Being able to set financial goals can help you make short-term decisions on how much to save and how much to spend. Here are some tips to help you articulate your financial goals.
Start by dreaming big
Try picturing yourself several years down the road. Are you in a bigger apartment or maybe a house? Are you living in the same city? Are you driving the same car you have now, or a different model? Or have you vastly simplified your life to the point that you have no car at all? Thinking through your future plans will get you closer to accurately stating your goals.
Come back down to Earth
Consider your present-day concerns, financial and otherwise. You may be burdened by credit-card or student-loan debt, your own or loved ones’ health issues, or a job that doesn’t satisfy you. If you don’t feel you have a lot of job security, for example, one of your goals could be to set aside enough savings to live comfortably for six months to a year if you are laid off.
Your first priorities should be paying off any high-interest debt and building up emergency savings. After that, concentrate on your top two or three goals. You can add more in the future, but trying to save for everything at once may leave you feeling overwhelmed.
Think short-term and concrete
If one of your goals is an easier retirement, but the payoff is 30 years or more away, it can be hard to keep the end goal in mind while making your personal budget. So it may help to make some intermediate, short-term goals, such as attempting to save $5,000 for retirement over the next five years.
Remember your goals when making your monthly budget
In dealing with day-to-day emergencies and unexpected expenses, it can be easy to lose sight of your long-term financial goals. One strategy to avoid this problem is what financial author David Bach refers to as “paying yourself first.” That means setting up automatic withdrawals from your checking account to any retirement or savings accounts, so that you’ve already done your saving before you even sit down with the bills (or pull up to the ATM).
Get help, if you need it
If your situation is particularly complicated, or you feel you need more direct advice, talking to a financial planner may be helpful. You may not need long-term investment planning, so consider planners who charge an hourly fee instead of those who sell service packages.
No one reaches the end of a race without first leaving the gate. Taking some time to plan for your financial future should help you realize your goals and run successfully toward your personal finish line.
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