Many people dream of what they want to achieve, but few actually set concrete goals. In the world of financial goals, there is nothing more important than having clearly defined, measurable, time-sensitive goals.
So what is your financial goal? Perhaps you want to pay off your credit card debt or save money for a home. Maybe your goal is to save for your child’s education or for your own retirement. Perhaps these are all your goals, plus a few more.
Whatever you choose, for a goal to be impactful, it must be:
• Clearly defined
• Time sensitive
Keep in mind that a goal remains a dream until you clearly define it and put a timeline on it.
First, Define Your Financial Goal
A clearly defined goal has many components. However, the most important part is actually determining what you want to achieve financially.
It’s not enough to say you want to get out of debt or you want to put money into a savings account. You must be specific. Getting out of debt could mean paying off your credit cards, your car loan, your home loan, your school loan, or all of these.
The best way to start is to focus on one short-term goal at a time. Don’t just set the goal of becoming debt-free. Break up your goals into small more manageable objectives, such as pay off one credit card or refinance your student loans. These smaller goals will help you achieve your ultimate long-term goal of being completely debt free.
Second, Quantify Your Financial Goal
Let’s say you do decide to start your goal by paying off one credit card. You’ll need to consider your current outstanding balance and the minimum monthly payment required.
If you currently owe $500 and your minimum payment is $25, you can decide to continue paying the minimum until the card is paid in full or you can expedite the matter by paying more per month. The benefit of paying the card off faster is that you will ultimately pay less in interest.
How much you pay will be dependent on what you can afford. Be sure you select an amount that will fit into your budget easily or you are apt to give up.
Third, Establish a Time Frame to Achieve Your Financial Goal
Now perhaps instead of the $25 minimum payment you decide to pay $100 a month on your card with the $500 balance. How long will it take you to pay off this amount? Six months.
Remember, $100 will pay the principal only. In the meantime the interest continues to accrue. You’ll need one extra month to pay that off.
On the other hand, you might choose to pay $100 a month plus the accrued interest. In that case you will be out of debt one month sooner. Either way, you have established your time frame.
Finally, Monitor Your Progress toward Your Financial Goal
Clearly developing a quantifiable and measurable goal isn’t the end of the story. Now you need to track your progress toward reaching that goal.
Because things can change so quickly in our lives making it easy to lose sight of our goals, it is important for you to keep a record of how you are doing. But don’t just document it on a spreadsheet and tuck it away in your computer somewhere. To remain motivated, you need to display it where you will see it on a daily basis. This will regularly remind you of your goal and your success in reaching it.
Don’t Forget to Celebrate Your Success
One last piece of advice: it’s easy to feel deprived if you focus all your energy on paying off debt or putting money away for another time. Be sure to build recognition into your plan. What that might be will depend on you. Perhaps a new pair of shoes (paid for in cash!) or a night out with friends. Give yourself some type of pat on the back for achieving your goal.
And then the next day, start planning the next financial goal you want to achieve.
Developing short- and long-term financial goals is the best way to achieve your dreams. Remember the old saying: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Andrew Latham is content editor at SuperMoney, a financial resource that helps consumers achieve their financial goals. The company’s tools allow people to compare financial products and services so they can make better financial decisions.