Monday, February 4, 2013

Four steps to simpler financial goals this year

Four steps to simpler financial goals this year:
Steps in a manicured statue garden
Written by money contributor Charlie Park.
So we’re now nine days into 2013. Just enough time for those New Year’s resolutions to have fallen by the wayside, right?
Or maybe you saw Tsh and Jeannett’s posts last week that encouraged you to think about goals for the year, rather than resolutions? If not, we’re going to look at that idea one more time, but with a focus on money.
Money is like fitness — it’s something that people often put off thinking about unless A) they’re about to go on vacation, B) they’ve had some sort of a scare, or C) it’s the new year.
If we harness that last one (yay, new year!) and wrap in Tsh’s point about goals-not-resolutions, we get a great four-point process to making 2013 a terrific year for you and your money. Let’s take a look at it.


1. Focus on only 2 or 3 financial goals for the year (keep it simple).

Don’t get bogged down with multiple elaborate plans.
Just like it’s easy to sit at your breakfast table and think, “I haven’t gone running in forever. Maybe I’ll run a marathon this summer!”, it’s easy to make elaborate plans about your money and everything you’ll get done this year. You’ll start budgeting, get out of debt, get that retirement account going, and maybe even set aside some money for the kids college. Whoa, buddy.
If you’re like most people (and the odds suggest you are), having too many goals will overwhelm you, and you won’t get any of them done. So I recommend that people getting started with setting financial goals just focus on doing one or two over the year. If you knock them out of the park in a few months, great. Add another one. But keep it focused at the beginning.
If you’re looking for ideas, the two best goals I can recommend are 1) to begin expense tracking / keeping a budget and 2) to look at Dave Ramsey’s “Baby Steps” and to get one or two steps further down the path than you currently are.
Each of us can only accomplish so many things. Don’t try to do too much, or you’ll get overwhelmed.

2. Break your goals into steps.

Little strokes, mighty oaks, all that.
The next way to keep from getting overwhelmed with your finances is to break your larger financial goals into absurdly tiny steps. I mean, embarrassingly small steps. “Why would I even need to write that down?”-small steps.
When I say “steps,” I don’t mean “Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps” — I mean tiny, concrete actions you can take. These should be written down with verbs at the beginning of each line.
So if your plan is to set aside your $1,000 “starter emergency fund,” the steps should be as basic as:
  1. write down phone number of our bank
  2. call bank and ask to set up separate savings account
  3. note how much we have in main account
  4. figure out how much we can transfer over right now
  5. go online, to bank website
  6. set automatic monthly transfer of $100/month
  7. set reminder on family calendar to check account on October 1st
Each of those steps is pretty small. And, hopefully, not intimidating.
Regardless of what your goals are, break them up into the smallest steps you can think of. And don’t forget to start each step on your list with a verb.

3. Start today.

A glowing sunrise.

Photo by Stephen Bowler
Don’t make 2013 “the year you do ________.” Make today “the day you do _______.” Then do it again tomorrow.
Look at the small action steps you’ve broken your goal down into. If the first one is too big for you to do today, you haven’t broken it down enough. The goal isn’t to finish your entire goal today. It’s simply to move foward, in some small way, towards the finish line.

4. The perfect is the enemy of the good.

Topiary hedges in a garden

Photo by Neil Wilkie
If you try to make your finances “perfect,” you’ll get discouraged.
The perfect is the enemy of the good” is an old saying that simply means “it’s better to have a good system in place than to have no system in place because your standards were too high.”
One of the things I heard from a lot of new PearBudget users is how relieved they are that our introduction wizard says things like “just get started and you can fix this later,” and “making up numbers is okay.”
It’s tempting for all of us — especially with something we’ve put off for a long time — to want to get it just right. “After all,” we tell ourselves, “if doing it ‘sort-of-right’ was an option, wouldn’t I have done this by now?”
So, in order to do it “right,” we end up putting it off further and further, until our expectations are so high that we never even start. I fall into this trap all the time.
You know what? You won’t get it perfect. And that’s okay. Instead of staying where you are, you’ll move forward — and at the end of 2013, you’ll look back and feel the peace of having made real progress.
So what’s your one main money goal for the year? And, more important, what’s the one small action step you can do today to get closer to it?
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