You are in control. You get to create your journey in order to reach financial well-being.
You get to choose how you get there and the pitstops you make along the way. But instead of just wandering around and hoping you reach the results you desire, create the path.
By creating goals that are based on your values, you are using your motivations to fuel you to reaching your results.
I’ve outlined the steps I’ve used to reach my most desired results. From funding a 12-month emergency fund, to saving for vacations, I always use this intentional approach. You can apply this approach to just about any area of life, so I hope you find it useful.
Try it, and let me know what you think!
Step 1: Determine Value-Based Objectives
What do you want for your life, and what would give you the most well-being?
These are a couple of the questions you should ask yourself before you even write one goal.
There’s no point in working towards a destination that you don’t actually want for yourself. So, spend some time to figure out what you want out of life.
These are considered objectives, and they should be linked to what you value.
For example, do you want to stabilize your living situation by buying a house one day? Would you get the most career fulfillment by starting your own business? Or, do you just want to feel more secure in your finances by living debt-free and having a fully funded emergency fund?
All of these options–and more–are tied to what you truly value. Spend some time determining what that looks like for you.
Once you have the objective figured out, you can then come up with a path to get there which will ultimately increase your well-being.
Just be careful to not pick objectives just because others have them; you have to design your own path to well-being.
Step 2: Outline the path
Once you have your objectives figured out, narrow down what it will take to get there.
For the sake of consistency for the rest of the steps, let’s say you determined you want to become a homeowner in 4 years.
A few of the steps needed to reach that objective might be:
- Determining location
- Estimating total cost of home–within means
- Saving a down-payment
Over the course of a few days you can determine a general location and total cost to aim for, but you may need to prepare for the down-payment in advance.
That’s where goal-setting can come in.
Step 3: Set a Target
The next step after narrowing down the steps to your objective is to set a target.
In this case, you have decided you want to put down 10% towards the price of your home. Using the median price of homes in the U.S. of $200,000, that’s a $20,000 down-payment ($200,000 x 10%). That’s quite the chunk of change, and it represents your 4-year target.
At this point, you might be thinking “yea right, that’s not happening”. But hold on tight, you just need to break it down into actionable steps.
Knowing that you need $20K in 4 years provides you with clarity and vision to plan ahead. With this info, you can align your decision making to support you reaching your goal.
Step 4: Make the goal “SMART
A SMART goal is the difference between a vague wish, and a clear path. It’s a way clarifying the path needed to guide you to your desired result.
SMART stands for:
- Specific (Clear and specific)
- Measurable (quantifiable accomplishment)
- Achievable (Realistically attainable)
- Relevant (Matters to you)
- Time-bound (Has a target date)
Since you need to come up with $20,000 in 4 years, you can break that down into needing $5,000 each of the four years.
$5,000 a year is a lot less daunting than looking at the $20K figure. But hold on, we aren’t done yet.
Breaking that down even further, you can set a SMART monthly savings goal in order to save $5,000 a year.
- “I will save $420 each month, for 12 months in order to have $5,000 to put towards my house down-payment”.
Let’s check it against the SMART elements:
- Specific: I have identified what I want to do, how long I plan to do it, and why I want to do it.
- Measurable: The goal is measured in dollars; either I will have $5,000, or I won’t.
- Achievable: Based on my income and budget, I can save that amount.
- Relevant: The goal matters to me and supports my long-term vision and value.
- Time-Bound: I should have the $5,000 needed after 12 months.
Based on the SMART elements, my annual target of saving $5,000 is SMART!
Note that in this case, saving $5,000 a year will be an annual savings goal for a total of four years. That’s breaking down a 4-year intermediate goal into an annual goal. Also, I could write the goal to say I will increase my income with a part-time job so I can earn and save an additional $420 a month.
By either saving the money out of my current income, and/or earning extra money to put towards the goal, I have outlined actionable steps.
The key here was working out what I wanted out of life, preparing, and outlining the steps to get there.
Step 5: Align thoughts to support behaviors
You have probably experienced this before, but it’s really hard to just start doing something if your mind isn’t into it.
I can tell you that goal-setting will help you, but it won’t matter if you don’t believe it for yourself. More importantly, you have to believe you can stick to it, and reach your result.
You have to believe in self-efficacy.
The concept of self-efficacy says that you believe in your ability to positively influence your results. In this case, you have to believe that if you remain consistent, you will indeed see that $20K. That’s not to say you will be 100% perfect in the approach, but that give or take a few bumps in the road, you will make it eventually.
If you don’t think you will see it through, you won’t.
On the other hand, if you align goal-setting with thoughts that support you, you will remain engaged.
If you struggle with this, always go back to your underlying value and objectives. Connect with why you are doing this in the first place, and create thoughts that support you satisfying that value.
Step 6: Execute, track, and stay focused
You have your roadmap and you got your mind right, so now it’s time to get rolling.
To help stay on track, be sure to incorporate your savings goal into your monthly budget. (learn how to budget here). Within your budget it should be listed as a savings goal, and fund that goal before you start spending on the things you don’t need (discretionary expenses).
Keep track of your goal balance each month and use that as motivation! You are actively creating your result, and that intentionality will pay off if you stay consistent.
Don’t forget, no one just wakes up where they want to be. It takes a series of small steps to reach a destination. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, and you will reach your goal.
Step 7: Reach, rinse, and repeat
Once you have reached your goal, do a couple of things.
The first is be proud of yourself. You have chosen to be intentional with your life and create your results from your future objectives.
The next is–yes, you guessed–evaluate. How did reaching the goal impact your well-being? What do you think of the result now that you’ve reached it? What would you do differently? Don’t skip this opportunity to reflect and learn from your experience.
The last thing you should do is now pick a new goal. Yep, it starts all over.
Not to get all philosophical (just kidding, I love to get philosophical), but a major part of life is continued growth. It doesn’t have to mean you aren’t happy, in fact, you should be ecstatic that you reached your goal. But you have also just achieved something you previously may not have thought you could. Keep going, and keep growing.
There you have it. That’s the goal-setting process I use to align my values with desired results.
Before I go, there’s a few other points that I want you to keep in mind.
- Constantly evaluate your progress. Regularly check in with yourself to gauge how things are going. Is the monthly goal stretching you beyond comfort, or is it too easy? In either case, assess and adjust as necessary. It’s ok to have to modify a goal, as long as you aren’t selling yourself short.
- Be prepared for curveballs. As you save towards your goal and the balance grows, you may be tempted to use the money for other reasons. If you no longer want the goal because your underlying objective has changed, that’s ok. Create a new goal using the same process with your new or changed objective. But if you are just tempted to use the money on concert tickets, or another form of short-term gratification, pause. Pause and reassess what you really want. Do you want the short-term desire, or the longer and more permanent well-being from satisfying your value-based objective? I hope you choose the latter, but just know these curveballs will no doubt present themselves.
- It gets easier the more you practice. Goal-setting is a skill. And like any skill, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. If you find it difficult to stick to a goal, don’t give up. Maybe the goal is too aggressive, or maybe you need to break it down into even smaller steps. Either way, learn as much as you can from the experience, and try again.
- SMART Goals can be used in any area. SMART goals can be beneficial in breaking down the necessary path to reach any desired result. You can establish a SMART goal to read one book a month, lose/gain weight, or trying new experiences.
Ok, that’s all for now. Remember, one foot in front of the other. Keep going.