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By Allison Videtti
If you’ve ever resolved to eat healthier or take up a regular fitness routine, you know that realizing your goals takes work and regular evaluation. Reaching your financial goals is no different.
It’s easy to say you’ll save more for retirement, add to your child’s college savings or build up an emergency fund, but whether you actually accomplish your financial goals depends on how you go about tackling these tasks.
I’ve tried — and failed — to reach certain financial objectives multiple times (spoiler alert: I’m still not a millionaire), but there are plenty of financial milestones I’ve reached, too. These four tips helped keep me focused on accomplishing my financial goals:
I don’t mean literally — unless you have very understanding neighbors — but telling others about your financial goals makes you more likely to stick to them. Let a close friend or family member know about your resolution to stick to a budget, then regularly update that person on your progress. Not only will you have more support, but you’ll also feel accountable for staying on track. If you’re not comfortable sharing your financial resolutions with your close friends and family, try joining a Facebook group or anonymous online group where you can get support without revealing too much personal information.
Resolving to put more money in your retirement fund is great, but it can feel overwhelming fast. Determining specific dollar amounts or percentages is vital. For instance, are you trying to save 10 percent more than you did last year or are you looking to save a flat $5,000? Defining your financial goal (and what it means for your monthly budget) will make it easier for you to track your progress.
Don’t get discouraged if you fall off track, either. Keep working toward your target even if you have an off day, week or month. You can always add a bit more over the coming months to make up for it. A small hiccup is better than giving up completely.
Let’s say you want to put $15,000 in your 401(k) this year. I don’t know about you, but when I think about saving that much, I get some serious anxiety (I can’t do it! I could buy a new Ford Fiesta for that amount!). But if I break it down over the course of the year, it seems more manageable: $1,250 per month or $625 per paycheck is less intimidating. Not only will breaking your goals into bite-sized pieces make them easier to tackle, you’ll feel great each time you accomplish a small chunk, and you’ll be more likely to stick to your plan.
When you are determined to make a change in your life, it’s easy to try to do everything at the same time. But that can quickly feel overwhelming. Instead, focus on the one goal that will make the biggest impact on your life. For example, saving for retirement is important, but if your emergency fund is nonexistent, you’re probably better off focusing on that. Look for ways you can increase your emergency savings, such as earning extra money, or cutting back on your spending so you can add more to your emergency fund each month. Once you’ve built up a savings cushion, you can work on your retirement fund. (Some savings options, like a Roth IRA, work as both emergency and retirement funds. Ask your financial planner for more details.) Having one area of focus means you can concentrate your extra efforts on one main goal.
Achieving your financial goals isn’t impossible. Automate all the transactions you can (savings, retirement contributions, etc.) and take advantage of budgeting apps like Alliant’s Budget and Planning Tool to track progress against your goals. By checking in regularly and holding yourself accountable, you’ll set yourself up for long-term financial success.
Allison Videtti is a digital marketing manager at Alliant. In her previous life, she worked in real estate and held multiple positions at a Chicago-based digital marketing agency, overseeing content strategy for a number of financial services clients. Allison's always been a saver and is something of a personal finance junkie. She loves reviewing her spending and updating her budget, and can't get enough of finance-related blogs and podcasts. Her favorites? Wisebread.com and the Planet Money podcast.