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Budgeting tips

Budgeting

Setting Realistic Financial Goals on a Budget

2022-05-23

Life is hard.

Of all the challenges we face, one in particular reigns supreme: our ability to stay present, to stay in the moment.

When we’re truly consumed by the here and now, we’re too preoccupied with our immediate responsibilities to think about the past. And we’re also too absorbed in the immediacy of the moment to be anxious about the future.

There’s something beautiful about practicing presence.

Financial health requires a similar kind of focus.

In an ideal world, we would view our financial journey as a moment-to-moment endeavor. Otherwise, if we spend our time panicking about what happened or what might happen, we rob ourselves of the present moment. That’s a dangerous mistake to make, because the present moment is the only moment we ever truly have.

It’s just as Theodore Roosevelt believed (as borrowed from Squire Bill Widener), “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.

In this blog, we’re going to explore a few realistic financial goals you can pursue at any stage in life. So whether you’re looking to buy a home or simply trying to make ends meet, these three targets will be well worth pursuing.

Get “SMART” about Your Financial Goals

In life, our success often depends upon our outlook.

Think about it: there are 24 hours in each day. While we’re all responsible for many things — whether it’s doing homework, developing a new business, or shepherding a growing family — we still have the power to decide how we spend our time.

We can look at it in two ways. On the one hand, we can view each minute as an opportunity. Or, conversely, we can forget the power of each individual minute and let them slip away until they become lost hours, days, and weeks.

It’s helpful to consider our financial resources in the same way.

Whether you have $100 in the bank or $100,000, certain truths remain unimpeachable. For one thing, it’s always a good goal to spend less than you make. That’s true for literally everyone.

As Tony Robbins says, “*It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.*”

So how can we be consistent with our financial goals? Even when — or especially when — times are tough?

It all starts with the “SMART” formula that encourages us to set Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Based objectives.

The five SMART factors must be:

Specific: Great goals can’t be generic. Instead, they need to be so specific that no one but you could dream them up.

It’s the difference between “I want to own a home one day,” and “I want to own a lodge style home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming by the time I’m 50.

Measurable: Effective goals must be quantifiable. If they’re vague, you won’t be able to track your progress or identify where you’re falling short of your target.

An ambiguous goal looks like this: “I want to pay off some of my credit card debt.

A measurable goal requires you to look closely at the numbers so you can say, “I owe $2,000 in credit card debt and want to pay it off in full.

Achievable: There are short-term goals and long-term goals. To be successful in both, you need to know which objectives you’re pursuing and when you’re pursuing them. When we get too ambitious too fast, anxiety creeps in.

To return to our earlier example, the Jackson Hole lodge would constitute a long-term goal, while the short-term goal — the more immediately relevant of the two — might look different: “I’m going to pay off my $2,000 credit card debt exactly one year from today.

Realistic: You know what you want to accomplish, and that’s great. Now you need to figure out how to get there.

But what if you don’t have much money to spare every month? How will you achieve your goals?

You might need to revisit your budget, cancel some recurring expenses, and maybe even pick up an extra shift or work a part-time job. Goals are realistic when you can achieve them with the time, resources, and relationships currently available to you.

Be sure to use this budget calculator to get more specific.

Time-Based: If people didn’t have deadlines, nothing would ever get done. The same goes with financial goals: if there isn’t a date marked on the calendar (or in your smartphone), then you give yourself an easy out.

Be specific not only with what you want to achieve, but when you want to achieve it. As with our earlier example, a $2,000 card credit debt (with an 18% interest rate) can be settled in exactly one year — with twelve monthly payments of $183.

Want to learn more? Use Bankrate’s card credit payoff calculator to explore your options.

That’s it! That’s how the SMART formula works.

Now about those financial goals we mentioned…

The 3 Financial Goals You can Pursue (at All Stages of Life)

You know your financial life better than anyone. But no matter what your bank account looks like, these three goals will put you on the path to a brighter financial future.

1. Make a Budget

Financial experts have long debated the “ideal” budget.

Some recommend the “50/30/20” rule, where 50% of your income goes to your “needs” (like your rent or mortgage), 30% goes to your “wants” (like traveling and dining out), and 20% goes straight to your savings.

Ultimately, the best budget is the one that you can repeat again, and again, and again. The best budget is the one that works for you and helps you achieve your goals.

Wherever you are in life (and whatever you want to achieve), we encourage you to set a budget you can confidently adhere to for long periods at a time.

2. Pay Down Debt

The 18th Century Scottish economist, Adam Smith, once remarked, “What can be added to the happiness of a man who is in good health, out of debt, and has a clear conscience?

He wasn’t wrong. On the flip side, excessive debt can be crippling to both our contentment and sense of freedom.

Thanks to the power of compound interest, long-held debts can quickly become a mountainous burden. But here’s the catch: don’t look at the whole mountain.
This isn’t about playing ostrich and sticking your head in the sand. It’s about setting focused objectives that you can actually achieve.

Remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Using the SMART formula, set a goal to tackle each of your outstanding debts one at a time. You can start with the smallest debts and work your way up, or conversely, you can make a plan to pay down the largest amounts first.

As with your budget, set a repayment schedule and stick to it. Your future self will thank you.

3. Save as Much as You Can

Maybe you’re in a position to save a lot of money each month. Or maybe the idea of saving seems laughable to you.

Whatever your circumstances, we encourage you to simply make an effort towards saving — however much or little you can spare.

Maybe saving money means simply spending less.
Maybe it means cutting out the expenses you want but don’t really need.
Or maybe it means putting $100 in your IRA each month.
Maybe saving means picking up an extra gig or two to boost your income.

The point is this: save as much money as you can. Because when you save money, you pay yourself first and lay the groundwork for your future, for your retirement, for your emergency fund, and yes, for the lodge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

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