See More Green in 2017: Smart Personal Finance Resolutions

More Americans each year make New Year's resolutions that are financial, and for good reason; getting your fiscal house in order takes willpower. But this year, don't just vow to "save more" or "spend less." Take some time to carefully devise a plan that will work for you, and one that you can stick to. That will put you on track to financial health in 2017.

There are three steps to creating a smart financial plan:

  • figuring out what you are spending;
  • finding ways to spend less; and
  • charting a strategy for keeping and growing the money you save.

First, tackle spending.

The easiest way to find out where your money goes is by using financial software, such as Quicken or Microsoft Money. Take a look at the past year, separating your expenses into simple categories: Essentials, extras and savings.

The extras are a good place to begin looking for cuts. Spending $25 a week on skinny lattes? Switch to drip -- or better yet, make your coffee at home. And what about that that gym membership: Could you get just as fit by running on a nearby track or working out at home?

That four-wheeled money guzzler in the driveway may represent another opportunity for saving. If you're a commuter, you're stuck, but many people who live in or close to urban areas are finding a combination of Uber, bicycles and occasional auto rentals a cheaper way to go. Do the math and see if you should go car-free. Families in the suburbs sometimes find they can get by with one car rather than two.

Other extras such as restaurants and travel can also be trimmed. No need to go without entirely; just shift your thinking and cut back. Once you see how much you are spending on these luxury items, it will be easier to hold off.

Move on to essentials.

This category includes housing, insurance, groceries and utilities -- seemingly non-negotiables. Truth is, you can reduce your spending in this category as well.

If your rent is high, it could be that buying is a better option, so at least some of that monthly payment will go toward an appreciating investment. If your mortgage rate is high, you may be able to refinance and realize monthly savings.

But smaller changes can also have an impact. Call your cable company and try to negotiate a lower rate. Better yet, buy a digital antenna and cut the cable entirely! Cell phone bills can also be mined for savings. Take a good look at that data plan and see if you can do better. Deregulation of utilities means you may be able to get a cheaper rate on your gas or electric bill. Call and find out.

Debt service is also in the essential category, but if you're paying high interest rates that needs to stop. Pay down that high-rate credit card loan as quickly as possible, even if it means cashing in your CDs or withdrawing from your savings account. If the interest on the loan is higher than the interest you are earning on those savings, you are losing money.

Low interest loans are another matter. Don't be in a rush to pay off your college loan or mortgage. Steady, timely payments will help you improve your credit rating, and the mortgage interest deduction on your home loan can be a boon at tax time.

Next, plan your saving.

How are you going to hold onto and grow that extra money you've found? Planning is essential.

Begin by setting goals. What are you saving for? A car? A rainy day? Your children's college costs? Retirement? All of the above? Each requires you to save in a different way.

To make it easier to save for a car or to build your rainy day account, open a savings or investment account and set up monthly transfers from your checking account. If you can, make these savings pots harder to access so you have time to stop yourself before you draw down from savings for that sweet new laptop or kitchen gadget.

For future educational expenses -- yours or a child's -- states offer 529 accounts that allow your money to grow, pre-tax -- a huge bonus that pays off exponentially better the earlier you start. Set up a monthly payment plan.

Retirement savings, too, are best started early. Consider opening an IRA. If your employer offers a 401k or 403(b) plan, try to make the maximum contribution -- or put yourself on a plan that will get you there within a few years. If you're self-employed, look into starting a SEP IRA, a tax-deferred retirement savings plan where you can invest as much as 25 percent of your pre-tax income.

Sometimes increasing your risk is a good way to save. If you're still young and healthy, you may want to consider investing at least a portion of your retirement savings more aggressively in order to take advantage of early growth. For those nearing retirement, though, a more conservative plan is in order. Talk to a financial adviser about the best way to ensure you aren't risking security for the benefit of short-term gains.

Planning for a bright financial future takes time and attention, but it's worth the effort. Start 2017 off right by carefully selecting the resolutions that are right for you.