How To Set Financial Goals You Can (Actually) Achieve

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Have you ever made a budget with the best intentions, only to give up after a few weeks (or days) because it’s too restrictive? Budgeting requires sacrifices that can get old really fast, especially if you aren’t reaping rewards along the way.

The problem is, without meaningful financial goals and a budget strategy, it’s easy to get stuck. In this article, you’ll learn how to set and achieve financial goals you care about.

What Are Financial Goals?

Financial goals are money-related objectives you want to achieve; for example, earning six figures in a year or saving $2,000 per month. However, financial goals can also be objectives that require money, such as buying a house by the beach or paying for your dream vacation to the Maldives. By identifying something you want to buy, pay for, or experience in the future, you can engineer a plan to get the money it requires. The monetary target is your financial goal.

There are two main types of goals you can achieve:

  • Short-term goals: These are the things you’d like to achieve soon, within a year or less. 
  • Long-term goals: These require you to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. They can include goals you’d like to achieve in two years, all the way up to 50 years in the future.

When setting goals, having a combination of both short- and long-term objectives is helpful. It can be hard to continue to work every day toward a goal that’s 30 years away. However, if you are working toward a cohesive plan that combines weekly, monthly, and long-term goals, you’ll get rewards along the way that keep you going.

Setting Financial Goals

Once you decide you want to set financial goals, where should you start? Well, if your goals don’t align with what you really want, you likely won’t stick with them when the going gets tough. So spend some time really thinking about and imagining the life you want. What would you like your future to look like? Who will be there? Where will you live? What do you want to have and experience? Every person’s aspirations are going to be a bit different, and the financial goal you set will depend on many factors, including your cost of living.

If you’re in need of some inspiration, here are some examples of both short- and long-term financial goals.

Short-Term Financial Goal Examples

  • Build an emergency fund
  • Take a cooking class
  • Paying off a credit card
  • Purchase a bike
  • Take a family vacation to Hawaii
  • Remodel a part of your home

Long-Term Financial Goal Examples

  • Start and run a successful small business
  • Live comfortably—whatever that means for you—in retirement
  • Pay for your kids to go to college without borrowing
  • Own a vacation home

When it comes to thinking about financial goals, take some time to write down things you hope to achieve in life. Don’t hold back! It can help to start big, then work your way down to the smaller things, including something you could achieve as soon as this month.

“The best goals include a personal and sincere 'why' that adds meaning and importance to them,” Michael Eckstein, accountant and owner of Eckstein Advisory, said. “Your 'why' helps carry you through the beginning stages of building a habit, the tough stretches while reaching your goals, and is a constant reminder of why you're doing it.”

Eckstein also said that the goals do not have to be extremely grand or large. As long as the goal is important to you, it is valid.

How Do Your Dreams Become Reality?

With your dreams written down, it’s time to create a plan that can bring them to life. You’ll need to figure out how much it will cost to achieve each of your goals, which can take a bit of research and some simple math. You’ll need to piece together a plan on when and how you’ll reach each target based on your income and expenses.

A great framework to use when creating a plan for financial goals is to ensure they are SMART. It’s an acronym that says each of your goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. For example, let’s say you want to build an emergency fund. If you applied the SMART principles, here’s what that would look like:

  • Specific: I want to build an emergency fund of $20,000.
  • Measurable: I want to save $4,000 per year, which is $333 per month and $11 per day.
  • Achievable: My budget includes up to $450 of disposable income that enables me to save the targeted amount of $333 per month. 
  • Relevant: According to my income and expenses over the past year, I should be able to achieve this goal.
  • Time-bound: I want to save $20,000 within five years.

By making sure each of your goals follows the SMART framework, you can create a plan to actually achieve the things on your list. You’ll then need to stick to the plan, track your progress, and celebrate your wins.

Make your daily targets highly visible so they stay top-of-mind. For example, you may consider placing them on a bulletin board, on a notepad by your laptop, or in calendar reminders.

The Bottom Line

While budgeting often gets a bad wrap, when you’re doing it to create the future you truly want, it feels different. You make many small but strategic decisions each day that gradually bring your dreams to life. Plus, by layering short- and long-term goals, you get rewarded along the way.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do you decide how to prioritize your financial goals?

Once you have all of your goals written down, review them to decide which are the most important to you. Identify which are needs and which are wants. For example, while paying off student loan debt may trump saving for a wedding for one person, the opposite could be true for another. It all depends on the person. Once you’ve identified your goals, rank them and pursue them accordingly.

How often should you revisit your financial goals?

Check in at the end of each month (or more often for some short-term goals) to track your progress. During this time, assess whether your goals still align with where you want to go. Then take a deeper dive into your goal review at the end of each year. Depending on the results, you may want to take a more aggressive approach, or reassess how you can meet your existing targets.

How can your tax withholding affect your budgeting or financial goals?

If you receive a tax refund at the end of the year because too much of your money was withheld for taxes, you will lose the opportunity to invest and earn interest on it during the year. However, getting a lump sum at the end of the year can be helpful for some. For example, if you have trouble saving money, your tax return could allow you to make a sizable impact on one of your goals.

Article Sources

  1. Building Blocks. "Setting a SMART Savings Goal Worksheet." Accessed Dec. 2, 2021.