A financial vision board: How to create one to make your life goals a reality

Learn the four essential steps to creating your own financial vision board from the experts who wrote the book on it.

We all want to save money. When our efforts start to gain momentum, it can feel great to watch account balances go up. Sometimes, even though we’re doing everything right, we can lose sight of what exactly we’re saving for.

Ellen Rogin and Lisa Kueng are the co-authors of a book detailing their method for creating a vision board that can help you tie your dreams to your money as you progress toward financial freedom. They worry that too many people miss the deep connection between their money and their life goals.

“Most people tend to look at them as two entirely different subjects,” says Kueng, who is also director of creative campaigns at a global investment management firm. She notes that a lot of people explore personal growth through reading, taking classes, or journaling. But even when they get clarity on what they’d like to accomplish in life, they rarely attach those goals to their financial planning decisions.

What is a financial vision board?

A financial vision board is a collection of images—each tied to a personal life goal—that is organized according to the amount of money and time it will take to reach each goal. Rogin and Kueng recommend that you create a vision board to bridge the mental gap between your finances and your aspirations.

If you’re wondering, “How do I make a financial vision board?” Rogin and Kueng recommend the following steps:

1. Select images that resonate with you

To create a financial vision board, you should begin with a sizeable selection of images. These images can represent anything in life: nature, food, lifestyles, people, sports—you name it. They won’t all wind up on your financial vision board, so don’t worry about what they mean to you yet. You just want a good sample size to start with (think 20 to 30).

Rogin—a former wealth advisor and now a speaker, author, and entrepreneur—says you could theoretically design your financial vision board on your computer, but it’s more fun when it’s a tactile exercise. So if you don’t subscribe to any magazines, you can print out images that you find online. Then, whether you’re at your dinner table, your desk or on the floor, lay all the images out in front of you so you can get a good look at them.

A pile of photos each depicting a different scene.

Next, choose the ones that resonate with you in a positive way as you think about the trajectory of your life.

“The pictures are really a shortcut,” Kueng says. “It’s a way to tap into our most primal, basic instincts.”

At this early stage of creating a vision board, you don’t have to know exactly why you’re gravitating toward certain photos. Even though this is a financial vision board, you also don’t need to worry about financial goals or money management at this point.

Once you have a small stack of images (think 10 to 15) you feel good about, separate them from the others, which you are free to drop in the recycle bin.

“The pictures are really a shortcut. It’s a way to tap into our most primal, basic instincts.”

Lisa Kueng, personal finance author

2. Identify how each image ties to your life goals

The images you have left can help you define what you really want out of life. Keep in mind that even though you’re creating a financial vision board, you still don’t need to worry about how much any of your goals are going to cost. That will come into play in the next step.

To uncover your goals, Rogin and Kueng ask that you select an image from your chosen stack and take a look at it. Next, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Allow that image to reappear in your mind. Now ask yourself: Where are you? What do you see? How do you feel? Who is with you?

“Asking these questions allows you to really exercise those visualization muscles,” Rogin says. “It adds a little more oomph to this, so people can really start to envision the future they want.”

Kueng encourages you to ask yourself one more question as you complete this step to create a vision board: “What do you smell in the air?” (Note: This is what you imagine smelling, not what you actually smell wherever you are.) “That’s one of my favorite questions. That often shifts the whole experience for people because it gets so specific.”

Whether you smell wildflowers, cinnamon rolls, or freshly cut grass, Kueng says the imagined aroma can help your vision come alive, drawing out the meaning in the image that uniquely resonates with you. After all, the same image can mean vastly different things to different people. “You start to really tap into your subconscious as you interact with these images,” she says.

A woman in a field of lavender smells some of the flowers.

Rogin recalls that in her work with clients, the same image of red theater curtains led one woman to realize that she wanted to see a Broadway play and another woman to reaffirm her financial commitment as a benefactor to her local theater company.

Rogin and Kueng encourage you to do this visualization exercise with each of the images in your stack. Each time you uncover a new goal, write it down and say it out loud. Writing down each goal helps you define and reinforce what each image means to you, but you only need the images as you move into the next step of creating a vision board.

Case study: How one image can uncover a surprising goal

This stage of creating your vision board can result in some surprising revelations, too.

As Kueng and her husband created their financial freedom vision boards, he picked a picture of a nice dinner on a dining room table. Listening to him describe what he was visualizing with his eyes closed, Lisa wasn’t surprised to hear her husband say that they were having a dinner party, because they often host them. But when asked where he was, his answer was Los Angeles.

“We don’t live in Los Angeles,” Kueng says. “We live in Chicago.”

When pressed, her husband said he realized that he’d like to spend more time in L.A. Kueng told him that she didn’t know that. He said, “Neither did I.”

3. Arrange your images based on time and cost of each goal

Once you’ve picked out your images, you only need a few more items to start creating your vision board:

  • A piece of paper or cardboard that’s big enough to display the pictures you’ve selected.
  • Something to write with, like a pen or marker.
  • Whatever will stick your pictures to your paper or cardboard, like a glue stick, tape, or thumbtacks.

Now, with your marker, Kueng and Rogin suggest you draw a simple grid: one line vertically down the middle and one line horizontally across the middle of your board. This will give you four equally sized rectangles.

Looking vertically, note that the top half of your financial vision board is for goals that will require a significant amount of money that you will likely need to save and plan for—things like a nice vacation, a new car, a college education, or a new house. The bottom half is for goals that can be achieved at little or no cost, such as building stronger relationships or excelling in your career.

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Going horizontally, the left half of your financial vision board is for the things that you can realize sooner in your life. The right side is reserved for long-term goals. “Sooner” and “later” are relative, but roughly speaking, goals that can be achieved in the next five years should be on the left side of the board.

For example, if you chose an image of a person going for a run, the image could go in the lower left-hand quadrant of your financial vision board, Rogin says. “If getting in shape is your goal, it doesn’t really require any money, and you can get started on that now,” she says.

If you have an image of the type of house you’d like to buy in the next five years, that would go in the upper left (high-cost, near-term). The sailboat you’d like to own in retirement? That would go in the upper right (high-cost, long-term) if retirement is still a long way away. And the book representing the memoirs you plan to write can be fixed in the bottom right (low-cost, long-term).

As you continue to organize your financial vision board, you’ll not only see a clearer picture of the life you want to live, but you’ll also have a better sense of the financial implications of each goal. Creating a vision board may also give you an added incentive to start saving more money today.

A man pins some photos to a vision board in front of a window.

4. Keep your sights set on your financial vision board

After you’ve completed your financial vision board, you need to put it where you can see it. That’s why both Rogin and Kueng have their financial vision boards hanging above their desks where they can see them every day—that is, except when Kueng and her husband are in L.A., a life goal they likely wouldn’t have achieved without the help of their financial vision boards.

Rogin and Kueng say that the more you can keep those images and the goals they represent fixed in your mind, the more effectively you can align your finances to support your aspirations.

“So many people start with, ‘Okay, how can I start saving as much as possible?’” Kueng says. “‘Where’s the best place to invest it? When do I need to start drawing it down?’”

When you have a financial vision board that’s helping you to keep your goals in mind, Kueng says, all the financial steps you need to take to achieve those goals come into clearer focus.

Go from financial vision to financial reality

As you work toward financial freedom, vision boards allow you to see the timing and financial commitment to reach your most important life goals. But you shouldn’t stop there. It’s now time to strategize how you’ll financially achieve each goal.

A little girl laughs as she’s carried around on the shoulders of a smiling man.

Here are some ideas for taking your next steps:

  • To help free up funds to achieve the goals you’ve identified, create a simple budget to help manage your money and stay on track.
  • While creating your vision board, you may have realized the importance of getting physically fit. If so, consider lifestyle changes that will save you money.
  • If earning an advanced degree was one of the goals you uncovered on your financial vision board, learn how to pay for grad school as a working adult.
  • If your financial freedom vision board has helped you prioritize saving for retirement, learn more about IRA Accounts, a tax-advantaged option to save for your future.
  • To achieve the dreams you’ve envisioned, make sure you’re getting the most out of your savings. A Discover® Online Savings Account, for example, offers a competitive interest rate and comes with no account fees.

Maybe your financial vision board is revealing a desire for a different life fueled by your passion. If that’s you, learn how to turn your side hustle into your dream job.

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