Want to improve your finances? Set realistic money goals for the new year.
During this time of year, we all take a step back and think about what has been accomplished during the past year — and what we hope to accomplish in the new year. Indeed, many of us set a number of goals for the coming year, perhaps a balance transfer from your currently outrageous credit card company to a much more economic one, but usually involving weight loss and money. I know those are almost always my perennial goals. Something about money, and something about weight loss.
Even if you don't keep your new year's resolutions, there is still some value in them. However, if you want to increase the chances that you will keep your financial resolutions, consider setting SMART goals.
What are SMART Goals?
If you are interested in creating goals that are more likely to help you accomplish something, there is a formula you can follow: SMART. This is an acronym meant to help you identify the characteristics of achievable goals:
The idea is to create a plan that urges you toward accomplishment by setting specific and measurable actions that can help you achieve your goal, as well as encouraging you to look at goals that are attainable and realistic within a certain period of time. Let's be honest. You're not going to pay of $15,000 in credit card debt within six months. Setting that goal is unrealistic — and will only result in failure.
As you begin setting your money goals, consider the characteristics of SMART goals. Your financial goals should help you pinpoint what it is you want to accomplish with your money. It's about creating a timeline, and breaking down your goal, so that you can make progress and measure your success at different points in the timeline. Whether you are trying to max out your retirement account contributions, save up for a home down payment, buy a new car with cash, get rid of debt or cut your monthly expenses, using the SMART framework can really help you get started right. Putting down a plan, on paper, will also provide you with step-by-step instructions for reaching your goals.
Scale Back: Choose One Money Goal at a Time
Another way to be smart about your money goals is to work on only one at a time. You don't have to throw out a list of financial goals at the beginning of the year. Instead, consider what your most important money goal is, then focus on that one financial goal first. By focusing your efforts, you might be able to get more done — and faster — than you imagined. Then you can use the SMART framework to tackle your next financial goal.
You can set new goals throughout the year; there's no reason to limit yourself to financial improvement at the beginning of the year. In fact, you should be in a state of perpetual progress. There is always something to work on. Use SMART to help you crystalize your goals, and then tackle them one at a time. And, if you get off track, take a deep breath and start over again. You can always renew your commitment to better finances, no matter the time of year.