To get where you want to be financially, you will need to set some goals for yourself. However, not all goals are created equally. The actual goal that you set has a great affect on whether or not you will be able to achieve it. Here are 5 keys for setting financial goals that you can actually accomplish.
Now that we’re several months into 2017, how are you doing on your new year’s resolutions? Are you part of the 80% who had given up by the second week of February? If you are, at least you’re in good company, right? But that doesn’t get you any closer to achieving your goals, does it?
A big part of achieving our goals, financial and otherwise, is our discipline and focus. It’s a matter of character. But that’s not all there is to it. The actual goals we set play a big part in our likelihood of accomplishing them. With some goals, we are doomed the minute we set them because of the goal itself. So how should we be setting goals? How can we create goals that set ourselves up for success and not failure? Here are 5 keys for setting financial goals that you can actually accomplish:
1. Challenge Yourself
A goal is defined as “the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.” This means that your goal must be something that you aspire to, not something that you have already achieved. Having a job may be a good goal for an unemployed person, but not for someone that already has one. Sometimes people try to set “realistic” goals by not setting goals at all- just to avoid the possibility of failure. As the definition states, a goal should require some effort.
You don’t want to go overboard, though. If your goal is completely unrealistic, you will be discouraged from the outset and not even try. Goals should be realistic yet challenging. They should require you to exert an extra effort, but not require more than physically possible.
2. Be Specific
Vague goals won’t get you anywhere. If your goal is “to achieve financial security,” how will you know when you’ve gotten there? How do you know what financial security looks like? Your goals need to be specific, not only so that you can recognize when you’ve achieved them, but also so that you know the path to take to get there. The desire to “achieve financial security” doesn’t lead you to any specific actions or in any particular direction.
A better goal would be to “save 10% of my income towards retirement.” That is an actionable goal. The goal itself clearly points you in the direction you need to go to be able to achieve it. It also gives you a way of measuring your progress. Being able to clearly see your progress will keep you motivated and protect you from discouragement and distraction.
3. Get Excited
No matter how much you know you should do something, you won’t do it if it doesn’t interest you. Just ask my laundry that’s been patiently waiting to be folded for the last three days. It just doesn’t excite me. Passion and interest will drive you to accomplish your goals.
You may think I’m crazy for suggesting that passion and excitement could even be remotely related to financial goals. How can denying yourself and saving money be exciting? Sounds more like a drag. If that’s how you feel, you need to move beyond the goal itself to the reasons behind the goal. How about a paid for trip to Hawaii? Does that excite you more? Are you passionate about being debt free so you can keep your money for yourself? Focusing on your end goal or dream will help you get excited about doing the steps necessary to get there.
4. Make A Plan
Why is it that you were able to read so much when you were in school but you haven’t cracked a book in three years? In school, you had a syllabus and a deadline. You had a written plan. If you want to accomplish your financial goals, you need to have them in writing with deadlines, if feasible. Be careful how you write out your goals, too. Studies have found that people have more successful with positive goals rather than negative ones.
5. Get To Work
Now is the hard part. Time to actually do it. Now that you’ve got your specific and challenging goal written down, here are three things that will help you accomplish it.
Track Your Progress
I find hiking is a lot easier when there are little mile-markers along the way to show how far I’ve gone and how much farther I have to go. Without them I get discouraged, feeling like my destination is a lot farther away than it actually is.
The same principle applies to goals. You need to set milestones so that you can see your accomplishments even before achieving your goal. Another helpful strategy is to measure actions and not just progress. Your savings account may not look impressive, but how many months have you managed to put something into it? Focus on that to stay motivated.
Why are gyms and exercise classes so popular? Because it’s a lot easier to get fit when you’re not alone. Other people provide accountability and motivate us to try harder. In the same way, whipping yourself into financial shape is easier with outside support. Whether you enlist an accountability partner or join a personal finance class, don’t try to do it alone.
Recently I wrote that your ability to focus is your most powerful tool in achieving your financial goals. (You should read it!) When you set aside distractions and focus intensely on your goal, you will be amazed at what you can achieve.
Now it’s your turn. What’s your most pressing financial need? What goal do you need to set today so that you can have a prosperous future? I’ve shown you how, but you yourself have to do it.
Here’s a challenge for you: For the next three months, April, May, and June, commit to wholly focussing on one single financial goal. Whether it’s a credit card you want to pay off, a summer vacation, or opening an IRA, you can only pick one. Set everything else aside for three months and see what happens. I think you will be amazed at the traction you can gain.