Setting and Maintaining Financial Goals

by Nicole Ryan, Student Blogger

goals

We all have ideas for how and what we’d like to spend our money on, but it’s not always easy to budget and maintain your finances. One of the most important things when it comes to finance is setting goals for yourself. When you have clear goals in mind that you are striving to accomplish it is much easier to stay on track with your finances. Through some simple steps, tips, and tools you too can save and manage your money wiser and accomplish your financial goals!

1.    Determine Your Goals

When determining your financial goals, it is important that you prioritize them into three different categories, short-term, mid-term, and long- term, based on importance and how long you have to save.

  • Short-term goals: These are the goals that you feel can be achieved within a relatively short amount of time, such as the purchase of household furniture or appliances, minor home improvements, saving for a car down payment, etc.
  • Mid-term goals: These are goals that you feel you can achieve within the next five years, such as having enough money for a down payment on a home, or beginning to pay off a car loan.
  • Long-term goals: these are the goals that will take you longer than five years to achieve. These goals are typically in hopes to prepare you for the more distant future. They include paying for your child’s college education, buying a new house or car, saving for your retirement, or paying off your debt.

2.    Figure Out Your “Why?”

Why is the particular financial goal your setting important to you? This is actually something I learned in school. In many of my education classes we are often asked to determine our “Why?” Why is what we’re doing important to us? Why are we passionate about education? I think this is a great thing to do in many circumstances, especially when managing your finances. When you understand why a certain financial goal is important to you and your life, and what you are hoping to gain from that financial goal, you are much more likely to stick to it and see the goal through.

3.    Financial Goal Worksheet

One of the best ways to stay on track with your finances in order to obtain your financial goals is by filling out and actively using a Financial Goal Worksheet. A Financial Goal Worksheet helps you identify what you plan to accomplish, the resources you will need to do so, the time needed to accomplish the goal, and how this goal fits into your overall budget and life. This worksheet will give you a visual, tangible representation of your goals that will help manage your budgeting and keep you motivated! Use this Financial Goal Worksheet to help you get started.

4.    Set a Goal Date and Monitor Your Progress

When setting a financial goal, it’s good to know around about when you’d like to achieve said goal. Having a goal date gives you a set time you’re working to as well as a set amount of time to get what you need to accomplish the goal done. As you go along, remember to monitor your progress. You’ll want to know how close to or far from your goal you are and what you need to do to continue on the right path. Monitoring your progress will enable you to stay on track and make the right decisions that will benefit your financial goal you’ve set!

Helpful Tips:

The following are some helpful tips that you should keep in mind when setting and working toward your financial goals.

  • Be realistic: Don’t set goals that would never be possible according to your budget. Also, make sure you have realistic time frames for your goals. Basically, don’t expect to be able to buy a house after only saving for 6 months.
  • Stay Motivated: It’s important to not lose motivation when working toward your financial goals. Life will always throw curve balls at you. It’s near impossible to make a plan and have everything go 100% smoothly. There are going to be bumps along the road, but if you stay passionate and motivated toward your goals you’re going to accomplish them.
  • Don’t overwhelm yourself with goals: If you’re trying to accomplish too many things, you don’t have time to individually focus on any one goal and you’re much more likely to not be able to accomplish them. Make sure when you’re setting financial goals that you only set as many as you can successfully handle.
  • Be flexible: Sometimes life gets in the way and you may not be able to accomplish your financial goal in the amount of time you initially anticipated. Don’t let that get you down. Just remember to keep moving forward and know that even if you can’t accomplish your goals in the amount of time you wanted to, it can absolutely still be done!
  • Visualize and be specific: Don’t be generic on your goals. Have a vision for what you want to accomplish and work for that vision. As Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

Tools and Resources:

A great way of keeping on track with a financial goal is knowing the tools you can use to help you along the way. Here is a list of some helpful resources you can use!

  • a separate savings account: One option is to set up a separate savings account for your specific financial goal. This way you can track how much you’ve saved for that specific goal more accurately.
  • www.mint.com: Mint is a great option if you want to link all of you financial accounts to one single platform. Mint allows you to stay organized, allows for easy budgeting, free credit scores, and investment tracking. According to the website, “See all your balances and transactions together. Mint automatically pulls all your financial information into one place, so you can finally get the entire picture.”
  • www.buxfer.com: Buxfer is another great site to manage your finances. Like Mint, Buxfer allows you to see all of you accounts in one place. You can upload bank statements or files as well as make money transfers to other accounts or family and friends. Their website states, “Buxfer helps you see all your accounts at one place, understand where your money goes, reduce unwanted spending, and save for future goals.”
  • www.levelmoney.com: This is an app that informs you of how much spendable money you have as you make purchases throughout the day. Level money lets you track and manage your spending so you can know what you have left to spend and what you need to save. They say, “Draw a straight line from everyday decisions to larger achievements and accomplish the things that matter.”
  • www.personalcapital.com: Personal Capital is a free software that helps you make better financial decisions. The software helps you invest smarter and manage your finances easier. According to their website, “See all your accounts in one place with our award-winning software. Our free tools let you manage your entire financial life from one secure place – so you can reach your goals faster.”

As a college student, I feel it’s important I set financial goals for myself. For example, each summer when I go home, I work and save my money so that when I return to Boulder in the Fall I’ll be able to pay the majority of my rent for the year. On the long-term side, I have a FDIC Money Market account which I occasionally will add money to. This gives me a savings I can build throughout college and have when I graduate. I know when I graduate I’m going to have loans I’ll have to start repaying, so I’m making sure I save as much money as I can now so when I graduate I’ll be able to start paying them off. I’m well aware that when I leave CU, real life is going to hit and it’s important I’m prepared!

Having financial goals is one of the best things you can do. When you have clear goals and a path you’re following to achieve them, you’re much less likely to make big money mistakes and your overall financial state will be better.  No matter what your budget is, you can always set goals. Just remember to be realistic, flexible, and motivated and you’re sure to succeed!

Good luck!

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Spending Diet: A Guide

by Nicole Ryan, Student Blogger

It’s Friday night and my roommates and I have decided to invite our neighbors over for a movie night. Everyone is just arriving when I get a not so happy phone call from my mom. I step outside to talk to her while she, in her very Italian way, informs me she just received my credit card bill in the mail. Although the card is in my name, my mom and I take turns making payments on it considering I’m on a college budget and the card is only supposed to be used for essentials. However, with the holiday season having been just behind us at the time, it seems as though I had gotten a little carried away with the credit card.

The card which used to have only a balance of $200 on it, now suddenly had a balance of $600, quickly approaching my $800 limit. Sure, I had used the card for grocery shopping and gas, but how could I have charged so much? As I was on the phone with my mom, she began to read through the list of charges to the card; $10 at Starbucks, $30 at Forever 21, $15 at Target, and so on. It finally dawned on me just how out of control my spending had gotten within the past few months. Each time I used my card I would justify it by saying, “Oh I never use this card, it won’t hurt to use it just this once.” Well “just this once” started to happen on a regular basis, and I had no awareness of it until I was hit with that $600 bill. This is when I decided my spending needed a drastic change.

I love the idea of a spending diet because not only does it give you a way to manage your finances, but it also gives you a whole new outlook on what is most important in your life. When you take time to reevaluate your spending, you are ultimately reevaluating your priorities. Spending diets are great to do when things seem to be becoming increasingly out of control. They’ll help you re-focus and get back on a healthy spending track.

Here are 8 easy tips to follow when beginning a spending diet:

1. Make a list of Wants vs. Needs
Find out what your necessary spending needs are. When on your spending diet, try to stick to only your needs list. If you want, you can allocate a small budget for your wants list, as long as this won’t be hurting your progress.

2. Set a timeline
Decide how long you want to participate in the spending diet. Researchers suggest it takes 30 days to break a habit, so if over-spending is yours, try starting with a month! Some people go on spending diets for longer, even up to 2 years!

3. Set a limit & Stick to it
Even when buying the essentials, make sure you have a set limit for how much you want to spend. This limit can be either on a weekly or monthly basis, whichever is most easy for you to track. Remember to stick to whatever limit you set. You aren’t going to do any good if you go over!

4. Should I buy it? / Do I need it?
When thinking of making a purchase, make sure you ask yourself, do I need this?  Do I have anything similar to this? What is this purchase going to add to my life? Make sure the purchase you make is something you actually need and will use. Useless purchases are what get many people into financial trouble.

5. Can I find it cheaper?
Don’t be ashamed to bargain shop! If you’re looking to make a purchase but the price isn’t quite in your budget, investigate around. Another store may have the same thing for much cheaper. Considering most stores have online websites now, it makes it easy to compare prices right from your own home.

6. Make a Decision Card
According to blogger Anna Newell Jones, one of the best things you can do when trying a spending diet is to create and carry with you a decision card. Jones describes how to make the card by saying, “Start in the upper left corner and then walk your way through the questions and answers to help put a pause between you and the purchase. Think it through and you’ll find yourself with less crap, less impulsive purchases and more money left to pay off debt.” Some of the questions on the decision card are, “Do I need it?” “Is it expense worthy?” “Do you have any debt?” and so on. Here’s a link to Jones’ blog and her example of the decision card.
http://andthenwesaved.com/should-i-buy-it-take-along-printable-decision-card/

7. Find your motivation
Why do you need to go on the spending diet? Maybe it’s because of debt, or maybe you just want to spend less money. Whatever the reason is, identify it and use that as motivation to stick with your spending plan.
www.saveup.com is a great option if you’re looking for some money saving motivation! SaveUp allows you to link your Student Loans, Mortgages, Credit Card Accounts, Savings and 401k accounts in order to earn rewards points for each dollar that you pay towards increasing your financial well-being. You can also play Instant-Win Games, Lotteries and a Super Jackpot with Your Accumulated Points with the potential of winning cars, vacations, and more!

8. Plan ahead & maintain a savings
One of the best ways to avoid over spending is to plan ahead. Spontaneous shopping trips can lead to you spending much more than you originally anticipated. Try to know what you need to buy before you get to the store. That way you can stay focused and on track, not getting as distracted by things you don’t need.
It’s also important to maintain your savings. Any money not being spent on essentials or paying off existing debt should be set aside in a savings account, that way you always have a backup in case of emergencies. I interviewed my best friend and ask her what she thought about a spending diet. I explained to her what a spending diet was, that it’s a financial plan where you try not to spend money on anything other than essentials. After telling her a little about it, I asked if she thought she would ever try one.

Her response was, “Yeah that sounds really helpful. I know I could use a good spending diet!” I then decided to ask her what technique she found to be most useful to help her not over spend. She explained, “Probably having a savings account I can’t touch. That way when I’m putting the money aside I’m not tempted to try and draw any extra spending money from the account.”

I think Jess makes a good point when she says that it’s important to not be able to take money from your savings for extra spending. That’s what is so great about a spending diet. You are able to evaluate your spending habits and change them for the better.

We can all be smarter spenders, pay off that debt, and get our finances back on track. The important thing is to know what is and isn’t worth spending our money on. Own your relationship with your money and you’ll be much more likely to have financial success!

Here’s a list of some helpful websites to guide you on your spending diet journey!