Starting fresh: learning to set achievable goals

Someecards Thank you for not laughing at my absurdly unattainable New Year's resolutionsKJ: It’s official, this is our last post of 2013…2014 *ding ding ding* here we come! As is almost always top of mind when heading into a new year, we’re going to talk about those good old New Year’s resolutions. You know, the answers to what are your goals and what do you hope the new year will bring? We all get that feeling of setting high aspirations for the start of the year only to find that a month later we (1) haven’t done anything to get on track, (2) realize the goal wasn’t so attainable, and (3) we may no longer even remember the goals we set. For this post, we hope to help outline some ways to not only set goals, but set BETTER, more attainable goals.

2013 wasn’t much of a different year for us from a goal setting standpoint. We had several goals we were on target for, some we didn’t address at all, and others we wish had been a larger focus. Just like with all aspects of our lives we set goals for where we hoped to take this blog and happily met many of them thanks to our loyal readers. We hope you share our blog with friends of yours that could use financial guidance.

AJ: 2013 was fairly remarkable for me with regards to upholding my New Year’s resolution. I mentioned previously that I gave up shopping and did far better than I think anyone would have guessed was possible. I fell short on some of my other goals, though, which is fueling my 2014 resolution fire fiercely. I love having specific goals, and this time of year always excites me.

AJ & KJ: For the goals we did accomplish, there were some clear distinctions that made them different than the rest:

Set goals that are finite
They didn’t have a day eons into the future or a target with no particular end. I.e. they weren’t simply “increase our net worth” or “read.” Instead, they had specific dollar, date, or resources outlined.

Break the goals into small chunks
While large goals may be harder to accomplish, they can be much more easily accomplished if you set periodic milestones along the way. Using a marker for every couple weeks or every month is often a good way to see that you’re on track. For our goals, we had a simple checklist that I looked over each month to see our progress.

Don’t create goals around something you cannot control
Setting goals for something you have little-to-no control of is futile. Don’t say, we need to increase our net worth by $X and just expect to get there. There could be an economic pullback that thwarts (partially or significantly) your efforts. Instead, set parameters about what you CAN control: your income and your expenses. Set regular monthly goals for each that can help you achieve your net worth goal, but understand there could be outside factors that cause you to achieve that goal quicker (or slower).

Create a mix of goals
Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, so to speak. It’s helpful to have varied goals that span various disciplines: financial, tasks to learn, projects to complete, personal vs. professional, etc. If your goals are all just about getting healthier, and you set goals for working out, eating better, and changing some of those habits, slipping up on one will often cause a domino effect for your other goals, so tackling things one step at a time with less interrelated goals may help you accomplish them all just a little bit better.

Make a list of HOW you can achieve them
Putting pen to paper and creating a list of not just WHAT you need to do, but HOW you can actually achieve it will dramatically improve the chances of success of your goals. For our savings goals, we have targets for retirement, non-retirement, short-term vs. long-term goals, and we break it up into manageable chunks for each month. Not that every month will be exactly at, above, or below target, but the hope is to keep our eye on the prize and know how it is we can actually get to our goals. This process can also shed light on how realistic your goals are too. If you set a goal and then realize you don’t even know HOW to get there, then maybe it’s time to rethink how realistic or possible the goal is.

Set goals for yours, mine, and ours
Much like our post on his, hers, and ours where we discussed merging or separating finances, it’s important to look at setting both individual goals AND joint goals. Think about what you want to accomplish and how you can accomplish it, but also look at setting goals as a couple that you can work on together. Sometimes the joint goals are a little easier to accomplish since you have two people to help keep an eye on the progress to make sure you don’t slip up.

So, what goals have we set?
We each have set goals for:

  • read at least five books throughout the year (for Angela, it is a specific list of professional books since she reads 2+ relatively mindless books a week) – AJ: Mindless seems a little extreme! :),
  • savings goals month-by-month,
  • workout goals – somehow these always creep up in our effort to be more healthy (but the progress over the years ebbs and flows), and
  • create & maintain a garden in our new backyard (this should help with our related workout goal too!)

      What are your New Year’s resolutions?
      What is in store for you next year?
      Do you have tips on setting goals for you and your family?

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    6 thoughts on “Starting fresh: learning to set achievable goals

    1. We are still focused on our debt paydown– I’ve also added a book reading goal and a few others to add to the mix. We’ll be blogging about them in a scheduled post tomorrow.

      • Thanks for sharing! Great to hear that you are working diligently to pay down your debt, and we wish you the best of luck in your progress. Hoping 2014 is a great year for you to make a significant dent in your debt (or payoff entirely, if possible). Please share your progress too as we would enjoy hearing more!

    2. Pingback: New year, new resolutions | The Simple Money Blog

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