Christmas is gone and so is your money—now what?
It turns out, a lot of us lose sight of our financial goals and get a little too caught up in the holly jolly spirit.
The National Retail Federation reported that the average consumer spent $1,007 on everything from presents to garland and tinsel this year.(1) And SunTrust Bank said 43% of those who bought holiday-related products felt pressured to spend more than they could afford at Christmas.(2)
Were you that person? Take a second and think back over your holiday spending. What would you do differently? Where did you slip up?
Listen. You can’t go back in time and fix your mistakes, but you can take control of your future! The new year is knocking at the door. Now’s your time! Here’s how to make (achievable) financial goals and start 2019 off on the right foot.
What Are Financial Goals?
The phrase financial goals sounds a little stuffy, doesn’t it? That’s pretty much because it is. But don’t let that throw you. Financial goals are just measurable money goals you set for yourself. And they can be big—like paying off all your debt. Or they can be small—like saving $10 from each paycheck for next year’s Christmas budget.
No matter what your goals are, you need to make a plan to reach them. Here’s how to get started.
5 Ways to Get Your Financial Goals Back on Track
1. Create a Budget
First things first . . . you need a budget! It’s the number one way you’re going to hit your financial goals. Sit down with your spouse or accountability partner and be intentional by giving every dollar a name. It’s easy to let your spending slip into the abyss. But sooner or later those statements will rear their ugly heads and you’ll have to face the music. Making a budget shows you how your money is working for you so you aren’t constantly wondering where it all went.
We know, we know. Nobody likes the word budget. People think of it as this strict set of rules they have to follow, which basically means giving up their freedom to make purchases willy-nilly. But the truth is, a budget actually gives you freedom to spend. We know. It’s crazy.
Our free budgeting app EveryDollar makes this super easy. Just plug in your income and expenses and you’ll be able to see what’s planned, spent and remaining for the month. Best of all, it’s quick—we’re talking “budget in as little as 10 minutes” quick.
Here’s a pro budgeting tip to get you started: Make room in your budget for fun money. It doesn’t matter if that’s $5 every two weeks or $50 for the month (just make sure the number fits in your budget). Use that money for anything extra you want. That might mean every two weeks you splurge on fancy coffee from your favorite java joint. Or you can save up your fun money for that pair of fancy rain boots you’ve had your eye on. Believe it or not, having money to spend on fun stuff can really help you stick to your budgeting goals!
2. Set SMART Money Goals
How is a SMART goal different than just any old regular goal? Here’s the deal with a SMART goal. It is:
Specific: For your goals to work, you need to focus in on exactly what you want to achieve. Be as specific as you can.
Measurable: Make sure your goals include something that can be measured so you know when you’ve crossed the finish line.
Achievable: Don’t reach for the moon here. Set goals for yourself that push you but are reasonable too.
Relevant: Are your goals relevant to who you are and how you’re trying to better yourself? Becoming the world’s best pilot when you’re afraid of flying just wouldn’t make sense.
Time-sensitive: Give yourself daily, weekly and/or monthly steps to help you see the progress you’re making toward meeting your goal by a certain time.
What do you want to accomplish with your money in 2019? Setting SMART goalswill keep you motivated and excited about the future. Plus, it’ll help you remember your money goals are just as important as the goals you have for your career, relationships and personal development.
Your money isn’t going to change on its own. You have to tell it what to do. Start the process by making time to dream about what you want to accomplish. Think short term and long term. Are there vacations you want to take later this summer? Do you want a new dining room table in time for Easter? Wouldn’t it feel great to have three to six months of expenses in an emergency fund this year? Maybe you could even wipe out your smallest debt by March.
The best way to set SMART goals (and stick to them!) is to write them down, including all the things you need to do to get there. Something amazing happens when you take the time to write down specific goals: Instead of keeping them in your head as intangible thoughts, writing them down actually helps you achieve them.
Putting your goals in writing is a great way to hold yourself accountable and track your progress along the way. Use our Goal Tracker Worksheet to write down your goals and the steps you need to take to achieve them.
3. Get a Refresher on the Baby Steps
So, you fell off the wagon and got carried away with overspending at Christmas. Yeah, that’s not ideal, but you’ve got to learn from it and leave it in the past. It’s time to get back on the horse and get to know the 7 Baby Steps again!
Rip the Band-Aid off. Get out your budget, and start looking for ways to build your cash back up. Figure out where you can save money. There are plenty of ways to cut back if you just know where to look!
4. Use the Debt Snowball Tool to Pay Off Your Credit Cards
If you used plastic to pay for Christmas, it’s time for a change! Grab those shiny little credit cards and cut them up. Or shred them and make an art project out of the pieces. Whatever you do, get rid of them for good!
Don’t keep them lurking around in your wallet like that old acquaintance you can’t seem to unfriend on Facebook. Cut them up. Pay them off. Close the accounts. See ya again never, credit cards. Done-zo. No more. Hasta la vista, baby.
Meanwhile, use the debt snowball method to pay off your debt. It’s simple. Just list your total debts in order of smallest to largest, and start attacking the smallest debt. This way, you’ll feel empowered by the small wins you’re making every time you pay something off and get it out of your life for good! It’s exciting. It’s motivating. And it will help you stay the course! You can even use our handy debt snowball tracker to see your progress along the way.
We’re here to load you up with resources to get the job done, so check out our goal finder and the Smart Moves section of the site for more tools on how to manage your money and prepare for life’s events throughout this coming year.
5. Start Using Cash!
Seriously, you don’t need credit cards. They aren’t a safety net for making ends meet or covering you in an emergency. They aren’t more convenient than cash or a debit card. And they won’t make you rich (no matter how many stupid rewards points you rack up). We’ve heard every excuse in the book.
So what’s the alternative to living off credit? It’s paying for things with money you actually have. We know, what a novel thought! This means from here on out, everything you buy needs to be paid for with cold, hard cash or your debit card or even pennies and quarters . . . whatever your cup of tea.
Worried about misplacing your cash? The envelope system makes it easy to keep everything organized and safe. And you might be pleasantly surprised too. Buying things with cash feels pretty good!
Keep Your Eyes on Your Financial Goals
Kick off 2019 with these five steps for your money and get ready to feel different by the end of the year. And if you want some extra inspiration (for when the flashy newness of the year wears off) take advantage of the recently updated Financial Peace University. You’ll get a one-year membership in addition to the nine lessons. It’s the perfect time to take control of your money instead of wondering where it all went.
You’ve got this!