A car? A vacation? A house? Zero credit card and student loan debt? What would you like to put your hard-earned money toward? Setting financial goals can help you take control of your finances, saving for the things you want and paying down the debt you don’t want. Think about it: If you don’t have goals or a plan for how you are going to spend your money, you may be more likely to waste it on frivolous things that don’t help you get to the lifestyle you want.
Here are some steps you can take to set and begin working toward your financial goals:
Think about your priorities, and identify short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals. How do you prioritize? First, think practically. Setting goals requires you to understand where your money goes and how much you have in discretionary funds. That means creating and sticking to a budget. If you don’t have a budget yet, then you may want to make this your first short-term (immediate) goal. Another smart short-term goal is to build an emergency fund large enough to cover at least three months of expenses.
Next, think about where your debt — student loan, credit card and any other debt you might be carrying — fits into your plan. Will paying it off be a short-term, intermediate or long-term goal? Keep in mind that debt can be costly, because it continues to accrue interest as long as you carry a balance.
Finally, build in the fun goals: buying a car, putting a down payment on a house, saving for your dream vacation, etc. Remember to include retirement savings in your plan as well. The earlier you start, the easier it can be to reach that goal.
Calculate how much you’ll need each month to achieve your goals. This may take some back-and-forth calculations, depending upon how much money you have in your budget to work with. For example, if you are saving to buy a car at graduation (intermediate goal), and you determine you need to save $100 a month toward that goal but you have only $50 in your budget to spare, then you will need to either adjust your expectation on the time frame or find an additional $50 in your budget by cutting back on another area. If you’ve included other goals in the same time frame as your car, then you may have to reprioritize.
This exercise can be valuable in helping you fine-tune your goals and your plans for achieving them. Don’t be discouraged if your funds aren’t stretching as far as you’d like. As your income grows, you may be able to set more aggressive goals.
Monitor your progress. Check in with yourself at regular, designated intervals (at the beginning of each semester or once a quarter, for example) to see what progress you’ve made toward your goals and whether your priorities and goals have changed. Celebrate the progress you’ve made, and keep making those dreams come true.