The start of the new year is a great time to set goals of all kinds, including financial ones! Or maybe you’d like to reassess previous financial goals. In either case, below are four steps that will help you gain clarity on what your financial goals mean to you and your life as well as help you craft a totally doable plan for success.
1. Think about what you want. And why.
Financial planning goals are lifetime goals. Think about it: if your dream for your life includes regular, extensive travel or a private education for your children, those things are also financial goals because you will need sufficient funds to achieve them. So, your first step is to think about (and even better, write down!) what your lifetime, or lifestyle, goals are and why they are important to you. The “why” is key because it will serve as a compass point when obstacles, challenges, and tough decisions come along.
Here are some lifetime and financial goals that might be important to you:
1. Retire early
2. Own a vacation home
4. Send your children to certain schools
5. Have a second career or start your own business
6. Work part time to pursue other passions
2. Assess where you are now.
Before you move forward with a plan to achieve your goals, you’ll need to assess where your finances are right now. Specifically, you’ll want to have accurate figures for your income, budget, debts, and net worth.
Understanding these four aspects of your financial health will show you how to most effectively construct your financial plan and prioritize goals.
3. Create a plan with steps.
If, in step two, you discover that your spending habits are overtaking your income, you’ll want to establish certain financial habits first before creating a plan for your larger goals: create and stick to a personal budget, build an emergency fund, begin paying off debt beyond minimum payments, and start saving regularly for retirement.
Once you’ve done those things, you can design a workable plan to achieve your longer term financial and life goals. This plan should contain smaller steps—like a pyramid of short-term goals that support and build up to a capstone goal. Consider layering and structuring these steps in three-year, one-year, and three-month increments. With these shorter, closer timeframes, it’s easier to map out actionable steps without becoming overwhelmed, losing sight of ultimate goals, or coming up short in the end.
4. Keep track.
Every time you achieve a step or goal of any size, be sure to track and celebrate your progress! You deserve the celebration (working toward any goal is hard work!) and tracking your success will keep your ultimate objectives clear and front of mind. Monitoring your progress also gives you a chance to make sure you’re staying on track and to make any needed adjustments—say if you got a promotion or had an unexpected expense recently.