It’s that time again. The new year. A clean slate. Time for a do-over. For those who seize the spirit of change, there’s a “new you” ahead. Perhaps a slimmer you. Or a stronger you. Or a you that can finally speak Italian, make perfect risotto, and restore a farmhouse in Tuscany.
Well, we say any kind of transformation is wonderful but, this year, think about applying your energy to something that is probably causing you more stress than you realize.
Your financial picture.
Guardian recently surveyed thousands of Americans, and nearly 80 percent report being seriously stressed out. And since overall well-being is directly linked to financial well-being, much of that angst is rooted in financial concerns. In fact, nearly two-thirds of us say we are pretty bad at living within our means.
The amazing thing is, you can change that! This article kicks off a 12-part, monthly series on how you can--calmly, deliberately, purposefully--move from feeling concerned to feeling confident in managing your finances. This series will run over the course of the year, and build, step by step, from easy to more challenging, until you have implemented each point that may apply to your personal situation and better secured your own financial well-being.
Step One: Define Your Life Goals
Wait! Don’t go away. This is more fun than it sounds. We all know that people who write down their goals have a greater chance of success. And we hate those people, don’t we? But listen up, they sleep like babies, while the rest of us lie awake at 3:00 a.m. obsessing about credit cards.
As the Rolling Stones once said: [to know] what you want [is the first step to having the financial resources to] get what you need. Or something like that. In any case, do you want to make more money? Retire early? Change careers? Start a family? Open a business? It’s time to figure out THE REALLY IMPORTANT THINGS IN YOUR LIFE because they are the starting point for making smarter financial decisions. (And, bonus, they’re good to know, just because.)
Here are some tips on identifying your goals:
1. Lead with your heart, not your head.
This is serious stuff but don’t let your intellect overrule your true feelings. The more honest you are about setting goals that are meaningful to you, the more motivated you’ll be to achieve them.
2. Be SMART about it.
Psychologists tell us success is more likely when goals are SMART—meaning they are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Recognizing that you want to get out of debt is a good start. But creating a goal of paying off one credit card (specific, measurable, achievable) over the next 12 months (time-bound) to begin saving for your children’s college fund (relevant) is even better.
3. Think long and short.
Those who are most confident about their finances see life as a long road trip. As you identify goals, balance those in the near-term (new home) with those further down the road (vacation of a lifetime, retirement), and make sure you have security to weather unexpected storms (emergency fund, insurance) along the way.
4. Talk with an expert.
If your leg were broken, you’d go to the doctor. Similarly, if your financial behaviors are preventing you from leading the life you want, you go to the person who knows how to fix it. There are some good rules of thumb to go by, but one size does not fit all in financial planning. Your goals are unique, and a financial professional can help you figure them out—and how to make them a reality.
OK, so let’s get started.
Right now. Seriously. Just as an exercise. Write down in sequential order what your life goals are. The back of an envelope, a journal, a spreadsheet. Maybe you’ve done this before, but it does not hurt to do it again, if only to know where your priorities have shifted.
Here are some of the common ones, to get the juices flowing. Remember, keep them SMART:
- Earn a graduate degree
- Own a home
- Own a second home
- Get married
- Start a family
- Treat my parents to a vacation
- Retire at 62
- Climb Mt. Everest
- Start a business
- Volunteer for an organization
- Become successful as X position at Y company
- Visit 50 countries
- Hold public office
OK, so what did you come up with? Keep your list handy and we will refer back to it in the coming months as we explore how to move from concerned to confident. And, stay tuned for next month when we explore how to set up a budget. We’ll make it as painless as possible. Promise!
Guardian's Living Confidently survey, 2016.
Brought to you by The Guardian Network © 2017. The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America®, New York, NY.