For many people, making plans is easy to do. “Everyone has a … list of dozens of things that (they) should be doing — finances being no exception,” says Dina Megretskaia, senior financial advisor at Modera Wealth Management in Boston.
However, turning those plans into reality can be more difficult. Fortunately, there are strategies that can increase your chances of success, and they work regardless of what goal you’ve set for yourself.
Make your financial goals easier to achieve by following these steps:
— Make your goal measurable.
— Align your goal with your values.
— Schedule regular check-ins.
— Use the right tools.
— Pay yourself first.
— Find an accountability partner.
— Eliminate temptation.
Make Your Goals Measurable
Vague goals such as “become rich” are hard to quantify and hard to reach. “My best advice is to write down your goals in SMART format,” says Kate Mielitz, an accredited financial counselor and assistant professor at Oklahoma State University.
The SMART acronym stands for specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and timely. In other words, you want your goals to be something that you can see progress toward and that you can achieve in a relatively short period of time. “If you want to have an easier time achieving financial goals, set goals that are realistic,” Mielitz says.
While setting a goal to become a millionaire is specific and measurable, it may not be realistic — at least not in the near future. It’s better to break up large goals into more manageable chunks. For instance, a SMART goal may be to increase your net worth by 10%, and by achieving this goal on a regular basis, you will eventually reach your ultimate goal of being a millionaire.
Align Your Goal With Your Values
Almost everyone can benefit from saving for retirement and emergencies, but beyond that, make sure your financial goals match what you value. “Some of your financial goals can be hard to achieve if you’re truly ambivalent about them or have concerns that outweigh the benefits,” Megretskaia says.
For instance, it may be hard to save for a down payment on a house if you really aren’t interested in settling in one place. In that case, it may be better to pay rent and put your energy toward something that fits with your preferred lifestyle — such as saving for travel or pursuing life as a digital nomad.
To select the right goals, Megretskaia recommends people take time for self-assessment. They should evaluate how they envision their future and then make present-day decisions that will move them in the direction of their anticipated lifestyle.
Schedule Regular Check-Ins
“To achieve your money goals, monitor your progress regularly and adjust your strategy as needed,” says Leslie Tayne, founder and head attorney at Tayne Law Group, which specializes in debt solutions.
Seeing movement toward a goal is motivating. And in the event you aren’t making progress, it provides a chance to consider what isn’t working and how your approach can be changed. What’s more, as financial and life situations evolve, regular check-ins provide an opportunity to determine whether your goals should evolve, too.
Schedule a specific time when you’ll review your progress. That could be weekly, monthly or quarterly, depending on what makes sense for the goal you’ve chosen.
Use the Right Tools
Regular check-ins can be quick and easy if you are using the right tools to track progress. What’s more, they can help keep your eye on the prize.
“Simple and meaningful visual reminders can help maintain motivation once the initial excitement of tackling a financial goal wears off,” says Brian Walsh, senior manager of financial planning at personal finance company SoFi. That may include posting reminder sticky notes to your bathroom mirror or checking items off a to-do list that’s related to your goal.
There are also numerous apps that can make it easy to monitor your finances and stay motivated. Some apps, such as Mint, are general-purpose budgeting apps while others make have more specific functions. For instance, SoFi Invest simplifies the process of investing while Personal Capital can track net worth.
[Read: Best Budget Apps.]
Pay Yourself First
It’s easier to reach financial goals if you set aside money before you even see it. “Hide as much money from yourself as you can,” says Tanja Hester, author of the upcoming book “Wallet Activism: How to Use Every Dollar You Spend, Earn and Save as a Force for Change.”
That means setting up direct deposits from your paycheck into savings or emergency funds or initiating automatic transfers to designated accounts. “The goal is to keep as little money as you need in your checking account,” Hester says. “Instead, keep it in other accounts where you won’t see it and feel like you can spend it.”
If you use automatic transfers, be mindful of the timing. You want to ensure you’ll have cash available when major bills such as the rent or mortgage are due.
Find an Accountability Partner
Having a partner for moral support and accountability can help you stick to your goals even when motivation wanes. It may be ideal to pair up with someone who has a similar goal, but even enlisting a friend who will ask for progress reports on a regular basis can be helpful.
If you don’t know anyone personally, look online or search for meet-up groups in your area. “Joining an accountability group can keep your motivation high, and other members could teach you new tips and tricks,” Tayne says.
Regardless of your goal, make it difficult to sabotage your efforts. For example, if you are trying to pay down debt or stick to a limited budget, make it hard to spend more. Stay out of stores, unsubscribe to mailing lists and recycle advertisements without looking at them.
Of course, FOMO — the fear of missing out — can be a powerful derailer of financial goals. Let your friends know your plans so they won’t tempt you with invitations to expensive outings. And practice saying no so that it will be natural when and if they do ask.
“It’s OK to turn down opportunities to reach your goals,” Mielitz says. “Sometimes we must sacrifice for a better future outcome.”
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Steps to Make Any Financial Goal Easier to Achieve originally appeared on usnews.com