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3 Tips for Setting Realistic Financial Goals

One of the trickiest parts about saving money is that achieving the goal can seem so far off. It’s hard to motivate yourself when you think about how long it will take to pay off a large debt, save up for a big vacation or put away enough money for retirement. But when you look at things through a realistic lens, it’s much easier to see those goals turn into a reality. If you’re trying to set a financial goal for the future, use these tips to increase your chances of success.

Review Past Missteps

A key to avoiding those savings hiccups that you’ve experienced in the past is to look back at mistakes you’ve already made. This can require going back from past banking statements, looking at old receipts or simply remembering some financial movies you’re less than proud of.

For example, maybe you didn’t plan well for the holidays last year and ended up spending $800 on gifts instead of the usual $400. That’s something that you could plan for in advance to avoid in the coming year. Another example is a misuse of your tax refund. Maybe you got $1,200 back last year but you can’t even remember what you used it for. Such a large windfall should be put to good use, so this year, you can plan to put that money aside for one of your financial goals before it even arrives. Looking back at your money mistakes is a great way to avoid them in the future and stay on track with your current financial goals.

Incremental Steps

Things like paying off debt and saving for retirement are often framed in terms of years or even decades. While that may be how long it will take to get the job done, it’s hard to get motivated when you think about your financial goals in such broad terms. That’s why you should put your goals in incremental stages to not only add to your motivation, but also to encourage success and maybe even meet your goals more quickly. Here’s an example of how to do it when you have a large debt to pay off:

  1. First, look at the goal from the long-term perspective. Use a debt calculator to see how long it will take to pay off your debt. Imagine that it says that it will take you 10 years of paying $200/month to pay it off.
  2. Next, break that down into monthly goals. Instead of just settling for the $200 figure, why not add your own goal to slowly increase your payments each month? So now, you’ll start at $200, then pay $205 the next month, $210 the month after that, and so on. It’s only $5 (an amount that’s easy to spare), but by the end of one year, you’ll be paying $255 per month.
  3. Recalculate your debt. Go back to the debt calculator to see how much time you’ve saved off your debt repayment by slowing increasing your monthly payment amount.
  4. Continue with your monthly goals. If your budget it starting to get tight, you can make a goal to increase your payment by just $2 each month from then on. You’re still cutting back on the time to repay your debt with each small monthly increase.

Due to the fact that you can watch your repayment timeline shrink, this modest monthly goal makes it much more motivating to make those payments. Plus, you won’t be stuck in debt as long and you’ll even pay money by saving on interest you would have paid with a long repayment period.

Track Your Progress

Visualizing your financial progress beyond just looking at numbers is a great way to set financial goals you can actually achieve. For instance, if you want to purchase a home, you could plot out how much you’ll need for a down payment and closing costs. Put that number on a timeline with a monthly savings goal that will allow you to get there in a timeframe you prefer. You can make charts, graphs and other tools that allow you to watch as your savings progresses. If your savings slow down, it will be visible on the chart, giving you more motivation double-down on your savings efforts. And if you do well with your monthly savings goals, you’ll see the charts climb and get even more excited to save as you goal gets closer and closer.

You don’t have to make your financial goal charts by hand, although that’s certainly an option. Many banks offer a similar feature on their website, or you can download an app like Mint to view your progress online. Choose the tracking method that works best for you and watch as your financial goals get closer on the graphs.

If you’re ready to achieve some financial goals this year, simply take your long-term goals and turn them into achievable monthly feats. The more you accomplish, the more motivated you’ll be to make your financial fantasy into a reality.

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