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Do you have some big (or small) personal financial goals you’re focused on?
I’m all about setting goals — for my business, for how many books I’m going to read each month, for our homeschooling and especially when it comes to money.
Every year, I outline two to three personal financial goals I want to check off the list.
And I’m sure you have some things you want to achieve with your money too.
It could be:
- Getting out of debt
- Saving $10,000 in an emergency fund
- Finally starting to save for retirement
- Putting aside a little money for your kids’ college
- Making and sticking to a budget
But there’s one little problem.
You have no clue where to start with setting personal financial goals.
How to Set Personal Financial Goals (and Crush Them Every Time)
I get feeling clueless about goal-setting when it comes to your money.
And I also get that even if you do know where to start, you still might be struggling to make any progress on your goals.
Because let’s face it, trying to get ahead financially when you’ve got kids is hard. I mean these little humans are money sponges sometimes, right?
And it can be especially hard to make any progress with your money when you’re a one-income family. I used to struggle a lot with managing my finances as a single mom.
But that doesn’t mean you should just put those goals on the shelf.
‘Cause really, who wants to do that?
So I’ve got six killer tips to help you set your money goals and nail them.
1. Figure Out Your Starting Point
It’s really easy to say you want to save XX amount of money or pay off a certain amount of debt. But if you don’t know how much money you actually have to put towards your goal, that’s a recipe for failure.
So how do you figure out how much money you’ve got to put towards your goals?
Easy. You get cozy with your budget.
I know, I know, budgeting sounds like a whole lot of not fun.
But really, having a budget is crucial to your success when it comes to setting and reaching your personal financial goals.
Your budget is your blueprint for spending every month. It tells you how much you’re making and where that money’s going.
If you don’t have a budget yet, you can create one with pen and paper or an Excel spreadsheet.
It’s easy to do: just add up all the income you make for the month and all your expenses. Then, subtract your expenses from your income.
(And if that’s too complicated, you can use a free budgeting app like Mint to set your budget.)
Ideally, the final number is a positive one, which means you’re not spending more than you earn. But if the number is negative, that means your budget is out of whack.
What do you do if you’re over-budget?
If you’re spending more than you earn, you might have to make some hard choices if you want your personal financial goals to become a reality.
Go over your budget, line by line. What bills or expenses could you lower? What expenses could you ditch altogether?
It’s time to be ruthless if you want to smash your goals.
Focus on getting your budget in balance first. That means your income and expenses are equal.
Then, go back through again and start carving out extra money to put towards your goals.
2. Prioritize Personal Financial Goals
You might have 10 different things you want to do with your money.
And that’s great! Because it shows that you’re really passionate about getting ahead financially.
But not everything you want to do will have the same impact on your finances. And not everything can be done in the same time frame.
So you have to prioritize your financial goals, by order of importance.
Generally, most money experts recommend that your financial goals go in order something like this:
- Build a starter emergency fund
- Pay off all your debt (except your mortgage)
- Build a bigger emergency fund
- Save for retirement
- Put money away for college if you have kids
- Pay off your mortgage
And it’s totally fine to do it that way if you want.
But you have to ask yourself if that order lines up with your priorities.
For example, you might be carrying around student loan debt that’s sucking the soul right out of you (not to mention draining money away from your budget.)
Getting rid of those loans ASAP could be priority number one if you have a deep emotional need to get that monkey off your back. Then, you could shift your focus to saving.
And with saving, it’s important to recognize that there’s a difference between having short-term goals and long-term ones.
A short-term goal, for example, might be saving $1,000 for a baby emergency fund.
But your long-term goal might be stashing away a year’s worth of expenses as a just-in-case fund.
Categorizing your goals by priority and by the timeline involved can give you some perspective on what to pursue first. And that primes you for the next tip.
3. Get SMART With Your Financial Goals
So, the concept of using SMART goals actually started in the business world with Pete Drucker, who developed a theory of management by objectives.
Without going into too much detail, the TL;DR version of his theory is that for objectives or goals to work, they need to be SMART:
Okay, so what does that mean for you and setting your personal financial goals?
First, it means that you really need to drill down when you’re setting individual goals.
For example, instead of saying I want to save more money this year, you’d say I want to save $5,000 by December 31st.
Getting specific can make it easier to get results because you can develop action steps for your goal. (And we’ll get to how that works in a minute.)
Next, your goal needs to be measurable. In other words, you need to have a way to track the progress you’re making.
Your personal money goals also need to be achievable, not just some whim you pluck out of the air. And they need to be realistic, based on the time and resources you have to put into them.
Finally, your goals need to be time-bound. That means giving yourself a deadline for reaching them.
If you can make these five pieces work together, you’ve got a much better shot at seeing positive results with your money.
4. Don’t Do It Blind — Create an Action Plan
I am totally the kind of person who likes things spelled out for me to the letter when I need to do something or learn something.
(Case in point: I had to put up a canopy at my son’s soccer game over the weekend so we didn’t bake in the heat. The instructions were all pictures. Needless to say, it took way longer to get that thing up than it should have.)
And if you’re the same way, you can help yourself out by writing down the individual steps you need to take to reach your money goals.
Let me give you an example.
Say your goal is to save $10,000 over the next 12 months. To do that, you know you’ll need to save around $833/month on average.
Your family’s paychecks come in every other week, from which you can afford to save $200. That’s $5,200 a year.
And once a year, your spouse gets a $2,000 bonus from work, bringing your savings to $7,200.
You’ve got a $2,800 gap to cover, which comes out to about $233 a month.
So, your action steps to hit your $10,000 goal might be:
- Set up a dedicated high-yield savings account and link it to your checking account
- Schedule a $200 automatic transfer from savings to checking every payday
- Commit the $2,000 bonus to savings as soon as it comes in
- Switch from name brands to store brands for five items on your regular grocery list for a $50/month savings
- Cut your kids’ hair at home to save $30/month
- Eliminate dining out altogether to save $150/month
Your action steps will be different, based on your goal, but you get the idea.
Once you make those steps really focused, you’ve got a plan you can follow without having to overthink it.
5. Try the Buddy System
If you’ve got a mom friend or a family member or even a blogging friend who’s also trying to crush their personal financial goals, why not consider doing it together?
Having someone who can hold you accountable for your goals (and vice versa) can be huge for reaching your goals.
It’s a lot harder to make an impulse buy or skip saving for the month when you’ve got to account for that to someone else.
Here are some tips to make the buddy system work for you as you chase down those big money goals:
Pick someone you can trust.
You don’t want someone who’s going to go blabbing your financial details all over town (or the internet.) So pick someone you know will be discreet.
Choose someone who’s going to encourage you.
This is not a job for a Negative Nancy, okay?
You don’t want someone who’s going to offer blanket praise for what you’re doing. But you do want someone who can give you a little mental or emotional boost when working on your money goals gets hard.
Set boundaries on what you share.
Work with your accountability partner to decide what parts of your goal-setting journey you’re okay with sharing. And it goes without saying, but respect those boundaries.
Plan regular check-ins.
So, being accountable doesn’t really work if you don’t have to do it all the time.
Pick a day of the week or month and a time when you and your accountability partner can get together and talk money goals. That consistency can go a long way in helping you reach them.
6. If You Mess Up, Keep Going
As a mom, you’ve probably heard these wise words of wisdom many a time:
Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming.
And Dory — though she may be forgetful and let’s face it, a little annoying at times — is on to something here.
When something doesn’t work or you fail big-time, it’s tempting to just give up and not take another step.
You tell yourself that you’ll never be able to save money or you’ll never be able to get out of debt or some other negative self-talk.
And that kind of thinking doesn’t help.
Will working on your financial goals be perfect?
No. But what is?
Will you make mistakes?
The Magic 8 Ball says without a doubt.
But that’s okay. Mistakes can actually be a great thing if you’re willing to learn from them.
So if you screw up and you don’t hit your money goal for a certain month or for the year or whatever it is, don’t panic.
And don’t beat yourself up either. Regroup, review your goals and refocus on what you need to do next to get back on track.
It’s effort and persistence that matters for reaching personal financial goals, not doing it absolutely perfectly.
What Personal Financial Goals Are You Setting?
This year, my biggest personal money goals are saving over half my income and finally paying off the last of my student loan debt.
And now I want to hear from you!
What financial goal are you chasing down, big or small? And what do you plan to do to make it happen?
Head to the comments and tell me about it! And please pin and share this post with someone you know who might be struggling to reach their own money goals.