Step One - Identify your priorities by setting goals
Answering these questions will lay the groundwork for success in your financial future. Making sure your goals are SMART will make your bank accounts happy. Below are a few tips to help set your own financial goals.
What is a SMART goal?
SMART goals are:
Specific: This would mean that the goal is identified. This step is figuring out exactly what you want to accomplish or gain. A good example would be that "I want to go to New York City the first week of July". A non-specific goal would be "I want to take a vacation over the summer".
Measurable: This means that the goal has a dollar value attached to it. You will need to buy a plane ticket and will most likely be staying in a hotel. You will also need to buy food. All of these things will cost certain amounts of money. Doing your research will allow you to have a better picture of what things will costs on your trip. A good rule of thumb is to plan out your stay. It is also a good rule plan for more money than you estimated. You may need to have some emergency funds when on vacation. You never know what could happen.
Attainable: This means that there is a possible plan you can take to achieve a goal. You will save "x" amount of dollars every month until July. The "x" amount is the money you put aside from your job. Putting actual numbers to it will better prepare you to make a few sacrifices along the way to better achieve your goal.
Relevant: Make sure your goal fits with your values. For example, if you value learning, a goal that relates to getting a college degree would make perfect sense! Make sure that your goals are relevant to you.
Timely: Putting time-specific targets to your goals are a great way to stay on track. For example if you have 8 months to save up for your New York City trip you could write down the total you need to have saved up at the end of every 2-month period. This practice can help prevent that panic that comes from trying to save up too much money right before you go on your trip. It is also a good practice to isolate when you will have to pay for the items for your trip. Paying for your plane ticket may come 6 months before you actually leave.
Where do you want to be?
This is a very BIG question. This can mean so many things. The answer could involve the education you want to pursue, the house you want to live in, or that place you need to visit. The point is that this answer is different for every individual. A great way to think about this question is the time-frame that goes along with it. You may want to figure out where you want to go to school a year before you go, but that vacation may need to wait until after you obtain that college degree. This decision is large in scope, and is not a quick answer.
This question is the first step in succeeding when creating your spending plan. Breaking down these goals by short- or long-term will be beneficial in planning for them. CashCourse is a great tool for more information on setting goals.
What do you want to own?
This question can still be a big one. It is easy to say that you want to own this and that. Part of this decision is identifying the things that are within the realm of possibility. When this question is asked the goal is to think about purchases that will put stress on your financial situation. Saving for big items such as electronics or even a vehicle is the best way to obtain these items without leaving you stressed. A good practice is to give yourself enough time to save up to purchase the item.
When making big purchases it is important to shop around. When making big purchases you may find a deal or special that can save you a substantial amount of money. When looking at electronics it is common practice to clear out quite a bit of inventory before the new items are released. This may result in you getting an item at a substantial discount.
The last part of this question is prioritizing what you want to own. If you are deciding between more than one item, it is important to put your needs before your wants. If you need to buy a vehicle to get to and from work or school, you may want to purchase a car before you get a new computer. You may be taking online classes and don't leave your home that often. In that case you may want to buy the new computer first. The point is that you need to assess your situation to see what item is more important to your own situation.
How much do my goals cost?
Once you figure out what you want to purchase or what goals you want to achieve you need to put a price tag on the item or achievement. Doing some research to figure out the total cost is very important in achieving your goal.
If higher education is your dream it is important to figure out the cost of attendance. Financial aid has come up with a great resource to estimate your costs to come to UND. It is important to note that the cost for each program is slightly different. That means that when choosing to go to school it is important to choose a field of study as well.
The reason it is important to identify costs is to break down when the money will be due. This will allow you to better plan for achieving the goal. As talked about before, if your plan is to purchase a high-cost item you will be able to save accordingly, that way your finances won't take a big hit.