For many people, making plans is easy. “Everyone has a list of dozens of things they should do, finance is no exception,” says Dina Megretskaia, senior financial advisor at Modera Wealth Management in Boston.
However, turning those plans into reality can be more difficult. Fortunately, there are strategies that can increase your chances of success, and they work no matter what goal you set for yourself.
Make it easier to achieve your financial goals by following these steps:
- Make your goal measurable.
- Align your goal with your values.
- Schedule regular check-ins.
- Use the right tools.
- Pay yourself first.
- Find an accountability partner.
- Eliminate temptation.
Make your goals measurable
Vague goals such as “get rich” are difficult to quantify and achieve. “My best advice is to write your goals down in SMART format,” says Kate Mielitz, certified financial advisor and assistant professor at Oklahoma State University.
The acronym SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Action Oriented, Realistic and Timely. In other words, you want your goals to be something that you can see progressing and that you can achieve in a relatively short period of time. “If you want to make it easier to reach your financial goals, set realistic goals,” says Mielitz.
While setting a goal of becoming a millionaire is specific and measurable, it may not be realistic, at least not in the near future. It’s best to break big goals into more manageable chunks. For example, a SMART goal can be to increase your net worth by 10%, and by achieving this goal regularly, you will eventually reach your ultimate goal of becoming a millionaire.
Align your goal with your values
Almost anyone can benefit from saving for retirement and emergencies, but beyond that, make sure your financial goals are what you value. “Some of your financial goals may be difficult to achieve if you are really ambivalent about them or have concerns that outweigh the benefits,” Megretskaia explains.
For example, it can be difficult to save for a down payment on a house if you really aren’t interested in moving to the same location. In that case, it may be better to pay rent and devote your energy to something that fits your preferred lifestyle, like saving for travel or pursuing the life of a digital nomad.
To select the right goals, Megretskaia recommends that people take the time to self-assess. They should assess how they envision their future and then make current decisions that will steer them in the direction of their intended lifestyle.
Schedule regular check-ins
“To achieve your financial goals, regularly monitor your progress and adjust your strategy as needed,” says Leslie Tayne, Founder and Chief Counsel of Tayne Law Group, specializing in debt solutions.
Seeing movement towards a goal is motivating. And if you’re not making progress, it gives you the opportunity to reflect on what isn’t working and how your approach can be changed. Plus, as life and financial situations change, regular checks can determine if your goals need to change as well.
Schedule a specific time to review your progress. This can be weekly, monthly, or quarterly, depending on what suits your chosen goal.
Use the right tools
Regular check-ins can be quick and easy if you use the right tools to track progress. Plus, they can help you keep an eye on the price.
“Simple and meaningful visual reminders can help maintain motivation once the initial excitement of reaching a financial goal wears off,” says Brian Walsh, senior director of financial planning at personal finance company SoFi. This could include posting reminder sticky notes on your bathroom mirror or checking items on a to-do list that relate to your goal.
There are also many apps that can make it easier to keep track of your finances and stay motivated. Some apps, such as Mint, are general purpose budgeting apps while others have more specific functions. For example, SoFi Invest simplifies the investment process while Personal Capital can track net worth.
Pay yourself first
It’s easier to reach financial goals if you put money aside before you even see it. “Hide as much money as you can,” says Tanja Hester, author of the upcoming book “Wallet Activism: How to Use Every Dollar You Spend, Earn and Save as a Force for Change”.
This means setting up direct deposits from your paycheck into savings or emergency funds or initiating automatic transfers to designated accounts. “The goal is to keep as little money as you need in your checking account,” says Hester. “Instead, keep it in other accounts where you won’t see it and feel like you can spend it.”
If you are using direct deposit pay attention to the timing. You want to make sure you have cash on hand when large bills like rent or mortgage are due.
Find an accountability partner
Having a partner for moral support and accountability can help you stick to your goals even when motivation wanes. It can be ideal to team up with someone who has a similar goal, but even enlisting a friend who will regularly ask for progress reports can be helpful.
If you don’t know anyone personally, search online or search for dating groups in your area. “Joining a responsibility group can keep your motivation high, and other members might teach you new tips and tricks,” says Tayne.
Whatever your goal, make it difficult to sabotage your efforts. For example, if you’re trying to pay off debt or stick to a limited budget, it’s hard to spend more. Stay out of stores, unsubscribe from mailing lists, and recycle ads without looking at them.
Of course, FOMO – the fear of missing out – can be a powerful derailer of financial goals. Let your friends know about your plans so they don’t tempt you with expensive party invitations. And practice saying no to make it natural when and if they ask.
“It’s okay to turn down opportunities to achieve your goals,” says Mielitz. “Sometimes we have to sacrifice for a better future result.”