Many of us skipped Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings last year, due to the pandemic. That’s partly why so many of us are already focused on holiday shopping, decorating, menu planning, and everything else — and it’s only November. Many of us are probably also worrying we won’t have enough time or money to make it all work. I know my wife is already busy texting her friends about her holiday shopping plan. I bet she’s not alone.
However, let’s take a step back from the hustle and bustle of the holidays to think about what else is right around the corner: a New Year. Sure, you might manage to salvage some of your long-lost financial goals between now and December 31st — but it’s not likely. As far as this year goes, what’s done is gone. However, that doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind and go into more debt or forget about your budget just for the sake of the Christmas season. After all, a lot of financial damage can be done in just a few weeks! What it does mean, though, is that you should start making a mental (and literal) list of financial goals for next year.
Setting up a game plan now allows you to go about achieving your goals as soon as the new year hits. Otherwise, it’ll be halfway through February before you get the same list out. It’s always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.
You already have most of this year’s financial statements to look back on. Give them a glance and see if you can identify areas where you need to make changes. If you already know that you want to take better control of your money situation in the New Year, why wait? Go ahead and get a head start on things before the ball drops.
How to Set New Financial Goals
Getting used to the idea of change is half the battle. So starting to think about a new budget, savings, or debt-reduction plan now gives you more time to adjust mentally. The mental preparation should help solidify your resolve.
The time to start is now. Here’s how you can set those new financial goals for the year — and get a jump start on checking them off as complete.
Set Goals You WANT to Accomplish
If you really want to motivate yourself to achieve your goals this year, then work on ones you want to tackle most. Think about your financial priorities. What is it you actually want to do? What financial achievement will help you feel satisfied with what you have accomplished?
Whether it’s paying down debt, building your emergency fund, going on a family vacation, or reaching your maximum contribution level for your IRA, the important thing is to decide which goals you want to accomplish first. You’ll be more likely to follow through if you truly want to accomplish your goals. Make a point to choose goals that reflect your values. That way, you may even actually enjoy working towards them.
Make Sure Your Goals Are Realistic
Your goals need to be realistic. Just as with diet or exercise-related resolutions, it’s important to take baby steps. So be realistic about your own abilities and limitations. If you’re only making $60,000 a year, for example, you can’t really set a goal of “put $25,000 into retirement savings this year.” Goals are good, but you need them to be attainable.
Becoming debt free may be your ultimate goal. However, very few people are able to achieve that in only 12 months. That “debt free” goal is a great overall thing to strive for. However, you should get even more specific in your resolutions. For example, instead of saying you simply want to be “debt free,” you can make it a goal to pay off your highest interest credit card. Or finish paying off your vehicle loan. Alternatively, you could plan for reducing (but not completely eliminating) your total debt by a reasonable amount — say, 25%.
They Should Be Specific Too
This goes hand in hand with setting realistic goals. The more specific you are, the more you’ll view it as attainable. Setting specific and realistic goals make them easier to accomplish, too. A good way to do this might be listing your overall goals at the top of the page. Then, list the smaller, specific steps you’ll need to achieve them underneath. You could pick one for each month of the year or just as many as you can realistically tackle in a year’s time.
Let’s go back to the example of becoming debt free. That’s a lofty goal. However, it can be made realistic if you list out the specific steps to get there. Instead of having a vague goal of not owing anybody anything, list out which specific debt you want to tackle and by which date. Once you have a game plan, achieving your goal will be that much easier.
Measurable Goals Are Essential
Don’t forget to make goals measurable as well. That is one of the great things about setting financial goals; it’s fairly easy to track your progress. You can see your debt reducing each month. You can also watch your emergency fund grow or see the results of your home down payment fund as it increases in size. Be sure to keep up your efforts by creating small rewards along the way to mark certain milestones. Have a small celebration by buying a treat or doing something fun to mark reaching certain points in your progress. This will encourage you as you see results because you will be enjoying the rewards.
Breaking down your goals can also help you as you measure your progress. Create a plan for achieving your goals, breaking down each goal into smaller goals that you can achieve in one to three months’ time. That way, you will have regular intervals of accomplishment to keep you excited about working toward your financial goal.
Consider Setting Only One Goal at a Time
Realize, too, that you don’t have to set a whole bunch of goals all at once and try to work on everything at the same time. Instead, you might be better off focusing on one financial goal at a time. Decide on the most important thing you want to accomplish with your finances and concentrate on that first. Once you have accomplished that goal, create a new financial goal to work on. There’s no need to set financial goals at specific times of the year. You can set new goals year-round.
The important thing is to make progress. Focusing intensely on one goal at a time might actually help you accomplish more in the long run. Consider your situation and determine whether or not you are best served by paring down your goals. It might be less stressful, and the added freedom may help you find success in achieving your financial goals.
Stay Positive on the Journey
It’s easy to focus on the financial habits and practices we want and need to eliminate. While it’s important to know your weaknesses and where you need to improve, it can also become disheartening if that’s all you concentrate on.
Setting positive goals instead of negative ones will not only help you achieve specific goals, but it’ll remind you that you are capable of achieving positive goals. Think in terms of “‘I’m going to do ___” instead of “I’m going to stop ___.” It’ll give you confidence that you are capable of change and that’ll help you achieve more in the long run.
Expect to Over-Achieve
I already mentioned the dangers of setting unrealistic financial goals but that requires an addendum. Your goals shouldn’t be so unrealistic that it’s disheartening when you can’t achieve them, but neither should you sell yourself short. After all, you may be able to easily accomplish your small, specific financial goals and wish you’d set more.
A great way to prepare for this is to set aside a list of extra goals that you can start on if you accomplish your first list. That way you always have the next goal to jump to as soon as you achieve one.
The Bottom Line
Setting new financial goals for the upcoming year doesn’t have to feel daunting or unobtainable. Start planning this month so that you’ll have an action plan and be ready to go. Even if you just kick the idea around in your head instead of having a well laid out plan, you can avoid being behind the eight-ball like every other year by hit the ground running on day one.