Maybe you want to lose those stubborn 10 pounds, score a big promotion or run your first marathon. Whatever your priority, it all starts with setting a goal.
Financial priorities are no different. Whether you want to save for your child’s college education or get yourself out of debt, budgeting to help reach your financial goals allows you to determine what’s most important to you, make a plan to attain those goals and hold yourself accountable for success.
Still, when it comes to managing your money, knowing how to set financial goals and sticking to them can feel like opposite sides of the same coin. You might even find yourself asking, “How do I create a simple budget to reach my financial goals?” If you follow these three steps, you could be crossing the finish line in record time:
1. Pick a day to get started
Sometimes the hardest part of tackling a new project is simply getting started, especially if your to-do list feels like it’s never ending. There’s always tomorrow, or the day after that… right? To create a simple budget to help you reach your financial goals, pick a day and time to get started. Consider picking a time when you do your best thinking, are most focused and least likely to get interrupted. Maybe it’s Sunday morning over breakfast and coffee before kicking off a day of chores or on a weeknight after the kids go to bed.
Once you’ve landed on the best time to sit down and create a simple budget, add it to the calendar and schedule reminders on your computer or phone to hold yourself accountable.
2. Create a simple budget, however complex your finances
Chances are your finances are pretty complicated, with lots of moving parts. Things seem to be moving along nicely with your regular expenses like rent, groceries, transportation and entertainment… and then your carburetor goes kaput in your car and you must replace it right away. Or that toothache has become unbearable and requires a root canal—and you’ll have to cover some of the expense out of pocket. Just when you’re finally making a dent in paying down your debt and getting your finances on track, life throws you some curveballs. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create a simple budget.
One of the easiest ways to create a simple budget and stay on track is to follow the 50-20-30 rule:
- 50 percent of your income should address your needs, such as housing, utilities, healthcare and transportation;
- 20 percent should be put toward your financial goals, like building your savings and paying off debt;
- 30 percent should cover your wants or discretionary expenses, like shopping, entertainment and dining out.
Managing your finances with the 50-20-30 is a good first step when you’re first learning how to create a budget, but trying to deal with multiple financial goals within that 20 percent bucket can be overwhelming. When it comes to budgeting to help reach your financial goals, certified financial planner Jim White suggests taking your financial goals one step at a time.
“Make a simple plan to tackle debt—or maybe just one debt—then when that goal is accomplished, work on a simple plan for the next debt,” White suggests. “A bunch of small victories goes a long way to changing your financial discipline and gives you a boost to keep moving forward,” White adds.
Similar to how you picked a day to begin the budgeting process, make a habit out of managing your finances by picking one day of the week and checking in with yourself at a scheduled time. After about two months, budgeting to help reach your financial goals can become habit forming. “When you focus on your goals on the same day every week, you are creating a habit, and a pattern, to follow,” says Karen Ford, financial coach and motivational speaker.
Budgeting to help reach your financial goals becomes even more effective when you’re reviewing your priorities every seven days and making adjustments to your spending and saving as needed.
“Make a simple plan to tackle debt—or maybe just one debt—then when that goal is accomplished, work on a simple plan for the next debt. A bunch of small victories goes a long way to changing your financial discipline and gives you a boost to keep moving forward.”
3. Automate your financial plan
Now that you know how to set financial goals—whether it’s paying down debt, saving up for a car or putting money away for retirement—what’s next? Time to get moving! One way to do that is to automate your finances. By setting up automatic bill pay and account transfers, it will be easier to stick to your plan for paying monthly expenses and contributing to savings.
When it comes to paying your bills and learning how to set financial goals, consider automating the bills that you pay regularly, especially those that fall within the 50 percent budget category that covers your living essentials. To gain momentum with your savings progress, set up automatic transfers from your checking account to your savings account for the amount you wish to save each month. If your financial goal is retirement, you could even set up automatic transfers to an individual retirement account (IRA) so you’re consistently making progress. You could also arrange to have a portion of your paycheck automatically go into savings—before you even have time to miss it.
By making automatic contributions to your savings accounts, you are “subscribing to the idea of paying yourself first,” says Riley Adams, CPA and blogger for Young and the Invested, a professional’s guide to financial independence. “By doing this, it removes the temptation to spend and takes any lack of discipline out of the picture,” Adams says.
Keep in mind that any time you automate your finances as part of creating a simple budget, you should monitor your accounts regularly. Check in to make sure your automated settings are up to date, that you always have the funds available in your accounts to cover your expenses and transfers and that your savings are growing according to your plan.
How to set financial goals in 3 steps
Once you find time to focus on your finances, create a simple budget and automate your payments and transfers, budgeting to help reach your financial goals is one habit that is sure to stick. By following these three rules and keeping yourself on track, you’ll be ready to build a solid foundation for your financial future.