Whether it’s saving for a new car or boosting your bottom line, it’s easy to set money goals. Reaching them is the hard part.
However, tracking your progress can provide much-needed motivation. Today, there are many ways to keep moving toward your money goals — from the latest apps to old-school spreadsheets.
“The important thing is to find something that you’re comfortable with and that’s handy,” says Guy Baker, managing director of Wealth Teams Alliance, a wealthy advisory firm in Irvine, California.
Here are seven options to help you find financial success.
— Download an app.
— Create a spreadsheet.
— Use a visual tracker.
— Make it a habit.
— Meet with your family.
— Find an accountability partner.
— Celebrate wins.
Download an App
Personal finance apps are plentiful, and if you are looking for convenience, they may be the ideal way to track your money goals. Popular apps such as Mint and Personal Capital are multi-function and can fill many needs, such as budgeting and tracking personal wealth.
Other apps are made for specific money goals such as building a retirement nest egg or saving for college. Depending on your needs, one or more of these apps may put financial tracking at your fingertips.
[Read: Best Budget Apps.]
Create a Spreadsheet
While apps are easy, there is a lot to be said about using a spreadsheet instead. That ended up being the right tool for Lisa Fischer, chief lending and growth officer at Mission Lane, a financial technology company that offers credit cards intended to help build credit.
After a divorce in which she discovered her husband hadn’t been upfront about family finances, Fischer found herself not only managing money on her own but also digging out of debt. “On the spreadsheet, I was able to track my bills, get a handle on my cash flow, and identify wants vs. needs when it came to spending,” she says.
Spreadsheet programs such as Excel and Google Sheets are highly customizable, although there can be a learning curve to using them. However, free tutorials are available on many websites.
Use a Visual Tracker
Seeing your progress visually can be a significant motivator for some people. “I like to use printable savings trackers so that I can stick them on the fridge where they’re a constant reminder of our priorities,” says Natalie Graham, founder of GoFromBroke.com.
Printable tracking sheets are available for free from some websites or can be purchased on Etsy. These can be especially good choices for the artistically minded, since many are designed to be colored or decorated as progress is made.
However, even if you aren’t the creative type, you can use visual cues to track progress toward financial goals. For instance, you may cross off each day on the calendar when you move money to savings, stick to your budget or complete another action.
Make It a Habit
Whether it’s filling in a visual tracker or completing a spreadsheet, tracking financial goals can be rewarding if you do it on a regular basis. “It’s really fun to have it down in writing (where) you can see progress,” Baker says.
To make it a habit, time your financial check-ins with another activity you already do. For instance, if you read emails while having your morning coffee, review your bank account at the same time. Or maybe you already pay bills once a week and can easily update your spreadsheet then.
Meet With Your Family
If you live with other people, you’ll need their cooperation to meet financial goals. Setting up regular meetings can be a good way to keep everyone on track and in the know.
Some couples may combine budget reviews with date nights while discussions with the kids may be less about involving them in decision making and more about letting them know why they won’t be getting the latest and greatest smartphone. Either way, it’s important not to obsess over money or become too heavy-handed in these discussions.
“Money is a tough subject for any family, and it can easily ruin relationships (or) friendships,” says Frank Murillo, partner and managing director with Snowden Lane Partners, a wealth advisory firm in New York City. While partners may need to discuss finances more often, Murillo suggests every six months should be sufficient for family meetings.
Find an Accountability Partner
Knowing someone is keeping tabs on your progress can help you move in the right direction financially. A spouse is the logical accountability partner for many people, but a good friend may also be willing to fill this role. Tell this person your goal and then check in with them on a regular basis to share your progress.
If you don’t know anyone personally to serve as an accountability partner, you may find the support you need in online groups and forums. Or hiring a financial coach or financial advisor is another option. The benefit of using a pro as a partner is that they can offer proven financial advice as well.
While seeing progress toward a goal can be rewarding in and of itself, treating yourself at certain milestones can also ensure your forward momentum continues. It also forces you to track your progress since otherwise you won’t know when you’ve earned a reward.
To successfully use this strategy, be sure that your reward doesn’t set back your progress toward your goal. For example, if you are trying to get out of debt, going out to an expensive dinner after you pay off one account may be counterproductive. Smaller rewards, such as renting a movie or taking an hour off work early, might be more appropriate.
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