Goals are a simple concept, right? They're what we want to accomplish. And while it follows that our goals should play a major role in what we do and the decisions we make, that's not always the case.
As a financial planner, I like to start client meetings by talking about the clients' goals. What do they want to achieve? I've been surprised at how often people can't articulate their goals. Sometimes even if they can articulate them, those goals are not driving their actions and behaviors.
Ideally, your goals are the engine that keeps you making regular smart financial decisions. When faced with an easy out, they motivate you to do the right thing. Follow these five tips to make your financial goals work for you:
- Be specific with amounts and time frames. Too often the goals I hear are vague aspirations. Follow the old SMART-goal acronym guide (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound) to set goals that drive you in the right direction.
- Write them down. We still have a note-card box full of recipes dating back to the beginning of our marriage. Those little cards are inspirational. Heck, just looking at them stirs memories of yesteryear and specific meals and celebrations. My point? The written word is powerful. When it comes to goals, studies have shown that if you take the time to write them down, you're more likely to make them happen.
- Let your goals paint a picture. While the written word is critical, visualizing what you are writing -- the vivid details and associated emotions -- is critical. Imagine strolling beachside in the Caribbean, carefree and unburdened by debt. Whether it's the Caribbean vacation or living debt-free that stokes you, a detailed mind picture can power you through to the finish line.
- Keep them front and center. Make your iPhone screen saver an image of your next vacation; write an inspirational post-it note to yourself and stick it in your wallet; tape a picture of your next car to your dashboard -- just a few examples of ways to keep your goals top-of-mind. You've probably got some cool ideas of how to do this yourself.
- Set waypoints. I encourage folks to have short-, medium- and long-term goals. Regardless of what you're working toward, it makes sense to set check-ins along the way. It could be as straightforward as breaking down your goal of paying off all your credit card debt into smaller chunks. This approach will give you reason to celebrate your small successes on the longer journey to your final destination.
Get going with your goals today and make them stick.