A new year, new goals, right? It’s human nature to want to start a new year with lofty goals for improving everything from your diet to your relationships and your finances. But when it comes to one’s financial agenda, many experts agree that goals without specific associated metrics are nothing more than pie-in-the-sky wishes.
“Unfortunately, being ‘better with money’ is a hard goal to stick to when compared to other resolutions,” says Misty Lynch, behavioral financial advisor and certified financial planner at Twine. “When compared to other resolutions like losing 10 pounds or quitting smoking, not everyone can see your progress and it’s unlikely that people will be there to cheer you on in the same way.”
With that in mind, here are some metrics to help you cheer yourself along and stick to those 2019 money goals.
Metrics need to be numerical
When it comes to personal finances, it’s key that your goals be related to specific numbers, says money coach Beverly Miller.
“Without a specific numerical metric, it’s impossible to create a clear step-by-step plan to reach the goal,” says Miller. “‘I want to retire by age 60’ is not sufficient because retiring is not a metric. A metric would be, for example, having a nest egg of $3 million that will produce a $120,000 yearly income at a 4% draw rate by age 60. Retiring provides the motivation to carry out the shorter-term actions that cause you to realize the goal.”
Additional numerical metrics you might set for yourself include “paying off $50,000 debt, saving $20,000 dollars for a car, or saving $80,000 dollars for my kids’ college,” said Miller.
Set smaller measurable goals at first, then move to bigger ones
Having a goal to pay off your student loans or get out of debt is admirable but it may take years of payments, said Lynch.
Begin by setting a different goal such as paying an extra $100 per month above your minimum payment or switching to a different payment option that reduces the principal on a loan faster. These smaller goals will be easier to measure as you get started and also easier to accomplish.
Your bigger goals can trigger new short-term metrics and milestones, adds Miller.
“For example, if I’m to have a $3 million nest egg by age 60 then invest X amount per month for Y years at Z percent return,” said Miller. “The big goal generates smaller goals as steps along the way, each with a quantifiable outcome and date.”
Dates are a key metric
When people make resolutions they usually do so with the hopes that they will improve over the course of the year. However, if you have a specific, important financial goal, such as creating a will or obtaining life insurance for your family, set a specific date on the calendar that you will have it done by.
“You don’t have to take on everything at once but make the most important goals a priority and get them done first,” said Lynch.
Establish a timeline to reassess your goals
It can be exciting to get started on goals as the new year begins, but making major changes all at once can sometimes backfire. Set dates throughout the year to check your progress and tweak your plan if needed.
“For example, if you decided to put away 15% of your income into your retirement plan but realize after a few paychecks you don’t have enough left, it is better to readjust your goal rather than quit,” said Lynch.
Financial professionals or online tools and calculators can help you project what your savings or investing goals will look like if you decide to make changes, said Lynch.