How to Set & Achieve Short-Term Financial Goals This Year
If you are looking at a pile of debt or a hugely expensive item that you’d like to save for but your bills are high, you may feel discouraged by how long it could take you to reach such a large goal.
Don’t give up! One of the best ways to achieve those long-term goals is to break them down into short-term goals — the kind of goals you can accomplish with a little planning and determination in a year or less.
Here’s how you make it happen.
Decide What You Want
There are any number of short-term goals you can easily accomplish in a single year, and that process starts with knowing exactly what you want.
Here are just a few good goals to set this year:
- Pay off your smallest debt.
- Save up for a day of fun with the family.
- Save up for a down payment on a new car or to buy a used car in cash.
- Save up enough to start a 529 account or an IRA.
- Create a budget that represents what your money is doing each month and stick to it.
- Cut out expenses that are wasting your money.
Even if your long-term goal is to pay off tens of thousands of dollars in debt, save up to travel the world, or save enough to retire on time or pay for your kid’s college in full, you can get closer to these big goals by setting smaller ones that are achievable.
The benefit? You prove to yourself that you can do it, and it makes those larger goals that much easier to achieve.
Get Focused on Your Short-Term Financial Goals
Yes, it would be great to be able to pay off your debt, save for your kid’s college account, and pull together enough money to cash flow a new car or vacation. Unfortunately, when our attention is split, we make very little progress on any front, get frustrated, and quit.
When you are laser-focused on one goal, it means that every single extra dollar you have goes toward that one goal. You make progress more quickly, and fast progress is motivating. It helps you to stick to the positive changes, like committing to a budget, that will help you to accomplish the next small goal and so on.
You can get laser-focused by following these steps:
- Choose one goal only. Even if this is just the first step in a multi-phase plan, pick one goal and go for it.
- Take the time to research everything you can about how to achieve only that goal. For example, don’t get distracted by other financial ventures when your goal is to pay off debt.
- Keep a big graphic poster or spreadsheet accessible that tracks your progress toward your goal. When you can color in your goal a little more each day or watch the numbers change, it will help you keep going.
- Share your goals with others. If your friends and family know that you have a specific goal in mind, they can encourage you and help you to stay on track.
Know Your Budget
When you have a solid handle on how much money you are making each month and exactly where it’s all going rather than broad generalizations, you can begin to make the little changes that add up to a huge difference.
This starts with creating a budget if you don’t have one. In itself, this can take about a month or two to dial in, so it’s current and accurate.
You will need to update your budget daily or every time you spend even a dollar on anything. The more specific you can be about how much you are spending on things like clothes, food, and utilities, the better able you will be to:
- Identify subscriptions that you’re paying for but don’t want, need, or use.
- Notice when you are double charged for something or overcharged.
- Notice when your utilities use is higher than usual and costs you more than it should.
- Recognize the areas where you can bring in your spending, especially in the realm of entertainment, food, and clothes.
Have a Plan
When you know your budget, you can control your budget, and controlling your budget means a plan that addresses overspending and underearning.
Each person’s situation will be different, but your plan may include these things:
- Ask for a raise or promotion. If you have been at your job for a while and are on good terms with your boss, cite inflation, your past service and solid support. It makes sense to ask for a raise or for a position that pays more. The worst they can say is “no.”
- Make a commitment to eat in rather than eat out or get takeout. Even just a few lunches a month at a restaurant, a few times out a month with friends having drinks, or a few coffees purchased on the go on the way to work can add up to a few hundred dollars. That money can be better spent on reaching your goal.
Instead, set up your coffee maker to brew the night before, batch cook meals so you always have a lunch or dinner ready to go, and carry snacks with you so you’re never caught off guard without something to eat.
- Take on a side job. Making a little money on the side in a way that is easily available to you, like babysitting, dog walking, delivering food, or driving for a ride share company, can help you move toward your little goals faster.
- Take a temporary break from monthly expenses you can pause. Many subscriptions will allow you to pause the subscription for a few months rather than cancel and take a break from the monthly fees. Do this for any gym memberships (get outside for a workout instead), digital streaming or download services, and grocery or meal prep delivery services that allow for it.
Track Your Progress Toward Your Financial Goals
Just like you track your budget every month with every purchase and every new source of income, you should also track your progress toward your goal.
The difference is that you might want to track it in a way you will be able to see frequently. For example, you might make a big poster that shows a graph of where you want to be and where you are now that will let you fill in the blocks or pie pieces as you get closer to your goal.
Even if you’re only making a little bit of progress each week, it feels good to see yourself getting closer to where you want to be.
Stick to It
Even short-term goals can take a few months to up to a year to accomplish, and those days may start to drag if you aren’t motivating yourself properly. With a little bit of intentionality, it’s easy to stay strong and stick to your budget.
Giving yourself some incentives to shoot for as you make progress toward your goal can help. For example, if you are paying down a $500 debt, every time that number drops by $100, give yourself some time off from the second job, treat yourself to a coffee out, or do something that celebrates you.
As long as the celebration doesn’t throw you off track or is so big that it makes it impossible for you to reach the next micro-step in your goal, it’s a great way to give yourself something to look forward to, especially if the overall process feels tough.
Another way to encourage yourself is to undertake the project with a friend. When you’re struggling on your own, it can get lonely, especially if part of your process is to cut out going out on the town with your friends. Inviting someone to commit to their own financial goal along with you and encouraging each other along the way can help you to stick to your plan longer.
No Amount of Financial Help Is Too Small
As you are working toward cutting dollars out of your budget and adding dollars into the bank, every little bit helps.
If your mom asks what you want for your birthday, respectfully request a check and let her know why. If you have the opportunity to get cash back on your purchases like you can with the Current's debit card, go for it. If your goal is to save up for a purchase, put that money to work for you in a savings account, like the Savings Pods offered by Current.
Every little bit helps you get closer to your short-term and long-term financial goals.
Smart Short Term Financial Goals to Set for Yourself. (March 2021). SoFi.
The Psychology of Money: Saving and Spending Habits. (June 2021). Current.
10 Tips to Stay Focused on Your Financial Goals. (April 2021). Entrepreneur.
How To Make a Personal Budget in 6 Easy Steps. (January 2022). The Balance.
How To Budget In 7 Simple Steps. (March 2020). Forbes.
5 Steps for Tracking Your Monthly Expenses. (December 2020). NerdWallet.
How to Stick to Your Budget. (August 2021). Ramsey Solutions.
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