Picture this: You’ve done the work and set savvy financial goals for yourself. You excited about where you’re headed. As you plug away at your goals, however, you slowly find yourself losing momentum. Your goals are no longer top of mind, and you find yourself slipping. Before you know it, you’re way off track, wondering how you could have strayed so far from your path to financial success.
If this has happened to you, you’re not alone.
By now, most of us know that setting goals is critical to success in all areas of life. We just aren’t that great at following through with them. According to the University of Scranton, 92 percent of people that set New Year’s goals never actually achieve them. So much for a new year, new you! Why is it so hard for us to stick to our goals, new year’s resolutions aside, and what are the other eight percent doing differently?
When used properly, goals provide direction and facilitate planning. It’s important to write your goals down, keep them in the front of your mind, and revisit and adjust them as necessary. Goals should be extremely specific, and the bigger ones need to be broken down into more digestible, small steps.
If you’re wondering what you can do to specifically accomplish your financial goals, follow these five simple tips and become part of the eight percent that actually follows through.
1. Make sure your plan is detailed, but flexible.
Ask yourself how you’re going to get from where you are now to where you want to be. This is the difference between a financial dream and a financial goal. Come up with a specific plan for how you’re going to achieve it. What’s the timeframe for the goal, and what can you do each day to get there? This will make the goal feel real.
While you want to have a detailed plan, you also want to make sure you leave some wiggle room. It can be difficult to plan for every life event, so be kind to yourself and expect the unexpected. When you’re too rigid with a plan, and something comes up that throws you off course, you’ll be less likely to throw in the towel if you’ve already mentally allowed for a bit of flexibility. This doesn’t mean you should come up with excuses not to follow your financial plan. It’s often the small life events (social obligations, lifestyle choices) that throw us off track, instead of the bigger ones.
When a life-altering event comes your way, allow yourself to take the hit, and then regroup and adjust as necessary. Afterwards, continue to be disciplined and stick to your plan. There’s no need to let it all go to waste over an unexpected expense or two. Life happens.
2. Keep your budget realistic for you.
Maybe you have grand goals that you want to work into your budget. You’ll not only pay off your debt in one year, but you’ll also stash away $25,000 into your savings account and max out your Roth IRA. You’ll do all of this by only eating at home and skipping out on all parties this year. Sounds great, right? There’s one catch. If you’re unable to follow through on the strict budget you’ve set for yourself, you’ll end up lost and frustrated that you didn’t meet any of your goals.
Instead, first take an honest look at your financial picture. For example, if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, a good goal would be to not use your credit cards for a while, to ensure you don’t go further into debt. Once you have extra income to put towards your debt, come up with a timeline that is a bit of a stretch, but also very achievable. You can start off by paying double the minimum payment, and then increase your payments over time.
Take a look at your social obligations as well. Are you really willing to skip out on all social obligations, or would it be more realistic to incorporate a party or two into each season?
When you set a budget that you’re more likely to stick to, you will be one step closer to accomplishing all of your financial goals.
3. Set smaller goals within your larger one.
Perhaps you have a pretty lofty goal, like saving $200,000 for a down payment on your future home. That can feel very out of reach if you don’t have a detailed plan in place to get there.
Start with a timeline and break it down until you get to a weekly savings goal. For example, if you’re looking to save $200,000 in two years, that’s $100,000 per year, $8,333 per month, or $1,923 per week. Now that you know what you’re dealing with, you can put a savings plan in place to hit that weekly goal. Set a budget and open a special savings account for your home, keeping the money far from your immediate reach.
Before you know it, you’ll have the down payment for your home and can congratulate yourself for following through with this commitment to your future self!
4. Define your goals.
Whatever the milestone is that you’re trying to reach, achieving it starts with clear financial goals. Take SMART goals, for example. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, reasonable, and time-based. Setting goals within this structure will ensure that your goals are realistic and crystal clear. There will be no questioning where you’re at in relation to your end game. You will always have an idea of where you stand when you use SMART goals.
A 2015 study by psychologist Gail Matthews showed when people wrote down their goals, they were 33% more successful in achieving them than those who formulated outcomes in their heads.
Write down your goals, clearly define them using the SMART goal method, and watch as you start to achieve them.
5. Stay positive.
It’s no secret that accomplishing your financial goals takes dedication. It also takes a healthy dose of optimism.
Sometimes things won’t go as planned, and how you feel about the minor setbacks will be critical to your success. It’s important to foster a positive money mindset that will aid in reaching your goals.
If you find yourself brooding over a financial mishap, stop yourself and flip the script. When you dwell on the negative, you’re likely to make more poor financial decisions and stray from your goals. Instead, accept the situation for what it is, and see what you can learn from it so that it doesn’t happen again.
Another way to keep your mood elevated when it comes to your financial goals is by celebrating the little milestones you achieve along the way. When you reach a savings goal, treat yourself to something nice (within budget, of course). Share your successes with your friends. Keep a journal of all your financial victories, no matter how small. Reflect and allow yourself to feel good about the work you’ve done. You’ve earned it.
Remember, you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to. Whether it’s developing a budget and sticking to it for the first time, saving up for your future home, or paying off your student loans, if you want something badly enough, nothing can hold you back from achieving your goals.
If you’re ready to get serious and make your financial goals work for you, start with these five tips to keep you on track. Put a detailed plan in place, and watch as you finally accomplish your financial goals.