• Jeran Van Alfen, CFP®

Five Steps to Reach Your Financial Goals

Welcome to the new year! As last year closed out, and I was reminded that we are starting a new decade, I couldn’t help but reflect a little on the last ten years. It was a nice reminder for me of how life changes so much in such a short time. I also took some time to read through some old journal notes and lists of goals. It was a reminder for me that we really are capable of changing, evolving, and achieving the goals that we set out to accomplish.

Whether you are into resolutions or not, the first of the year is a great time to review your financial plan and adjust or make updates. The new year gives you a starting point to measure and track your progress. Here are 5 steps to get organized and make sure you are working toward your goals in 2020.

Step 1: Get rid of your critical or negative voice

Do your best to turn it off for this process. So much of our approach to our finances is learned from our environment. You may handle your money a certain way because of your parent’s attitudes while growing up or an early experience with money. It is important to understand how you have developed your mindset toward your finances, but it is even more important to let go of the past. Your goals should be measured from today looking forward. Don’t let your critical voice prevent you from getting started. You can learn whatever you need to learn to master your money and accomplish your goals.

Step 2: Get clear on what you want

When I played sports in college, I was taught a visualization technique that I have always remembered. The night before the game, I would take my playbook and look at each play. I would close my eyes and visualize myself in the game running the play. I loved doing this! So many times, I would find myself in the game playing efficiently out of muscle memory because I had visualized the event before. I apply the same technique to most things in life. With your money, you can’t really accomplish anything if you don’t know what you want and why it matters to you. The first step is to take the time to get some clarity. This needs to be your process. It may be a reflection on your past finances or a conversation with your spouse about the future. For some it may be a quiet meditation and for others it is just some time alone at your desk or a coffee shop. Whatever your process, this is your time to visualize what you want with your money.

Step 3: Write it down

If you have a vision for what you want to accomplish, you have to keep this in front of you. So much of our life is consumed in tasks that it is essential to create a reminder of the big picture. Many people use vision boards. I like to just brainstorm and write. I was once told that for a goal to be accomplished it must meet these 3 criteria:

  • It needs to be achievable

  • It needs to be measurable

  • It needs to be written down

Step 4: Break it down

Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together” -Vincent Van Gogh

Large goals must be broken down into small consistent steps. This is especially important when it comes to financial progress. Start by writing down the annual goal. How does your annual goal break down into monthly dollar amounts? What will you measure on a weekly or monthly basis? Finally, write down the dates that you will measure your progress so that you have some accountability.

Take advantage of automation. The easiest way to accomplish goals is to take away resistance. I use this concept with my workout routine. I have an automated schedule that tells me what exercise to do each day. This way I have reduced decision making to the minimum. I can just measure my work. Financial goals are similar. You can automate cash flow, so that your savings is taken care of before it is spent. I also recommend automating a budgeted amount each month for lifestyle. This way you have reduced your budgeting work to measuring one number.

Step 5: Stop Procrastinating

You got this! It all starts now and you will be so much happier when you see the progress you make. In my mind, lack of willpower is really just not having a plan of action that you can buy into. In order to avoid procrastination, think of not just the items that you need to start doing, but also what you need to stop. What habits are preventing you from reaching your goals? Include these habits when you write your goals. Here is an example:

What to start:

  1. Load credit card balance in my online financial dashboard for tracking

  2. Set up an automatic payment on the 10th of each month

What to stop:

  1. Remove this card from my wallet so I don’t add to the balance

  2. Stop stressing about this situation. I am making progress

Bonus Step: Celebrate your success

Take time to reward yourself for making progress. Make a deal with yourself or someone that you want accountability from and set up a reward. “Treat yo’ self.”

Just remember, if you set up your goals and write a plan, you are way ahead of the curve! According to studies, 2/3 of people have financial goals, but only 1/4 of people have a written financial plan[1]. Write down your plan and celebrate that you are making things happen!

[1] https://aboutschwab.com/images/uploads/inline/Charles_Schwab-Modern_Wealth_Index-findings_deck.pdf

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