Personal finances can push anyone to the point of extreme anxiety and worry. Easier said than done, planning finances is not an egg meant for everyone’s basket. That’s why most of us are often living pay check to pay check. But did anyone tell you that it is actually not a tough task to meet your financial goals?
In this article, we will explore ways to set financial goals and actually meet them with ease.
Table of Contents
4 Steps to Setting Financial Goals
Though setting financial goals might seem to be a daunting task, if one has the will and clarity of thought, it is rather easy. Try using these steps to get you started.
1. Be Clear About the Objectives
Any goal without a clear objective is nothing more than a pipe dream, and this couldn’t be more true for financial matters.
It is often said that savings is nothing but deferred consumption. Therefore, if you are saving today, then you should be crystal clear about what it’s for. It could be anything, including your child’s education, retirement, marriage, that dream vacation, fancy car, etc.
Once the objective is clear, put a monetary value to that objective and the time frame. The important point at this step of goal setting is to list all the objectives that you foresee in the future and put a value to each.
2. Keep Goals Realistic
It’s good to be an optimistic person but being a Pollyanna is not desirable. Similarly, while it might be a good thing to keep your financial goals a bit aggressive, going beyond what you can realistically achieve will definitely hurt your chances of making meaningful progress.
It’s important that you keep your goals realistic, as it will help you stay the course and keep you motivated throughout the journey.
3. Account for Inflation
Ronald Reagan once said: “Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hitman.” This quote sums up what inflation could do your financial goals.
Therefore, account for inflation whenever you are putting a monetary value to a financial objective that is far into the future.
For example, if one of your financial goal is your son’s college education, which is 15 years from now, then inflation would increase the monetary burden by more than 50% if inflation is a mere 3%. Always account for this to avoid falling short of your goals.
4. Short Term Vs Long Term
As a rule of thumb, any financial goal that is due in next 3 years should be termed as a short-term goal. Any longer duration goals are to be classified as long-term goals. This bifurcation of goals into short-term vs long-term will help in choosing the right investment instrument to achieve them.
By now, you should be ready with your list of financial goals. Now, it’s time to go all out and achieve them.
How to Achieve Your Financial Goals
Whenever we talk about chasing any financial goal, it is usually a two-step process:
- Ensuring healthy savings
- Making smart investments
You will need to save enough and invest those savings wisely so that they grow over a period of time to help you achieve goals.
Ensuring Healthy Savings
Self-realization is the best form of realization, and unless you decide what your current financial position is, you aren’t heading anywhere.
This is the focal point from where you start your journey of achieving financial goals.
1. Track Expenses
The first and the foremost thing to be done is to track your spending. Use any of the expense tracking mobile apps to record your expenses. Once you start doing it diligently, you will be surprised by how small expenses add up to a sizable amount.
Also categorize those expenses into different buckets so that you know which bucket is eating most of your pay check. This record keeping will pave the way for cutting down on un-wanted expenses and pumping up your savings rate.
If you’re not sure where to start when tracking expenses, this article may be able to help.
2. Pay Yourself First
Generally, savings come after all the expenses have been taken care of. This is a classic mistake when setting financial goals. We pay ourselves last!
Ideally, this should be planned upside down. We should be paying ourselves first and then to the world, i.e. we should be taking out the planned saving amount first and manage all the expenses from the rest.
The best way to actually implement this is to put the savings on automatic mode, i.e. money flowing automatically into different financial instruments (mutual funds, retirement accounts, etc) every month.
Taking the automatic route will help release some control and compel us to manage what’s left, increasing the savings rate.
3. Make a Plan and Vow to Stick With It
Learning to create a budget is the best way to get around the uncertainty that financial plans always pose. Decide in advance how spending has to be organized
Nowadays, several money management apps can help you do this automatically.
At first, you may not be able to stick to your plans completely, but don’t let that become a reason why you stop budgeting entirely.
Make use of technology solutions you like. Explore options and alternatives that let you make use of the available wallet options, and choose the one that suits you the most. In time, you will get accustomed to making use of these solutions.
You will find that they make it simpler for you to follow your plan, which would have been difficult otherwise.
4. Make Savings a Habit and Not a Goal
In the book Nudge, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein advocate that, in order to achieve any goal, it should be broken down into habits since habits are more intuitive for people to adapt to.
Make savings a habit rather than a goal. While it might seem to be counterintuitive to many, there are some deft ways of doing it. For example:
- Always eat out (if at all) during weekdays rather than weekends. Weekends are more expensive.
- If you are a travel buff, try to travel during off-season. You’ll spend significantly less.
- If you go shopping, always look out for coupons and see where can you get the best deal.
The key point is to imbibe the action that results in savings rather than on the savings itself, which is the outcome. Focusing on the outcome will bring out the feeling of sacrifice, which will be harder to sustain over a period of time.
5. Talk About It
Sticking to the saving schedule (to achieve financial goals) is not an easy journey. There will be many distractions from those who are not aligned with your mission.
Therefore, in order to stay the course, surround yourself with people who are also on the same bandwagon. Daily discussions with them will keep you motivated to move forward.
6. Maintain a Journal
For some people, writing helps a great deal in making sure that they achieve what they plan.
If you are one of them, maintain a proper journal, where you write down your goals and also jot down the extent to which you managed to meet them. This will help you in reviewing how far you have come and which goals you have met.
When you have a written commitment on paper, you are going to feel more energized to follow the plan and stick to it. Moreover, it is going to be a lot easier for you to track your progress.
Making Smart Investments
Savings by themselves don’t take anyone too far. However, savings, when invested wisely, can do wonders.
1. Consult a Financial Advisor
Investment doesn’t come naturally to most of us, so it’s wise to consult a financial advisor.
Talk to him/her about your financial goals and savings, and then seek advice for the best investment instruments to achieve your goals.
2. Choose Your Investment Instrument Wisely
Though your financial advisor will suggest the best investment instruments, it doesn’t hurt to know a bit about the common ones, like a savings account, Roth IRA, and others.
Just like “no one is born a criminal,” no investment instrument is bad or good. It is the application of that instrument that makes all the difference.
As a general rule, for all your short-term financial goals, choose an investment instrument that has debt nature, for example fixed deposits, debt mutual funds, etc. The reason for going for debt instruments is that chances of capital loss is less compared to equity instruments.
3. Compounding Is the Eighth Wonder
Einstein once remarked about compounding:
“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… He who doesn’t… Pays it.”
Make friends with this wonder kid. The sooner you become friends with it, the quicker you will reach closer to your financial goals.
Start saving early so that time is on your side to help you bear the fruits of compounding.
4. Measure, Measure, Measure
All of us do good when it comes to earning more per month but fail miserably when it comes to measuring the investments and taking stock of how our investments are doing.
If we don’t measure progress at the right times, we are shooting in the dark. We won’t know if our saving rate is appropriate or not, whether the financial advisor is doing a decent job, or whether we are moving closer to our target.
Measure everything. If you can’t measure it all yourself, ask your financial advisor to do it for you. But do it!
The Bottom Line
Managing your extra money to achieve your short and long-term financial goals
and live a debt-free life is doable for anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort. Use the tips above to get you started on your path to setting financial goals.
More Tips on Financial Goals
Whether you’re five or ninety five, the internet has a lot to offer. Particularly when the topic is education, the resources on the internet are endless.
Best of all, many high quality sites are completely free. From history to coding, excellent free online education awaits on the following 25 sites.
Coursera is a website that partners with universities and organizations around the world. This brings a wide variety of topics and perspectives to one searchable database.
Coursera is a powerful tool for free online education, and includes courses from many top universities, museums and trusts. This gives the site an extremely wide range of in-depth courses.
Coursera is extremely useful if you’re looking to study many different topics, or want courses from different schools and groups.
2. Khan Academy
Partnering with many post secondary schools, Khan Academy offers a useable, well organized interface. Also curating many courses from around the web, Khan Academy offers impressive depth on many different subjects.
Among the more well known educational sites, Khan Academy is also incredibly useable, which may make it easier to keep learning goals.
If you are struggling to find exactly the material you are looking for, try Open Culture’s listing of free online education courses. The page highlights 1000 lectures, videos and podcasts from universities around the world. The site features a lot of material found only on universities private sites, all in easy to browse categories. This means you can find hundreds of university courses, without having to visit and search each university’s own site.
Open Culture’s list features courses from England, Australia, Wales and many state universities around the United States. A very helpful resource for finding many courses in one area of study.
Udemy’s free courses are similar in concept to Coursera’s but additionally allows users to build custom courses from lessons.
Working with many top professors and schools, the site mixes the customizable platform of other sites with a heavy emphasis on top quality content. This is another site however, that mixes free and paid content.
Lifehack believes in skills that multiply your time, energy and overall quality of life.
In this rapid changing world, traditional education skills just don’t cut it anymore. You can’t afford to take years learning a skill you’ll never really practice. Besides offering some paid courses that will help you become a better self, it offers a list of free courses which aim to train some of the Core Life Multipliers including:
- how to learn faster – Spark Your Learning Genius
- how to stay motivated – Activate Your Motivation
- how to stop procrastinating to sharpen your focus – No More Procrastination
These are cross functional skills that work across many aspects of life.
Another site with courses from many different schools is Academic Earth. Much like the three sites above, Academic Earth brings together top notch courses from many different sources, and focuses on offering a wide variety of subjects.
Academic Earth lists courses by subject and school, so it might be easier to find what you’re looking for.
Another great option for free online education is edX. Also bringing together courses from many different schools, the site has impressive, quality information for everyone. edX covers a great range of topics.
Unlike the previous sites on this lists, Alison is a free education site offering certification in some areas. Alison offers courses mainly in business, technology, and health, but also includes language learning courses.
It’s a great option if users need certification for their learning as Alison also offers school curriculum courses.
A very convenient place for free online education is iTunesU, because it integrates seamlessly with your iPod, or any app-ready Apple mobile device. On iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, users download the iTunesU app.
Desktop users can access iTunesU on the upper right hand corner of the iTunes Store. iTunesU is also convenient because the store is categorized much like iTunes.
Users can search learning materials in many different ways, including genre and topic. However, courses are often a mix of free podcasts or videos, and paid content.
ITunesU does include courses on a pretty wide scope of topics, but does not integrate with Android, Google or Windows mobile devices.
10. Stanford Online
Your hub for all the online offerings from Stanford University, Stanford Online offers self-paced and session based courses. While Coursera features some courses from Stanford, many classes are only available via other hosts. Some courses require iTunes, but most are completed in your web browser.
Stanford Online is a great site for high quality courses, though the topics are somewhat limited compared to sites partnered with more than one school.
Like Stanford Online, Harvard Extension features free online education courses from Harvard only. This is another excellent source for top notch course material, though the course variety is less rich than multi-school sites.
Additionally, Harvard Extension allows you to search for courses by professional certificate. This makes it much easier if your online education goal includes certification.
Open Yale Courses echoes Harvard Extension and Stanford Online, in that it offers only courses from Yale. While the site is similarly limited to topics taught at the school, Open Yale Courses offers a lot of videos of actual campus lectures. The availability of videos makes the site a great option if you’re looking for quality courses, but learn better by watching than by reading.
Much like the other schools on this list, UC Berkeley has a variety of free online education options. The school has slightly fewer courses than the schools above, but includes some supplementary lectures, webcasts and RSS Feeds, making it easy to keep up with the topics you choose.
Similarly, MIT offers a variety of free courses. The school has a comparable number of courses to the schools above, plus includes very in-depth course materials on the subjects available. MIT also offers free RSS feeds, a convenient way to continue learning.
Carnegie Mellon’s free online education site is comparable with the other school’s on this list, however, Open Learning Initiative also covers a smaller range of topics. But for the topics that are covered impressive, in-depth material is available.
Codecademy is a website dedicated specifically to teaching coding. Where other coding sites follow an example/practice session workflow, Codecademy includes a live practice window. This means you can practice coding while still viewing the lesson material.
The courses at Codecademy are well written and easy to follow and the website is organized very nicely. Codecademy features a centralized dashboard where you can monitor your progress, plus organizes lessons into complete modules. This lets you learn an entire language without needing to pick the next course manually.
Code is another website focused on coding and app writing. A site with high quality courses, Code also features learning options for kids.
Most of the courses are also geared in a such a way that they can be useful in a classroom setting. This makes Code a great resource for harder to find coding topics, as well as various learning settings.
The podcast page on the University of London website is another great source for free education. While the courses are limited to podcasts, the site features podcasts from it’s own campus, as well as eleven universities in and around London. This gives learners a wide base of topics and lectures, but still ensures in-depth material.
Similar to the University of London, the University of Oxford features many different podcasts. Most are public lecture series or lectures from visiting professors, with several different recordings available.
The advantage to this particular site is that podcasts are organized into series, making it easy to subscribe to multiple lectures on one topic. Another good site for thoroughly in-depth lectures.
20. BBC Podcasts
For the more casual learner, the BBC offers a wide variety of podcasts on many different topics. Most podcasts are updated weekly, and focus on everything from finance, to sports, to current events.
Through the World Service line of podcasts, there are also many in different languages. The focus of these podcasts are less in-depth and theory based, which may be more accessible to the average person.
Another great destination for more general learning is TED-Ed. From the same people that brought you the all encompassing, motivational web series, comes a site chocked full of educational videos. Most include impressive animation, and all are ten minutes long or less.
Not only is TED-Ed an excellent site for the curious, it also includes supplemental materials and quizzes on the videos. This makes the site extremely useful in formal education settings, as well as in entertaining ways to brush up on new discoveries and topics.
LessonPaths is another great tool for those looking for a more usable and convenient way to access learning material. On this site, users create link playlists of their favorite learning materials from other sites. Users then rank these collections, making it easy to find many different high quality, accessible sources on a given topic.
Another impressive free online education site offering ease of use and convenience is Memrise. Available both on desktop and as an app, Memrise is a particularly powerful tool if you are studying a language. The site encompasses many other topics as well, though some of the course material is user generated content.
Part of what makes Memrise special is their integration of games into the learning materials, mixing learning with entertainment.
The kids site for National Geographic is another site that makes free online education applicable for younger users. For those looking for kid friendly education, a large variety of games, puzzles, videos and photos keeps kids interested on this site.
National Geographic Kids doesn’t organize learning into courses, making materials available by topic and medium instead. This makes National Geographic Kids a good option for those looking for a more casual learning environment.
25. Fun Brain
Fun Brain is another good option for kids who want to learn online, but focuses on games and fun puzzles. Particularly focused on math and reading, Fun Brain’s game based approach can be valuable if the child in question struggles to pay attention.
Fun Brain offers rewards and challenges as well, and is another site aimed at a casual learning experience for kids K-8.