Setting SMART goals and objectives gives you a clear path forward.
It’s good to have goals, especially when dealing with debt and personal finance. Without goals, you are less likely to save and less likely to budget daily in order to control your money. And while any goal is good to have, SMART goal setting can really provide the action plan you need to be successful and find debt relief.
What is a SMART goal?
SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Here’s how it breaks down:
- What is the defined end-result of this goal?
- What steps are required to accomplish this goal?
- How will you measure your success?
- How will you know if you’ve completed your goal?
- Is this an achievable goal? Are you being realistic?
- Are you over or underestimating how feasible it is?
- How could external conditions affect your ability to achieve this goal?
- Do you or will you have the resources you need to accomplish the goal?
- When do you want to reach your goal? What is your target date?
- How will you hold yourself to this time frame?
What’s the difference between a SMART goal and a regular goal?
A standard goal simply expresses a desire, such as, “I want to save money.”
The problem with a goal like that is that it’s not defined in a way that fosters success. You may save money out of a few paychecks, but there’s not any motivation built into the goal. Instead, you should create a more specific goal:
- “I want to save $100 per month for 6 months so my family can take a debt-free vacation.”
- “I will open a Roth IRA this month and set up automatic contributions of $200 per month to feed my retirement fund $2,400 over the next year.”
- “I want to save $100 per month for one year to replace my laptop without relying on credit.”
All of these goals still support your ultimate goal to save money. But they give you specific amounts and specific amounts of time you have to accomplish what you want to achieve. It works the same way with a goal to pay off debt. Becoming debt free is a great aspiration, but you need a goal that’s clearly defined to help you get there:
- “I will pay $500 per month for 12 months to eliminate my $5,000 credit card debt within the next year.”
- “I will make 3 extra payments of $1,000 each this year on my auto loan to eliminate the debt in-full before the end of the year.”
- “I will consolidate my debt with using a balance transfer credit card and then pay off the balance in the first 12 months before the 0% APR introductory period ends.”
How to set and achieve a SMART goal
Step 1: Decide what you want to do
This means focusing on the end endgame of your financial goal. If you want to save, what are you saving up to do? If you want to eliminate debt, where do you want to start? The more specific you make the endpoint of your goal, the easier it will be to define the rest of it.
Step 2: Assess your available cash
Review your budget to see how much money you have available for this new goal. If you already save money each month then you may be able to allocate some of those funds. If not, you may need to tap your free cash flow or eliminate some discretionary expenses in your budget. In any case, see what you have available so you can plan accordingly.
Step 3: Set a timeline for success
Now divide the total funds you need to achieve your goal by the amount of money you have available every month. This gives you a basic timeline for accomplishing your goal, establishing a sense of urgency. Remember to give yourself some leeway. If you use every dollar of your available cash flow, this may cause problems later. If you have an unexpected expense come up, you may need to delay your goal.
Step 4: Set milestones
If you have a large goal that will take more than a year to accomplish, set milestones that you can achieve along the way. For instance, if you need to generate $3,000 to achieve your goal then you set $1,000 milestones every six months to make sure you stay on track.
Step 5: Start the work, measure your progress
Now that you have your goal set, you can start working. Make sure to keep track of your progress; this will help you stay motivated. And don’t feel bad about celebrating small victories! Measuring progress lets you see that you’re actually moving forward. Each time you hit a milestone, it will give you that much more motivation to aim for the next milestone.
3 SMART Goal Tips
#1: You can have more than one goal at once
You want SMART goals to be defined and limited to a finite amount of time; but that doesn’t mean you can only have one SMART goal at a time. In a balanced financial life, your focus should not be narrowed to a single aspect of your finances. This means you can have several SMART goals and develop several plans at once. You can have one or two specific goals for saving, and then one or two specific goals for debt.
#2: Reevaluate SMART objectives if your financial situation changes
If you have a new expense that comes up, make sure to see how it will impact your goals. A new expense for a new extracurricular activity for one of your kids may not seem like much. But you may need to adjust your budget and goals to account for the change in your finances.
#3: Set new goals anytime you achieve one.
Try to maintain goals in the same category. If you complete a savings goal, set a new savings goal. This helps ensure that you concentrate on all areas of your finance instead of focusing solely on one.