How to Stick to Financial Goals
I get it. For most people (yours truly possibly not included :)), saving money just isn’t as fun as spending money. Sticking to financial goals is hard. For most people, budgets aren’t sexy. Because a lot of times, being disciplined in order to save and invest the amount of money that you should in order to reach your financial goals is just plain hard work, and for most of us, by the time we save and invest all the money that we should, there really isn’t much left over to spend on the infinite number of things we want to do with our money instead.
All I can tell you is that seeking financial security and building wealth so that you can live a life of comfort or give generously (or ideally, both :)), though hard, are worth it. And here are 11 steps that will help you to be able to continue working toward your financial goals, even when life gets hard (or even knocks you down) or when you’ve run out of steam.
1. Remember your why.
This first step is so important. Without a huge why, there’s a good chance you’ll quit before you reach your financial goals. There’s a reason that most people (yes, unfortunately, most people—most adults in the U.S., at least) are overweight and in debt. And it’s because eating ice cream is easier than working out, and spending money is easier than having the discipline to save it and learning how to properly invest it. But a strong why can change all of that.
Having fear be your motivating factor is not the best why, but sometimes it is an effective one. Before we started learning about personal finance my husband and I had made some financial decisions that weren’t the best, and we had over $60,000 in debt (this was before we bought our first home). And when I finally kind of realized the magnitude of that financial burden, there were definitely nights when I was so worried and scared that I couldn’t sleep. There were days in a row when the knot in my stomach never seemed to completely let up. Because at the time I didn’t know if it really was possible to get unburied from so much debt.
So admittedly, part of my why—and one of my now core values—is a super strong drive for financial security. Even though I enjoy spending money on meaningful experiences with my family, which is another one of my strong values, when it comes down to it, my need for security trumps even that. (Which doesn’t mean that we don’t do anything fun as a family—don’t worry! It just means I won’t jeopardize our financial security even for amazing experiences with my family.)
Two more why’s that govern how I spend money (or rather, don’t spend it) are more positive ones than the power of fear—they stem from a desire to have a comfortable retirement and a strong drive toward independence and self-sufficiency. I’m the oldest of 10 children, and I have a strong need to be responsible and to be able to care for myself.
And I also want to be able to be generous with both my time and my resources in the future. And that means I have to acquire some resources to be generous with. 🙂
So those are a few of my why’s that drive my financial decisions and behaviors. Yours may be very different, and that’s OK. The important thing is that you take the time to figure out your why (why is it worth it to save money? why is it worth it to invest? why is it worth it to have an emergency fund? why is it worth it to get out of debt? why is it worth it to spend less than you earn? why is it worth it to save for retirement? why is it worth it to save to help pay for your kids’ college?) and your financial values, and then set goals and plans that align with your why and those financial values.
2. Don’t worry about trying to be perfect.
Especially when you’re just starting to learn to manage your money well, don’t try to be perfect! Realize that you’re going to mess up and you’re going to fall short of your goals sometimes. Sometimes you might blow your grocery budget or your entertainment budget. You might way overspend on clothes one month. You might spend money you had intended to save or invest on other things (but automating your finances will really help you to stick to your financial goals—so I would recommend you start to automate your finances today!).
As you start to make progress toward your financial goals, your motivation will increase, and you will do better over time. Remember to shoot for progress, not perfection.
3. Set goals that motivate you to stick to your financial goals.
Once you understand what’s really important to you (is it owning a home? being debt free? owning a more reliable car? having $1 million in retirement funds?), then you can set financial goals that will allow you to achieve them. But make sure they are goals that are your own—goals that move you toward accomplishing things that you really care about. (Unless they are goals that move you toward things that you know you should care about, such as getting out of debt or saving for retirement, and that’s OK for now too—the true caring about those things can come with time.)
One effective way to figure out what goals you should set is to look into the future at what you want to accomplish a certain number of months or years down the road, and then work backward from there. So if you know that you really want to be out of debt (including your mortgage) in 8 years, then you can work backward to figure out how much extra money you would have to pay toward your debt each month to make that happen.
If you are setting goals that align with your dreams and your values and that are realistically attainable, then you’ll have the motivation you need to follow through to the end.
4. Reward yourself when you reach your financial milestones and goals.
For many people, identifying a reward for accomplishing large goals can be another great motivator. For example, ironically, people often say they’ll treat themselves to a fancy dinner at XYZ Restaurant when they lose the 35 pounds that they need to. A comparable financial reward might be to buy yourself a new outfit when you pay off your credit card debt. But as long as you plan for the reward in your monthly budget, then that can be a great and guilt-free way to help you reach your objectives.
If you have a particularly big goal, like paying off your car or even your mortgage, then you could have mini rewards that help you stay motivated to accomplish that bigger goal. So you might go out for ice cream or shakes or burgers as a family for every $1,000 or $5,000 or whatever that you pay off.
5. Make it fun.
There’s a reason that gamification is an effective way to help people learn and accomplish things, and that’s because many people are young at heart and appreciate the extra motivation that fun offers. Sometimes goals feel less daunting and therefore easier to accomplish when we feel that we don’t have to take them so seriously or when we can have some fun as we work toward them. The idea of making your financial goals fun can relate to the rewards that come with reaching large financial goals, but another aspect of making it fun is simply how you go about reaching your goals. This might mean creating a thermometer that you color in or construction paper loops that you tear off to visually see your progress on your financial goals. It might mean creating a friendly competition with friends or family members, or posting on social media when you reach each milestone on your way to meeting your financial goals.
6. Determine if you need to loosen your budget or adjust your expectations to be more realistic.
After you have worked toward your financial goals for a while (perhaps three to six months, but you can also reevaluate after a year, two years, and so on), determine if they are still realistic. You may need to loosen up your budget a little (especially if you have a hesitant or reluctant spouse) or adjust your timeline to be more realistic or to make your goal more attainable. If you have a reluctant spouse, see where you can compromise to create more of a win-win situation so that he or she will want to work together to reach your financial goals.
7. Let go of the things that aren’t working.
If after a few months or several months of trying something doesn’t help you reach your financial goal or goals, then you may need to just let it go or to scale back. For example, maybe one of the things you decided to do to be able to buy your next car with cash instead of borrowing money to buy it was to brown-bag your lunch every day. But maybe you really do miss going out to lunch with your coworkers or going out to dinner with your friends. Here you might make an adjustment to the budget so you can go out to lunch with your coworkers or dinner with your friends once or twice a week or once a month or something like that.
Or maybe you decided to take on an extra job to help you get out of credit card debt faster, but you discover that you just hate the time that it takes away from your family. In this case, you might decide that making cuts to your monthly budget might be the better option, or you might be able to do a side hustle (such as blogging :)) from home.
The possibilities for earning, saving, and investing money are virtually endless, so if something really is making your life miserable or it just isn’t working for some reason, stop doing it (at least for a time) and try something else instead. That being said, remember that most things that are worth accomplishing take sacrificing something you want for something you want even more and that being willing to work hard (as a character trait and not just occasionally) is one of the top indicators of long-term success.
8. Focus on something else for a while.
If working to reach one of your financial goals is causing you extreme stress or is making you sad or depressed, put it on autopilot, if you can, and just forget about it for a while. It’s easy to set up bill pay, automatic transfers, and so on so that you don’t have to physically do most of your banking transactions on a regular basis anymore. And most banks and credit unions offer these services for free. For example, through Capital One 360, we are able to send paper checks, do person-to-person or company bill pay, and set up automatic, recurring transfers between accounts or even banks all for free. We’ve been banking with them for 14 years (we joined when it was ING Direct), and their customer service, interest rate, and range of services really are great, even after being acquired by Capital One.
By taking your mind off your financial goals a little bit (not completely—you don’t want to completely forget that you’re working toward them) you can focus your energy on something else for a time, and this can help you to come back to your financial goals with increased vigor and focus at a point in the future.
Read this article to learn ways to simplify your finances and reach your financial goals by automating your finances as much as possible.
9. Look back on your financial progress and the things you’ve accomplished.
One of the best ways to stay motivated when you’re working on a challenging goal is to look back at where you started to see how far you’ve come. It’s like when you’re going on a challenging hike, and you’ve been hiking for a few hours, maybe feeling like you haven’t made much progress. And then you get to a clear area where you can see down below to where you started, and you realize just how much progress you’ve really made.
The same thing can happen with your finances. One thing that I like to do occasionally is to look at our net worth and debt from a few years ago and compare it to our current net worth and debt (which is zero!). Because doing that makes the progress feel real. When you’re in the trenches every day just working hard and trying your best to make good financial decisions, it can be pretty tough. It can feel like you’re not really getting anywhere. But when you evaluate where you are now and compare it to where you were a few months or years ago, the difference can be stark. And that’s an amazing feeling!
My favorite way to track or simply see at a glance our financial progress over the last few years is with an awesome app called Personal Capital. With the app you can monitor your progress and see your investments grow over time (and also see your savings accounts and checking account balance grow as well). This personal finance app lets you see not only your balances in all of your various checking and savings accounts and for your credit cards and things like that, but it also links to your investment accounts, including your company 401(k) plans or other retirement accounts, so that you can see your complete financial picture and know your net worth at any time. It’s awesome! You can sign up for a free account here!
10. Share your financial successes to help you stick to your financial goals.
I know that the topic of money and personal finance is fairly taboo, at least in the United States where I’m from, and I think that is unfortunate. I think that if people were more open about their financial struggles, and even their financial successes, we might not make so many of the dumb financial choices that we do. For example, if you knew from talking to your next-door neighbor that they were deeply in debt with close to $100,000 in student loans, you might not feel so bad when you don’t follow their example and go out and buy a brand-new convertible or SUV.
Perhaps you and I can help to reverse the trend of financial secrecy just a little bit by trying to be transparent—and that includes sharing our financial successes (as well as our failure and what we learned from them). You can do this without coming across as prideful or a braggart. And maybe by mentioning some of the things you’ve been able to accomplish, you’ll be able to help others in your life to make some of the same changes so they can have some of the same success.
For a safe place to share your financial successes and struggles, request to join the new, closed Families for Financial Freedom Facebook group.
11. Get support.
It can be a lot easier to stick to your financial goals if you don’t feel like you’re alone. Even if you’re not ready to tell the world about the financial journey you’re on, there are many like-minded people out there who can strengthen and support each other in their financial goals. One safe and encouraging place where you can share both your financial goals and your challenges and receive support for your financial goals and dreams is, like I mentioned just above, the new Families for Financial Freedom Facebook group. We would love to cheer you on and help support you in any struggles you might be having—and celebrate your successes, big or small! Join the closed Facebook group today!
For more inspiration, read this article about how to reach large financial goals.
I know that it’s hard to stick to long-term goals. We get tired and burned out. We get distracted by other important and pressing things. Sometimes life throws us curveballs. There’s a ton of peer pressure to not do basically everything I’m going to recommend that you do (plead with you to do) on this blog—build up an emergency fund, save for large purchases, get out of and avoid debt, invest for the future and especially for retirement, and more.
For most people, doing those things is just plain hard work. And we don’t always have people cheering us on to accomplish these oh-so-worthwhile goals. In fact, sometimes we have people actively discouraging us from working toward and reaching these goals. But I’m here to help you, to cheer you on, to lend an ear when you want to cry or to scream or to just give up. And so is the Families for Financial Freedom Facebook community. Together, we can reach our goals and we really can make the world a brighter place (and a more financially stable one).
What have you done to stick to and achieve your financial goals? Or which of these steps do you think would be the most helpful for you to stick to and reach your financial goals? Leave a comment below and let me know. I would love to hear your thoughts!
Invitation to Share
Was there something in this article that inspired you to change something about your money? Are there ideas or tips that you feel could help others? Would you please take a minute to share this article via email or social media? I would love your help to share these principles of financial well-being. Thank you!
Join our closed Families for Financial Freedom Facebook group to get support and share ideas for how we can all improve our financial well-being by earning more, spending less, saving more, and investing more and reach our financial goals. You can do this! And we are here to help.