What do you imagine for your future?
Do you want to buy a home with a yard for your dog? Be free of student loan debt? Put the brakes on your credit card habit?
To accomplish any of those things, you need financial goals. “Setting financial goals can help you prioritize,” says Heather Winston, assistant director of financial advice and planning at Principal®. “They’re a way of giving you a clear idea of why you’re saving your hard-earned money.”
Setting goals is one thing. But transforming those dreams into reality is another. We’ve got a five-step doable plan to help you achieve them. Use our fillable financial goals worksheet (PDF) as you work through it.
1. Give your money a “job.”
Think about your days at work. You have things you need to accomplish this week, and things you hope you can finish into the future. The same is true with financial goals. What kind of life do you want now? Later? That’s the job of your money to help you achieve.
One thing to remember is that “financial goals don’t have to be set in stone,” Winston says. “In fact, you’ll revise them throughout your life.”
2. Categorize each financial goal as short-, mid- or long-term.
Use this as your guide to help you complete your financial goals worksheet:
- Short-term financial goals: six months to five years
- Mid-term financial goals: five to 10 years
- Long-term financial goals: more than 10 years
3. Set a target date for each financial goal.
Being specific helps, even if you adjust the date over time. If you have a toddler who will be heading to college in 2035, you have a target date for your college savings goal. Want to take a trip across Europe for your 10th wedding anniversary? You know what timeframe you’re working toward. Add target dates to your financial goals worksheet (PDF).
4. Prioritize each financial goal: critical, need, or want.
It helps to prioritize, so if push comes to shove, you know what to fund first. Label each goal on your worksheet: critical, need, or want. Let’s say you have a short-term goal to build up your emergency fund, and it’s “critical.” But another short-term financial goal is to trade your car, which is running just fine—that’s a “want.” If funds become tight one month, you know where to put your money.
5. Know how much you have vs. what you still need to save.
Do you have money in a Roth IRA, 401(k) or 403(b), or IRA? If so, log those numbers on your worksheet toward a retirement-related goal. Note: Some goals may not have current savings. That’s OK. You have to start somewhere.
If you plan to buy a home in two years and you need $15,000 more for a down payment, divide that by 24 months. Then you know to save $625 more per month toward that goal.