paper - but you need to follow through on your intentions with the right actions.

First, let's see how you set SMART goals. This is what each letter stands for:

• S = Specific: Be specific about what you want. For example, by deciding: "I want to pay off my R10,000 credit-card balance."

• M = Measurable: Put timelines and amounts to your specific goal. To continue the example above: "I want to make payments of R835 monthly until I've paid off my balance."

• A = Attainable: Is it feasible to pay off your credit card within your budget constraints? Or will you need extra income to help plug the shortfall?

• R = Realistic: Are you aware of the constraints in your budget and have you factored in other realities? If you're looking at increasing your income, for example, do you have a solid plan to achieve this?

• T = Timely: Put a start and an end date to how long it'll take you to achieve your goal. This may shift, but having it in place will help you stay on track.

A smart goal would look like this:

"I want to pay off my R10,000 credit-card debt in the next 12 months. I will put aside R850 every month that will go towards paying off my balance."

Now that we know how to set achievable goals, how do you ensure that you stick to them?

Start by working within the confines of your budget to ensure that reaching your goal is possible once you've factored in all your financial obligations.

You should also make sure that you put measures in place to make regression difficult. So, for example, you can ask your bank to de-link your credit card from your main banking profile. And if you're tempted by temporary loan offers, ask the bank to stop sending these offers to you.

Paying off a large debt using smaller debt means you're not moving anywhere.

Another step towards achieving your goal will be to find a trusted accountability partner. This is a person or a support group you're comfortable sharing your finances with. You don't have to reveal everything if you're not comfortable; maybe start with one debt that you're determined to pay off.

Another way of ensuring you stick with your SMART plan is to keep your goals in view - literally. Have them as your wallpaper or screensaver, stick them on your fridge or bathroom mirror, and in this way you will stay disciplined, motivated and focused on your goals.

Keep a diary of your journey. In fact you could consider a "bullet journal" - a way of replacing all those little reminders on bits of paper with a system of symbols in a notebook which keeps you on track. Part of this process involves making a graphic of what your debt will look like as you pay it off - like blocks, or a thermometer. This will make it more real and push you to reach your goal. You can also use tools such as the free 22Seven app to help you manage your finances.

Incentivise yourself. Give yourself a pat on the back for sticking to your plan with a small gift - but don't splash out in a way that will undo the work you've done.

Maybe buy yourself shares, or register for a short course you've always wanted to do. Go for something that will add to your wellbeing in the long run.

Make room for your mistakes: don't set yourself up for failure by overextending yourself. If you're derailed, fix your life, then get back on track.

Tsamela is the founder of Piggiebanker.com. Follow her on twitter @Piggiebanker