"Pro bono" means "for good" in Latin. The annual financial planning conference in Elizabeth, N.J., is for the good of anyone who wants free guidance from professionals.

However, William Stratton, one of the 10 professionals who donated their time on the last Saturday in October, said he gets as least as much out of it as he gives.

"I'm always learning something," said Stratton, a Hazlet, N.J., certified financial planner who is president-elect of the Financial Planning Association of New Jersey.

About 50 people who attended were offered workshops and had the chance for one-on-one consultations.

The annual event in Elizabeth is spearheaded by the N.J. FPA. The event was put together by the FPA, the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, the Foundation for Financial Planning and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Milind J. Shah, a certified financial planner in charge of the event, said several such conferences are held through the year around the country.

Shah, who is based in Fairfield, N.J., led a workshop on budgeting. He said a useful first step to effective budgeting is to
keep a detailed record of one's income and expenses for a given time period. "It can be an eye-opening exercise," he said.

By doing that, he said he learned that he and his family were spending too much eating out. They have since cut back, he said, although they still go out for dinner occasionally. One treat they enjoy is all-you-can-eat sushi, Shah said. But only occasionally.

A 33-year-old woman who moved to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic less than a year ago said she is still learning about the differences here and her native country.

The woman, who sells clothes in a retail store and lives in Elizabeth, said she was shocked to learn how much property taxes are in America.