Oct 20, 2023
Setting Financial Goals for Your Future
Are you trying to set up a budget that works? Looking to invest your income for the first time? Developing your big-picture financial plan? Whenever you’re making money decisions, financial goals can guide you.
Financial goals are your personal saving, spending, and investing targets. They might be things you want to achieve in the short term, a bit further down the road, or even far into the future. Goals help you determine how to allocate your income among expenses, how much to save and invest, and what success looks like. Your financial goals will be as unique as you are. Determining them can help you understand and achieve the financial future you want.
In this article, we’ll discuss:
How to determine your financial goals
How you build your money strategy is largely driven by your financial goals. When you know what you’re working toward, you can more easily make financial decisions that support your values and ambitions. Most people have multiple short, mid, and long-term goals at any given time.
The financial goals you set will be driven by things like your lifestyle, plans for the future, where you live, family structure, and so on. They’re also contingent on your financial situation, including income, expenses, and debt. Rather than comparing yourself to other people, focus on working toward achievements that are realistic and meaningful for you.
Keep in mind that your goals will likely shift over your lifetime as your circumstances change. For example, changes in income, family dynamics, health, and even the economy can directly impact your goals.
The 3 types of financial goals
You can break your goals into three broad categories based on timeline, and you might take a different approach for goals in each category differently.
- Short-term financial goals: These are smaller financial targets that can be reached within roughly a year. In addition to saving over time, many people fund these goals with a one-time windfall like a tax return or bonus.
- Mid-term financial goals: Mid-term goals are typically larger goals that will take one to five years to achieve. Having a longer timeline allows you to put your savings into an interest-bearing account or short-term investment to help your money grow.
- Long-term financial goals: These goals will take more than five years to achieve, are higher financial targets, and will require a long-term commitment to saving and investing on a regular basis.
Examples of financial goals
So, what are the financial goals you should set? The answer to that question is unique to every individual, and it’s based on both practical considerations like age and income as well as personal hopes and desires. For most people, it makes sense to set a couple of short, mid, and long-term goals at the beginning of their financial planning journey. Then, you can check in on your goals periodically to make sure they still make sense for your overall financial plan. The examples of financial goals below can help you start thinking about the goals that make sense for your life.
|Short-term financial goal examples||Mid-term financial goal examples||Long-term financial goal examples|
|Paying off credit card debt||Putting a down payment on a house||Saving for retirement|
|Building an emergency fund||Buying a new car||Paying off your mortgage|
|Saving for a vacation||Saving for your education||Saving for your children’s education|
|Paying for a wedding||Paying off student loans||Remodeling your home|
|Replacing a computer or appliance||Moving across the country||Caring for aging relatives|
Why financial goals matter
Delayed gratification can make saving and investing hard. You have to give up spending in the short term for gratification down the road. That’s why setting goals is so important. It gives you something to work toward that makes resisting the urge to spend your money worth it. Financial goals provide purpose and energize your money moves so you can work toward the future of your dreams.
Goals also make your financial planning concrete. You’re not just saving miscellaneous sums of money for a vague future use. You have a savings plan in place to achieve something that will bring you joy or comfort. And you know exactly how much you’re trying to save.
How to set financial goals you can stick to
Your financial goals need to be realistic and motivating in order to work. So you must consider several factors when setting your goals, including your current income, expenses, and debts, as well as the life you want to live. Here are six tips for setting financial goals you can achieve.
1. Make your goals specific and measurable
Start by making a list of goals, categorized into short, mid, and long-term. Determine the required amount and ideal timeline for each goal. The more specific you are, the more effective your financial planning can be. For example, if you want to replace your old car, research the kinds of vehicles you might want to buy and how much they cost, and consider when you’ll need to make the purchase based on how much life is left in your current car.
2. Build savings into your budget
Having a budget not only helps you manage your day-to-day spending but also enables you to plan for the future. Once you understand how much money you have left over at the end of the month after core expenses and bills, you can assign a chunk of every paycheck to each goal. You may be unable to save for everything at once, so you’ll want to prioritize. Start with your financial security goals, like an emergency fund and paying down debt, and work out from there. Once you feel financially stable, you can pivot to saving for more fun milestones alongside your very long-term goals, like retirement.
3. Establish an emergency fund
Building an emergency fund is often one of the first financial goals people work toward. That’s because having the money you need to cover an emergency can protect your other goals. An emergency fund exists so that unexpected expenses like a leaky water heater, car repairs, or medical bills don’t have to come out of your house fund or long-term savings. Experts recommend having three to six month’s worth of living expenses in your emergency fund. Once you hit that mark, you might want to focus your savings efforts on other goals, but be sure to replenish your emergency fund any time you have to spend some of it.
4. Understand your timeline
Goals work better with a deadline. If they aren’t time-sensitive, it’s too easy to procrastinate. But if you set unrealistic deadlines, like saving up $5,000 in two months, you’ll likely never be able to achieve them. So it’s important to understand when you need the money for a goal and how much time you have to save it up. For instance, say you want to pay off $12,000 of student loan debt in one year. You’d need to spend $1,000 a month, plus interest, on those payments. If there’s no room in your budget for that, adjust your timeline to reflect what’s reasonable for your income. You might also have goals with set-in-stone deadlines, like the deposit on a new apartment when your lease is up. Work backward from that date to figure out how much money you have to save each month to have enough.
5. Set realistic amounts
It’s one thing to dream big, but turning those dreams into reality means getting real. For each of your goals, calculate how much money you’ll actually need. For instance, say you want to put a down payment on a house in five years. Do some research to find out how much money you’ll actually need for the kind of house and location you want. If the amount is more than you can save up in that timeframe, make adjustments based on your personal priorities; you might decide to look in a cheaper area, go for a condo instead, or tighten your budget so you can put more money into savings.
6. Revisit your goals regularly
You don’t want to set and forget your financial goals. Check in quarterly or a couple of times a year to update your goals based on shifts in income, plans, lifestyle, or new opportunities. For example, you may have been saving to buy a new car in three years, but wind up moving to a city with great public transportation, so you decide to shift your savings to a different priority. Similarly, as you achieve your goals, you can continue to add new ones, so you’re always working toward something. You have the freedom to adjust your financial goals to fit your ever-changing needs.
The role financial goals play in your big-picture plan
Financial goals don’t have to be limited to things you want to save up for. Goals are part of an overarching financial plan that charts your current and future fiscal landscape. In addition to savings goals, you might work toward other financial goals like:
- Getting out of debt
- Building your financial literacy
- Starting a rainy day fund
- Planning for retirement
- Investing in the stock market
- Reducing spending
- Improving your credit score
- Growing your money
- Preventing lifestyle creep
- Sticking to your budget
- Increasing your income
- Building generational wealth
Take control of your future with your financial goals
You don’t have to map out your entire future to start setting and achieving financial goals. You can start small: maybe for now you stash aside money for a weekend road trip next summer, start paying a bit more toward your credit card balance, and contribute a bit of each paycheck to your 401(k). As you get more confident with your budget and check some goals off your list, you can think bigger and plan further out. When you set specific, realistic goals, you’ll be equipped to take control over your finances now and over the long haul.
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