How To: Set and Keep Personal Financial Goals

Regardless of what life stage you are in, you are likely to have some short and long term personal financial goals. Setting tangible and realistic goals, following them, and tracking your progress is the key to success in achieving all of your financial goals.

If you are married, it is absolutely essential that you and your spouse both share the same financial goals. Otherwise, achieving your personal financial goals is almost impossible. Develop your financial plans together, and review your progress together to make sure both of you are contributing to the same goals.

Determining what your short-term, mid-term, and long-term personal financial goals are is the first step. Some common financial goals are a dream vacation, a new home, college savings, retirement savings, and an emergency fund. Once you and your spouse have agreed on your goals, the next step is to determine a good estimate for how much money you’ll need for each of them. Figuring out an accurate amount involves discussion about the financial goals—for example, if you are saving for college for your children, what percentage do you want to pay? Also, do you want to pay for a state school or a private school? Retirement savings needs depend greatly on the lifestyle you plan to lead once you are retired, as well as when you plan to retire.

Prioritize each of your personal financial goals in order of importance, and then determine how long you have to save for each of them. Retirement could be many years away, but your short-term goals could be in a year or two. Next, estimate how much interest or capital gains you’ll expect to see in the accounts where you are saving your money. While capital gains are never guaranteed, you can use an estimated average for these purposes.

Finally, figure out how much you’ll need to save per month to achieve your financial goals. Don’t be discouraged if the dollar amount is overwhelming. The important thing is to have a set of tangible financial goals to work toward. On a monthly or quarterly basis, you and your spouse should review your progress, and continue to refine your plan. If you aren’t meeting your goals, revisit your financial budget to see if there are any areas where you can cut expenses in order to free up money for savings. In addition, use this plan to allocate any windfall amounts you may receive–from bonuses, inheritances, tax refunds, etc. To help simplify the financial goal setting process, try using this Goal Worksheet.

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