Do you have a 5-year financial plan? What about just a general idea? Do you know where you want to be financially in 25 years? Have you ever set a financial goal? If you decided you wanted to save $5,000 this year, could you do it? Far too often we get into situations where we let money control us, instead of being in control of our money. Learning to set and achieve goals is one of the simplest ways to achieve the financial freedom you’re seeking, but it might be one of the hardest as well.
A goal, a purpose, and a plan
A 5 year financial plan can sound like a daunting challenge. Most of us have trouble staying within our monthly budget (it’s those darn Jelly-Bellys), and trying to find the time and and energy to draw up a plan can be difficult. The good thing is, your financial plan or goals can be as complex or as simple as you’d like. You can simply decide that you’re going to save 10% of every paycheck, or that you’ll take your lunch to work three days a week.
Don’t cut back just for the sake of cutting back, though – have a purpose. If you cancel your cable to save money, save that money! If that $90 just cycles back into your monthly budget you’re reducing your expenses for nothing. You can use that extra money to pay off debt, or to save up for a new purchase. You could pay off your car, or buy the latest season of 24. See how easily a purpose can become a goal?
A purpose and a goal provide an important factor that comes into play when you’re making a change in your life – motivation. If you don’t want to do something, it’s harder to do it. Spending is a habit for some people. It’s difficult to break habits. But now you have a carrot on a stick – your goal. You can weigh everything you want to do with your money with what you really want. If you’re not sure if you want something, compare it with how much you want your goal. Which one do you want more?
Put a visual reminder of your goal somewhere where you can see it every day. If you want a new dress, print out a picture and tape it on your fridge. My wife and I have our savings goals charted on a piece of paper on our bedroom wall. Every time I want something I head over to that chart and see how much closer we’d be to our goals if I would save that money instead of spending it.
Your Goals Become Your Guides
Now that you have a goal, and you’re weighing different ways to achieve it, you’re formulating a plan. That didn’t take very long, did it? In its simplest form, a plan is really just a collection of goals, and how you’ll achieve them. Short-term goals have smaller plans, and long-term goals can have elaborate plans. You can control a plan by limiting it to what you need to succeed.
If you’re trying to save up for a down payment on a house, your plan should include what you’ll do to get to that point. Not eating out once a week so you have money to save up for a TV is good, but it’s not a part of that plan. Your mini-plans and big plans (your goals) can help you determine what in your budget is a need, and what is a want. It can help you learn to moderate your spending and to make better financial decisions. If you want to retire in 10 years, you’ll think twice about buying a $100,000 boat if you don’t have the money for it.
Don’t Give Up
Now, a word on goals. If you set a goal and don’t reach it when you want to, or struggle and want to give up, don’t. You can always achieve your goals, you just need to re-think them and re-commit yourself to achieving that goal again. Just because you splurged and spent more than your budget or had some unexpected problem that threw you way off doesn’t mean you can’t try again.
Our financial strategy is goal-driven, and it’s brought success, happiness and peace of mind. We still have rough spots, but we’re more equipped to deal with them and can minimize the damage. Learning to let your purposes become goals and plans will help you on the road to financial independence.
Updated January 3, 2012 and originally published June 25, 2009. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.