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7 Tips for Smashing Your Personal Financial Goals

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How are you doing when it comes to your personal financial goals?

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 in January, I outline two to three HUGE personal money goals I want to check off the list. I love the challenge of setting some BIG targets for myself!

And I’m sure you have some things you want to achieve with your finances too, right?

For example, your goals might include:

But there’s one little problem.

You have no clue where to start.

Hey, I feel ya. So I’ve got a few tips to help you get to work with making your money dreams a reality!

How to Set Personal Financial Goals (and Crush Them Every Time)

woman with arms raisedI 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 here are seven ways to turn it all around and be a money goal-getter!

1. Figure out how much money you have

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 personal financial 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.

Smartasset find a financial advisor

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 your 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
  • Then give, give, give!

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 about your money 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:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

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.

credit sesame

4. Break it down

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.

personal financial goals

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. Use the right tools to help you reach your goals

Having a plan can take you far when it comes to making your money goals work. But it also helps to have the right money tools.

For example, say that you’ve struggled with saving and investing in the past. Why not use a tool that helps you save money automatically?

That’s what Acorns can help you do. You link your bank account to Acorns and the app automatically reviews your spending to look for small amounts of money you can save.

Once it finds those amounts, Acorns transfers the money to savings for you. Easy peasy and a practically painless way to grow your savings.

It costs between $1 and $3 a month to use Acorns, but that’s cheap compared to what you might pay to invest with a professional financial advisor. And it’s a good way to get started if you’re brand-new to investing.

Sign up for an Acorns account now to get a $5 bonus!

Acorns invest spare change

Besides an investing app, think about the other tools you might need as well.

For example, could you use some budgeting printables or a spreadsheet? What about some amazing personal finance books?

Figure out exactly what tools you need to reach your personal financial goals. Then make an investment in yourself and get them!

7. 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.

money goals

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. (Update: As of October 2019, both these goals are done and done!)

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 if it helped you!

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    • Yes, definitely! I’ve screwed up on my money goals, business goals, blogging goals — you name it. But it’s all about getting back on track from where you are and just pushing ahead!

  1. Luckily at this point in my life, I am nearly debt free (with the exception of a little paypal). However, I could have used this advice in my twenties and thirties. I did terrible with money and budget.

    • Hi Jenny, same here. I didn’t get my money stuff together until a few years ago! I wish I’d known then the importance of setting money goals that included saving and paying off debt.

    • Thanks Starr! Getting out of debt can make such a difference in how you manage your money and what you choose to do with it. Dory is wise beyond her years 🙂

    • Me too, Lisa! It always helps to have plans that are actionable, otherwise it can be challenging to figure out what you should do to reach them.

  2. Thank you so much for the tips! Follow through is definitely my weakness when it comes to saving, but these tips might just be what I was looking for.

    • You’re welcome Rachael! Following through can be challenging and having clear goals and plan for achieving them can definitely help. 🙂

  3. Smart goals are awesome! You never cease to come through with great posts! Thank you for all your contributions to the PF community!

    • You’re welcome Karen! Having a buddy along for the ride can be a great way to stay on track as you work on your personal money goals!

  4. Thanks for the tips. Definitely prioritizing and creating an action plan is really important. It also helps for your peace of mind knowing what you need to do to reach your goals.

    • You’re welcome Joel! Prioritizing can definitely help if you have several goals you’re trying to reach with your money but you can only make progress on one or two at a time.

  5. This post is really helpful for everyone to plan our financial goal and prepare a strong action plan to achieve them. Thank you for sharing. I have bookmarked this post to refer it as and when required.

    • Thanks Vanesh! Setting personal financial goals is important for improving your financial situation, so I’m glad you found it helpful!

  6. Thanks for these tips! I love the Dory reference. We’re trying to pay off student loan debt and it feels impossible some days, but have to keep swimming and finding more ways to cut back.

    • You’re welcome Patrice! I am just about to pay off the last of my student loans so I know the struggle. When you’re paying off debt or working on any other financial goal you just have to keep your eyes on the bigger picture–you’ll get there!

  7. Very helpful post! I was actually just thinking about my budget, or lack of, this morning. I’ve got to get on the ball with this!

    • Those are great goals to have, DeShena! I save over half my income and it’s a great feeling to be able to do so. With the right plan, I know you can get there!

    • Thanks! Having a budget is one of the most important steps in reaching your personal financial goals and the New Year is a great time to work on getting organized.

    • SMART goals can really make a difference when you’re trying to pay off debt, save money or doing anything else with your finances. And everybody makes mistakes with their finances–I definitely have. You just learn from them and move on!

  8. Buddy system is a great idea. I am lucky to have my husband as that buddy :). The point that you shared at #7 is also extremely important. We all are bound to make mistakes but the sooner we recover, the better it is. Like always, it was a great read.

    • Thanks, Nadia! It’s helpful to have a partner along for the ride when trying to reach your personal financial goals. And yes, we all mess up with money at some point or another but you have to keep pushing ahead!

    • Thanks! Having a visual way to look at your debt and track your progress is very helpful. When I still had debt (besides my mortgage), it was so motivating to see the balances go down over time!

  9. I love this post! It can be really hard to set personal finance goals that are SMART, I always am way under or over my goals. I think the best thing for me is to keep adjusting and not wanting to go too fast! My blog is my #1 way I keep myself accountable with any goal, with I’m very grateful for

    • Thanks! Adjusting is always good, your goals don’t necessarily have to be set in stone. In fact, it’s better if you can adjust, that way you don’t lose motivation!

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