The Ultimate Guide to Setting S.M.A.R.T. Financial Goals
All too often, we set financial goals for ourselves that are self-defeating. Much like promises to lose weight or exercise more regularly, we are our own biggest obstacle when it comes to keeping the goals we set for ourselves. On some occasions, our financial goals are too lofty or ambitious. In others, they simply aren’t measurable.
“Goals are important; they’re the gateway to financial success.” – J.D. Roth, Get Rich Slowly
At the end of the day, it’s easy to feel discouraged when we cannot see tangible progress made towards achieving our goals. Setting S.M.A.R.T. financial goals forces us to become accountable and make real progress on our path towards financial wellness.
How to Start S.M.A.R.T.
You may be thinking, what is a S.M.A.R.T. goal?
In short, these goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. S.M.A.R.T. goals involve completing certain activities and steps that will help you reach the goal you’ve set for yourself and are thus, measurable.
First, your financial goals should be as Specific as possible in order to successfully achieve exactly what you want. Always include as much detail as possible.
What am I striving for?
How will I achieve it?
Who does it involve?
Why is it important to me?
Second, in order to know if and when you’ve achieved your goal, it must be Measurable. Benchmarks are a must. For example, simply saying “I want to have better control of my finances” is not measurable. Even if you have a vague idea of what that would mean for yourself, you have no way of knowing when you’ve achieved it or how you plan to achieve it. If you were to say, “I would like to save $2,000 by summer for a trip.” this would be measurable. Quantitative data is key.
Third, make sure to set financial goals that are Attainable. This is why setting specific, detailed goals are important. By identifying what you hope to achieve, you can identify potential roadblocks and obstacles that could make it difficult to get where you want to be financially. Is your financial goal possible and do you have the control to make it happen?
For example, setting financial goals based on the assumption that you may get a raise, are not attainable. You have no control over your employer’s decision to give you a raise and therefore, you can’t count on it. Choose a goal that you have the power to achieve on your own and not one with variable factors beyond your control.
Fourth, choose a goal that is Realistic. Much like your goal should be attainable, it should also be within the realm of possible. While we aren’t suggesting that realistic should equal easy, ensure that your goals present a challenge you are able to overcome. It will take effort but it is not impossible.
Do you have the time and resources to make your goal happen? Is it something you’ve achieved before? Winning the lottery is not a realistic financial goal, it’s a financial wish. Setting up a savings account for your child’s education, is a financial goal. “Don’t set artificial goals for yourself,” says former CEO of Southwest Airlines, Jim Parker. Set ones you know you have the power to achieve but don’t be afraid to dream big. You can always set smaller goals to get you where you need to be to set large ones.
Lastly, ensure that your goal is Timely. In order to be measurable, your goals must have time-frames and deadlines. This helps to keep you on track as well as measure your progress. It can give you checkpoints to make sure you’re on your way to achieving your goal. It can also alert you when you’re not on track. Simply saying, “as soon as possible” is not a time-frame and will likely lead to failure. Your time-frame should cause a practical sense of urgency that will push you towards goal completion.
What Does a S.M.A.R.T. Money Goal Look Like?
Once you’ve identified your financial goal, it’s time to put your S.M.A.R.T. goal in place. For all intents and purposes, let’s say that it is your goal to take a two week summer vacation to Europe with a friend. After all, it’s been a dream of yours to visit Europe since your were a kid but you’ve never been motivated enough to save for it. This year, you’re going to make it happen!
GOAL: European Vacation
Now, get specific.
I want to visit Europe with my best friend;
We will get there by air and then take the train once on land;
We want to stay in hostels and splurge one night in Paris at a fancy hotel;
I will need $5,000 to make this goal possible.
You see, simply saying, “we’re going to Europe” is not specific enough. A little effort on your part is required to set specific steps in order to achieve your goal. Do your research. How will you travel to Europe? How will you navigate once you’re there? Choose where you would like to ideally stay and what it will cost. Determining your travel costs is one large step towards achieving your goal.
Next, make a budget for how much you expect to spend on activities while you are there. In this case, how much will admission to various landmarks you want to visit cost? How much do you expect to spend on meals each day? Will you buy souvenirs or keepsakes? While you don’t need to predict all expenses down to the last dime that you’ll encounter on your trip, by identifying the common ones you can expect, you’ll get a better picture of how much you must save to achieve your goal.
How Will You Measure?
By identifying how much your trip to Europe will cost, including travel, activities, and food, you’ve likely determined a monetary value for how much this goal will cost you. Let’s say it’s $5,000. This magic number is how you will measure your financial goal. Next, determine how you will track it. Will you be setting up a separate savings account for your goal? How often will you transfer money into it? How frequently will you monitor it, to track your progress? Create as many benchmarks as necessary to keep you on track and in the know.
Is It Attainable?
Most importantly, is your goal attainable. If it’s going to cost you $5,000 to achieve your goal, a quick look at your yearly income will tell you if it’s in fact do-able. How much do you typically put into savings each year? What is your yearly income minus expenses? Your disposable income will be the most telling. If you’ve never had an extra $5,000 to put towards your savings in the past, why do you believe you will this year?
Realistic or Not?
It’s one thing to say you’re going to take an extravagant vacation, visit Europe in this example. And sure – in previous years, you’ve had an extra couple of thousand dollars to put towards a yearly vacation. But are you setting realistic vacation expectations? For example, while the idea of renting a sports car to cruise around Europe may be wonderful, it would certainly be more affordable to get a train pass for your stay.
For years, people have been doing vacations on a budget and having the time of their lives. Your vacation can be as affordable or as grand as you’d like but make sure you set goals that are not going to leave you in debt and are realistically achievable.
Set a Date. Make it Happen.
Lastly, when do you plan to achieve your goal by? Let’s say you would like to make this trip happen next summer, which falls in a year’s time – Summer 2014. Start tracking your progress as you contribute to your financial goal now. Know how much you need to contribute each day, week, or month, whatever schedule you decide on, so that you can successfully meet your goal.
Check in on how you’re doing regularly. Life happens and while you may have one month where you’re able to put more aside, there will be other months where you may not have the extra cash to put towards your goal, ie: Christmas or back to college. By keeping tabs – you have an overall picture of how well you’re doing, where adjustments need to be made, and whether your deadline should be pushed. It’s never fun delaying gratification but sometimes, it’s necessary.
The #1 Secret to Staying S.M.A.R.T?
So what is the secret to making your S.M.A.R.T. goal come true? Mindshare.
There are a lot of steps that go into achieving your S.M.A.R.T. goal and it may seem overwhelming at first. But by keeping your desired outcome top of mind and knowing in real-time what progress you are making towards your goal, you are closer to truly making it happen. After all, greater mindfulness leads to greater accountability!
On-the-go insights, such as those that Moven’s platform offer, give you constant, reliable access to information that will help you know when you’ve veered off track. They can be the financial compass that directs you, when you may be otherwise turned around or lost.
Treat your goal like a map. “Once you have your goal in place and you know how you want to get there, you can check your actions against it,” explains Sierra Black of Get Rich Slowly. Whether your map leads you to a family vacation, a new home or that sports car you’ve always wanted – start S.M.A.R.T.
We want to hear from you: Do you have a SMART goal? Share your savings goals below!