Do you want to grow your savings account, pay down debt, or put money aside for retirement? If so, how do you plan to achieve these financial goals?
You might have heard the saying, “Without a plan, a goal is just a wish.” Without a plan, it’s easy to get off track and spend money on things that don’t align with your goals. We’ve put together four tried-and-true tips to help you stick to your financial goals.
Types of financial goals
You can set different types of goals based on the time frame. The plan you use to achieve a short-term financial goal will differ from how you accomplish a long-term goal spanning twenty or thirty years.
- Short-term financial goals. What do you hope to accomplish in the next year? For example, do you want to grow an emergency fund, pay your credit card debt, or save for a vacation?
- Medium-term financial goals. You want to accomplish these goals within the next one-to-five years. For instance, paying off your student loans or saving for a down payment.
- Long-term financial goals. A long-term goal is anything beyond five years and could span several decades. For instance, saving for your children’s education or your retirement.
How to set financial goals in 4 steps
If you’re ready to tackle your short, medium, or long-term financial goals, but don’t know where to start, we’ve got you covered. Here are four steps to take action on your financial goals.
1. Apply the SMART framework
When setting goals, you can use the SMART framework to help you stay motivated and focused. In short, SMART is an acronym that means: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. Here’s a more detailed breakdown:
Specific. “Be better with money” is a vague financial goal. How do you want to be better with money? Do you want to pay off your credit cards? How about saving money in an emergency fund? Or, perhaps you want to switch to a better bank account?
The options are endless, but you need to specify your financial goal to achieve it.
Measurable. Similarly, your money goal needs to be measurable. Otherwise, how do you know if you’ve succeeded or are making any progress?
You could say you want to pay off all of your credit card debt. Or save $5,000 in an emergency fund. Or have a new bank account open in the next month.
Achievable. When setting a financial goal, you want to make it reasonable, so you’re not setting yourself up for failure. For instance, giving yourself three months to save up for a large down payment might not be realistic.
Aim to pick a goal you can achieve within your given time frame. Otherwise, you might get frustrated and give up.
Relevant. Maybe a million dollars in a retirement account isn’t quite relevant to you. Instead, why not pick something that will immediately better your situation?
For example, if you know you’re going to need a new car in the next two years, starting to save up for one is a relevant goal. Or, maybe if you’re still in debt, getting rid of your high-interest credit card debt will be most relevant.
Timely. You also want to set a goal that you can achieve within a set time period. This requires you to accurately understand your financial situation so that you can pick a goal that you can realistically achieve in a specific amount of time.
2. Automate your finances
Ask computer programmers what the biggest source of error is in their line of work, and they might tell you it’s people.
The same thing is true for your finances. Humans are the biggest source of error in money management. But, good news: you can remove a lot of human error by automating your finances.
Here are a few ways you can do it:
- Set up automatic savings
- Set up your bills on auto-pay
- Set reminders on your phone or email to pay other bills (like utility bills that may vary each month)
- Set low-balance notifications on your accounts so you don’t overdraw your account, or find an account that offers fee-free overdraft
3. Find accountability buddies
It can be challenging to follow through with your money goals if you go it alone. But if you find an accountability partner who encourages you, that shared experience can help you succeed. If you succeed, you’ll have someone to help celebrate with you!
It’s helpful to find an accountability partner who’s working on the same goal as you. You can also consider hiring a money coach to help guide you.
4. Picture what success looks like
What does success look like for you? The answer to this question will help guide you through the smaller decisions you’ll need to make as you work towards your short, medium, and long-term financial goals.
For example, let’s say you want a fully-funded emergency fund. But to do that, you need to stop impulse spending. So, every time you head to a store and put a tempting item in your cart, stop and take a second to think. Are you willing to take money away that can potentially keep you afloat if you lose your job or have a health problem?
If you picture what success looks like — lasting financial peace of mind — you might be more likely to put that item back and stick to your savings goal.
6 personal finance goal examples
If you’re struggling to think of specific goals you want to set, here are six financial goal examples:
- Create an emergency fund. You can’t predict if or when you’ll experience job loss, a medical emergency, or even an unexpected home repair. An emergency fund provides a financial cushion when you need it.
- Save for a down payment. If you dream of home ownership, you might set a goal of saving for a down payment. Determine how much you need for a down payment and then start putting away money.
- Pay off your credit cards. If you’ve maxed out your credit card and want to pay it off, make a plan to tackle your debt as soon as possible.
- Eliminate student loans. Tired of having student loan payments looming over your head? Set a goal to pay them off within the next two years.
- Save for retirement. While retirement might seem far away, there is no better time to start saving than right now.
- Plan a vacation. Maybe you’ve always wanted to take your family on a vacation. Price out your travel, food, and accommodations and decide how much you need to save to make your vacation dreams a reality.
Set yourself up for financial success
No matter which financial goals you set, expect a challenge. Everything worth doing requires hard work.
By setting some SMART goals, automating your finances, finding accountability partners, and visualizing success, you can start to make real progress on your financial goals.
Is one of your goals to save thousands of dollars in just a few months? Try the 100 envelope challenge.
What are 4 types of financial goals?
Financial goals can vary widely based on how much money you make and your personal wants and needs. Four types of financial goals include:
- Savings goals. This can include creating an emergency fund or saving for a down payment.
- Debt goals. Perhaps you want to focus on paying off your credit card debt or student loans.
- Retirement goals. If you dream of retiring on the beach, have you started a retirement savings fund?
- Fun goals. Putting money aside for a family vacation or a new pair of shoes are fun goals that you can start saving for.
What are financial goals to strive for?
Financial goals are personal and will vary from one person to the next. However, some potential financial goals to strive for might include:
- Create an emergency fund. Focus on saving a set amount of money each month.
- Save for your children’s education. College is expensive. If you want to try and help your children avoid substantial student loans, work on building up a college savings fund.
- Save for retirement. The earlier you can start saving for your retirement, the better.
What is a SMART goal for financial goals?
SMART is an acronym that means: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. Let’s say you have a goal of increasing your emergency fund. You can use the SMART framework to plan how you will achieve this goal.
- Specific. Be specific about your goal. Exactly how much do you want to save? For instance, “I want to put money into my emergency fund” is a specific goal.
- Measurable. In order to track your progress, your goal needs to be measurable. For instance, setting a goal to save $1,200.
- Achievable. What is realistic for you? Based on your income and expenses, consider what is a reasonable amount of money to save for your emergency fund each month.
- Relevant. Is this goal relevant to your lifestyle? Does it work with all of the other things you want to achieve?
- Timely. What is a realistic timeframe in which you can accomplish this goal? For instance, maybe you feel you can achieve your goal within one year.