Set Savings Goals (Even For Fun Stuff)

Because budgeting shouldn’t be all work and no play

Person in turtleneck sits on floor working on computer
•••

Georgijevic / Getty Images

One of the first steps in taking control of your finances is creating a budget. That budget can help you to become more aware of your spending—and therefore help you find opportunities to save.

When saving up for something, you’re setting a savings goal for yourself that will lead you on a path toward getting something you want. While buying a house, paying off debt, or taking a big vacation may come to mind as suitable goals, there are also the little things. It’s OK to set goals for the little things that can brighten your day-to-day life, like purchasing a trip to the day spa or that new laptop you’ve been eyeing.

In this guide, discover how you can set savings goals for both the big things and the smaller, fun stuff, too.

What To Save For

Budgeting can shine a light on your money habits and better explain where you may be unnecessarily spending. By seeing your expenses and income right in front of you, you can then close up any cracks in your habits and start saving for things you really want and value.

In many cases, people automatically start saving for things like a six-month emergency fund, paying off their student loans, or planning for retirement. While those things are important and beneficial, it’s going to take quite a while until you reap the benefits.

With that in mind, consider incorporating some shorter-term savings goals that you can enjoy sooner. For example, a tasting at your local winery, a new phone, or the equipment for a hobby you enjoy. The more immediate reward can help you to see the brighter side of budgeting and may even motivate you to keep going.

It’s important not to eliminate those big savings goals that you have planned for. Rather, incorporate little goals you are truly interested in and passionate about into your daily life.

How To Set Savings Goals—Both Big and Small

Knowing how to set savings goals is a key component of actually reaching those goals one day. Below, you’ll find a step-by-step plan for setting savings goals of any size.

Assess Your Finances

Before you can start setting any savings goal, you’ll need to assess your current financial situation. Without knowing how much you can save, you can’t set realistic goals. So pull out a paper and pen (or pop open a worksheet) and outline the following:

  • Your total monthly income: How much money do you have coming in each month after taxes?
  • Your recurring monthly expenses: How much are you spending on necessities like rent, utilities, groceries, and gas?
  • Other spending: What else do you spend money on each month? Look back over time at your spending activity to see what you buy (e.g., snacks from the gas station, lunches out, movie tickets, etc.).

Once you’ve gathered your data, subtract all of your monthly expenses from your monthly income. If your income is greater than your expenses, you will have money left to save or spend. If your expenses surpass the amount you receive each month, you need to make some cuts to your spending.

When evaluating your budget, split your expenses into two categories: wants and needs. This way, you can take a look at your wants, or variable expenses, and cut out things you don’t often use anymore, such as monthly subscriptions.

After this assessment, you should have a clear idea of how much money you can save each month and the monthly budget you need to follow to save it.

Define Your Goals

Once you’ve assessed your finances, it’s time to clearly define what you want to achieve. The SMART goal model is a helpful framework to follow. It requires that your goal (or goals) be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.

For example, let’s say you want to graduate college with little to no student debt. This can be considered a bit vague, as you don’t have a timeline or a specific amount set. To make this goal SMART, you could instead say, “I would like to graduate college with less than $10,000 in student debt.”

By bringing the goal into clear focus, you will know exactly how much you need to save per month to reach the goal. As a result, it becomes more realistic and you can hold yourself accountable. So define your goal and ensure it follows the SMART framework to find yourself on the right track.

When it comes to the “fun” stuff, you can still use the SMART framework to define your goals. For example, if you regularly prioritize mental and physical health, consider setting a monthly goal that matches that passion, such as saving $50 monthly for a new type of workout class that will bring you joy.

Use a Savings App

With SMART goals in mind and a realistic idea of what you can save, it’s time to start taking action. There are a few ways you can make the process of saving easier and one is with an expense-tracking app.

For example, Mint lets you track where all your money goes by letting you add your cash, credit cards, bills, and investments. Then, you can set custom saving goals and track your progress with helpful visualizations.

Create a Separate Savings Account

Another way you can help yourself stay on track is by opening a separate savings account specifically for your goal. By doing this, it’s easier to see exactly how much you’ve saved and eliminate the urge to take out funds from this account. This is typically best for long-term goals, as the longer you have to reach the goal, the more you can accumulate within the account.

Automate Your Savings

After you’ve decided on a plan, you can automate your savings so you don’t have to even think about your funds. Many financial institutions enable you to set up automatic transfers from checking to savings in the amounts you want. This way, you’ll stay on track and can deduct your savings before you’re tempted to spend it elsewhere.

Check In on Your Progress

As with working toward any goal, it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of your progress. Check at the end of each month to see if you’re on track. If the goal is smaller, you may even want to check in each week.

Budgeting or savings apps can make the process of goal tracking easier. You may also consider making a visual representation somewhere in your house that you can see every day. This can be helpful if the goal is shared with family members as you can celebrate the progress together.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What does it mean to set SMART savings goals?

The acronym SMART is a framework for goal setting that helps to improve the odds you’ll accomplish your objectives. It stands for “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.”

By ensuring your savings goals tick each of the points above, you’ll have a better chance at achieving them.

How do you set a savings goal?

Setting a savings goal starts with assessing your financial situation to see how much you can save. Once you know, you can begin to prioritize what you want to save for, how much you need to save, and a time frame to do it. The SMART framework can help you set realistic goals that you can track to completion.

What is a reasonable savings goal?

A reasonable savings goal depends on your financial situation. You’ll need to analyze your income and expenses to identify how much disposable income is available. Everyone’s goals will differ depending on how much income they make as well as their general cost of living.

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Federal Trade Commission. "Make a Budget," Pages 1-2.

  2. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Setting a SMART Savings Goal."