Financial Goals: Useful Strategy or Waste of Time?

  • Financial Goals

I realize that I’m late to the party regarding financial goals but it’s timely that I am writing this now. The fact is, most people don’t even make it to February when it comes to sticking with goals they knew they wanted to complete just 45 days ago. That means, most of us have thrown in the towel so to speak. Whether you’ve done it consciously or subconsciously, you’re done.

A Forbes I recently read stated that only 8% of those who make them, will reach their resolutions. That sound optimistic but we’ll roll with it.

That means that 92% of people like yourself-well-intention, educated, ambitious, driven, dedicated people-won’t accomplish what they want financially, or in their family life, or their health.

Why? Why are we not accomplishing what we set out to do? Here are 5 strategies that I know will help you as you work on your goals throughout the year.

Planning Meeting

It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “Give me six hours to cut down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening my axe.” Stephen Covey talks about sharpening the saw. The Roman philosopher, Seneca, said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

I could go on all day, but I won’t. What’s important to understand, is that preparation is key. This is a hard one for me. I tend to be one of those “ready, fire, aim” kind of guys. It’s something that I have to work on continually.

I find that the more that I plan and the more that I prepare, the more success that I have. It’s that way for this website as I research and prepare what I want to write about. It’s the same in the day-to-day operations of my business. It’s the same when it comes to spending time with my family, or my church callings. And it’s certainly the same when it comes to setting goals.

What I suggest is considering having a planning meeting. One where you can get away from the distractions of life. Turn off your electronics and unplug for a bit and get right with what you want to accomplish this year.

Each year my wife and I head to the base of Zion National Park here in Utah for a couple of days to do just that. We get there, go out to dinner, and review and contemplate what we want to accomplish.

If you’re not married, I would still consider involving whoever it is that will be effected by what you want to get done through the year.

But what do you talk about? For my wife and I, we talk about six specific areas of our lives. They are family, business, personal, financial, spiritual, and physical.

The idea is that we spend some time in the weeks prior thinking individually about what we want to accomplish throughout the year. What’s interesting to me is that when we do get together to talk about our goals, a lot of things overlap. But, there is lot that I learn about my wife that I really didn’t know.

I know that taking the time to plan rather than just get after it, can seem like a nuisance but experience shows that I’m more likely to accomplish my goals when I plan.

Consistency is Key

If you’re like most people (and I eluded to this already) than you might have created some goals and fell short several times. If you’re like me, than you probably fell short on many occasions.

What I’ve noticed thought is that the percentage of the time that I achieve my goals is when I’m consistent in my pursuit of them. All the planning in the world won’t work unless you take action.

And I don’t mean taking action for a week or a month or a quarter. I mean all year long, day in-day out to make sure that you accomplish your goals.

I actually have them written out in my daily planner (yes, I still you an analogue planner for some of the planning I do throughout the week).

It helps me a ton because every single day, I see those notes from my planning meeting staring at me just waiting to be accomplished. And, when I see those notes, I consciously start taking the action necessary to accomplish what I set out to do.

Out of site, out of mind, right? That’s why it’s so important to have a visual representation of what it is your trying to do.

There was a Harvard study conducted in 1979. Interviewers for the study asked new graduates about their written goals. Here are the findings:

  • 84% had no specific goals at all
  • 13% had goals but had not written them down
  • 3% had written goals and plans to accomplish them

In 1989, the interviewers then interviewed those who participated a decade earlier. Here is what they found:

  • The 13% of the class who had goals (just not written) were earning twice as much as the 84% who had no goals
  • The 3% who had written goals and plans to accomplish them were earning, on average, ten times as much as the remaining 97% of surveyors

If that’s not a reason to write your goals down and have a strategy in place, I don’t know what is.

Work on Things you Can Control

I know that goal-setting gets a lot of flack. There are a ton of people out there that say they just don’t work! I’ve experienced it, you’ve experienced it. But, it doesn’t mean that goal setting doesn’t work. We just have to find a new way of looking at it.

You know as well as I do that there are certain things in life beyond our control. That’s actually hard for me to say. I tend to be someone who not only likes control in my life, but I believe when it comes to most things, I can have it. But the reality is that’s just not true in some cases.

Here’s where we go wrong. We focus too much on the things that we can’t control (the outcomes) rather than the things we can control (the input).

Let me give you an example from my life. Every single year for the last 5 years or so, I’ve said I wanted to lose weight (40lbs to be exact) and every single year, I fell short. That was until last year. At the end of 2014 I had lost 45lbs.

What changed? It was the way that I approached my goal. I chose last year not to focus on losing 40lbs and instead chose to focus on the action I could take that I knew would lead me to what I wanted. My action was to go to the gym 4 days per week for the entire year.

I had a great trainer when I started in the retail world in a different life. The company that I worked for at the time was heavily focused on hitting your sales numbers. It stressed me out. It intimidated me. I thought that if I missed my goals, I would lose my job.

But my trainer said to me something that I’ll never forget. He said, “Ryan, focus on what actions you can take today to be a success and let the chips fall where they may.” I have never forgot that piece of advice and I don’t think that I ever will.

So here’s how this translates to money. I know you want to retire someday (5 years, 10 years, 30 years). I know you want $1,000,000, $5,000,000, or $10,000,000. I know that you want to be free of the burden of student loans. I get all of that. My financial goals are similar to yours.

But, if you want that to happen, you’re going to have to start focusing on some strategic actions that will get you to that point by default. Instead of saying, “I want $1,000,000.”, try, “I will invest $1,000 every single month this year.” Instead of saying, “I want to go on that dream vacation.”, try, “I will save $500 every month for the next six month.

Again to quote Stephen Cover, he suggests that we, “Start with the end in mind.”

That’s what I’m talking about here. Start with what you want, reverse engineer the process, and focus on the steps that you can control-the things that you can do today to get you to that end-game.

Now, this takes a bit of strategic planning which I eluded to in the first step of setting goals today but if you want some help with this, that is my job. That’s what I’m here to do. Head over to www.cittica.com and drop me a line and we can discuss how to make this money stuff work in your life.

Accountability Partner

This leads to the fourth idea. You need an accountability partner. If we’re talking about financial goals, it could be me as your advisor. If you have an advisor, it could be that person. It could be a spouse, a colleague, a friend.

I really don’t care who it is but you have got to have someone in your life that is willing to show a little tough love. Someone who is willing to celebrate your wins and call you on your crap when you’re not doing what you set out to do.

Reading this blog is a great way to stay current and up-to-date with financial strategies but many times you need to have a conversation. You need to be able to bounce ideas off someone.

I don’t advocate sharing your goals with the world. Mostly because a lot of people would rather you fail than succeed. It makes them feel better if you don’t pull ahead of the pack. But there are a select few that will have your back.

For me, it’s my wife. She’ll be there to enjoy and celebrate my success and give me a kick in the pants when I need it. But I also have several colleagues in my line of work who I believe they want me to succeed.

Ask yourself who is this in my life. Who can you trust with your goals? Who will give you that tough love?

I recommend several accountability partners because we have so many different areas of our lives. I talked about six earlier (Family, Business, Personal, Financial, Spiritual, Physical). Try to get an accountability partner for each of the areas of your life.

What Should Your Goals Look Like?

The last thing that I want to discuss is what your goals should look like. This is where the SMART goals come in. But instead of SMART goals, I want to talk about SMARTY goals. Each of the letters in SMARTY stand for something so let’s break each one down so you’ll be able to articulate your goals clearly.

Be Specific

The first step in achieving your financial resolutions is to break down your goals and become very specific. It’s not enough to say you want to save more money or pay of debt. We all want that. If you are to have any level of success, it’s much better to say ‘I will pay off $5,000 in debt by December’ or ‘I will save and invest $500 per month every month.’

Measurable

Goals need to be measurable to work. If you don’t track them, how will you know you are on the right path? When it comes to measuring goals, break them down even further. Rather than saying ‘I will pay off $5,000 in debt by December’ try ‘I will pay off $400 of debt per month.’ Smaller, measurable goals will keep you motivated.

Attainable

If a goal is too large and unobtainable, it can be very demotivating. Sure, it is important to create goals that will stretch you but, make them too large, and you will tend to give up early. An easy idea is to look back at what you have accomplished financially in the past twelve months to get a sense of what it possible moving forward.

Relevant

Money is so much more than x’s and o’s on a spreadsheet. Money represents all that you have created in this life and all that you hope to accomplish. Rather than shooting for a large account balance, think about what I refer to as your True Purpose for Money. This is what is more important than money itself. Is it the ideal retirement, time with family, or the realization of starting a business? Find out what it is for you and include it in your goal setting.

Time-Sensitive

You should give yourself a deadline for completing your goal. Parkinson’s Law is summed up in this way: The amount of time which one has to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task. In other words, do not procrastinate-get started today. Remember to keep the time-frame of the goal manageable. If you feel like you can reasonably accomplish your savings goal within six months, do not wait the entire year before setting a new goal.

Why (Y)

I saved the best for last. I really beleive that the most important factor when it comes to acheciveing your goals is your ‘why’. I’m not talking about the letter ‘y’ (although that is convenient for my acronym to work). I’m talking about why you want to acheive your goals.

What is it that is driving you? What is it that it important beyond just the goal itself. If you want to lose weight, why is that important? If you want to have $1,000,000, why? What are you going to do with that wealth? What will it look like when you’re out of debt?

I can’t answer your why but you have to find out what it is for you. My why for being financially successful come down to one word: EMPOWERMENT. I want to empower myself to have the life that I want free from being told what I should be doing and how I should spend my day. I want to empower my wife to be able to do what she has always wanted to do-become a homemaker and raise our kids. I want to empower our children to be able to accomplish the things they want in life.

My why is what drives me each and every day. It’s what motivates me to get up and do my work. It’s also, ironically, what has helped me turn off my work when the day is done. If you find your why, you will accomplish your goals.

Here is a recap of the 5 critical elements of making your financial resolutions work:

1. Planning Meeting
2. Consistency/Visibility
3. Things You Can Control
4. Accountability
5. SMARTY goals

If you can learn to focus on planning, consistency, accountability, and SMARTY goals, you’ll be one of the few who make it past February when it comes to achieving your financial goals! Who knows-you might just surprise yourself and make it all year long.

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