Setting financial goals is exciting. You feel like you’re way ahead of the game for being so forward-thinking, and you might even pat yourself on the back for finally taking positive steps toward getting your financial life in order. However, as anyone who has ever set a goal before knows, setting them is the easy part. Sticking to the plan that will help you achieve those goals is much, much more difficult.
I want you to know that, while it might feel as though the goals you’ve set are too hard or too stressful to reach right now, it’s possible. You have the power to take control, create your own path, and find success. The question is: how do you stay on track when regular distractions are drawing you away from your original goals?
Step One: Track Your Spending
This, to me, is an excellent first step to take when you’re working toward a financial goal. If you feel that your finances are a sinking ship, there’s no faster way to find the hole in the boat than to track your spending. You have to be honest with yourself when you track where your money goes each month. You can’t pretend that you didn’t overspend in one budget category or another, because the evidence is laid out in front of you to review.
Once you know what you’re spending money on, you’ll get a better idea of how you can realign yourself with your original financial goals.
Step Two: Be Intentional With Your Spending
Whatever you do, don’t beat yourself up about spending mistakes. Instead, focus on being intentional with your spending moving forward. Before making a purchase, big or small, ask yourself: does this move me toward my ultimate financial goals? Will this purchase help me achieve other goals I have?
Let’s say that you have two goals this year: one, to pay off your debt, and the other, to spend more time with your family. Spending money on a modest weekend away with your children will help you to create unforgettable memories and fulfill your goal of spending more family time, even if it temporarily moves you away from immediately paying off debt. On the other hand, spending money on a new household appliance, when none of your appliances are currently broken, moves you away from both of your original goals, and probably isn’t an intentional purchase.
Step Three: Refocus on “Why”
One reason we get off track, when it comes to our financial goals, is because we forget why we set them in the first place. Whenever you feel yourself start to derail, stop and take a moment to breathe. Think about why you set your big, intimidating financial goal. What will achieving this goal mean? How will it add value to your life? Envision yourself after you’ve achieved your financial goal – how does it feel?
You might even get more specific than that to root yourself in a “why” and avoid financial mistakes. For example, if your goal is to pay off your student loan debt this year, you might make plans for what you’re going to do with the extra money you’re currently paying toward your loan after it’s paid in full. Are you going to celebrate by taking your friends out to dinner? Will you put that money in a college savings fund for your children? Knowing why you’re moving toward a financial goal will help you steer clear of distractions and stay focused.
Step Four: Don’t Deprive Yourself
We’re all humans, and from the time of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we have been imperfect. It’s not fair for you to think you’ll always perform perfectly in your financial life. When you set restrictions on your budget that are too strict, you’re more likely to overcorrect and splurge. You may overspend in a big way, which will leave you feeling deflated, frustrated, and like you’re unable to accomplish your financial goals.
Instead of setting these too-strict rules for yourself and expecting that you’ll be perfect 100% of the time, allow yourself some wiggle room. Budget for an extra dinner out with your spouse, or plan that day at the water park with your children. You’ll feel relieved that you’re able to blow off a little bit of steam without setting yourself too far back from achieving your goal.
Step Five: Make Adjustments
You may find that your original goal changes over time. Maybe you want to start saving for a different reason, your family grows, or you suddenly take on the care of your aging parents. Just like life changes, it’s okay that your goals evolve with time. Don’t be afraid to take a step back and make adjustments as needed. You’ll feel infinitely better when you’re working toward a goal that fits within your life – and you’ll find that the idea of achieving that goal is much more exciting!