“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” – Jim Rohn
One thing I’ve noticed since graduating into the real world from college is that financial goals have become more of a discussion. Millennials get a bad rap – we aren’t saving for retirement, we don’t want to buy a house, we can’t survive a $400 emergency.
The majority of my discussions show me that these issues – retirement, purchasing a home, saving for an emergency – are top of mind for many. When I press these people on what they’re doing to combat the shackles of student loan debt or the lack of retirement savings, the conversation usually takes a turn.
There’s no plan.
While financial goals are bouncing around our brains throughout the day, we aren’t doing anything about them.
This must change.
A plan is the only way we are going to crush our financial goals.
The art of crushing your financial goals can get pretty dense. For the sake of your time, I’ve broken this down into four relatively simple steps that can take you from fluffy dreams of financial freedom to solid financial footing.
1. Write down your financial goals.
It’s not that many of us are inherently bad with personal finance skills, we just don’t know where to begin, and we don’t know what the options are. No matter what your financial goals are, you should write them down.
Forbes reports, those who write down their goals are significantly more likely to succeed than those who do not. The best goals are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. As an example: “I’d like to increase my emergency fund from $1000-$4,500 in three months by picking up a side hustle and cutting cable.”
Put your written list somewhere where you can easily see your goals, and take the time to check in regularly. Depending on your timetable for each goal, I’d recommend bi-weekly or monthly.
Nothing beats the satisfaction of crossing financial goals off your list.
2. Create a financial plan of action.
Once you have your goals set, it’s time to create a plan to achieve them. When it comes to finances, a lot of plans revolve around a budget. Yes, this is where many of us jump ship. “I don’t have time for that,” or “I’ve tried in the past, and it never sticks,” are popular excuses. What’s yours?
Thanks to technology and the wealth of resources the Internet provides us, you no longer have an excuse. There are countless apps that help you track your money, but here are 12 to get you started courtesy of Forbes.
*Tip: if you automate your money you can put your plan into action and never look back.
You can also find numerous personal finance sites that offer free budgeting worksheets, net worth tracking sheets, and more. One of my personal favorites when it comes to bloggers is Budgets are Sexy, but there are plenty more. Creating a plan for your money or setting a budget generally takes about 30 minutes to two hours, but it will save, or earn, you serious cash down the line.
3. Build your emergency fund.
An emergency fund is your lifeline in case any unexpected financial crisis comes up – car breaks down, health problems, laid off from work. You should aim to have three to six months worth of living expenses stashed away in a liquid (easy-to-access) account –a savings account. Three to six months is a big goal, so to get started, try stashing away $1,000. If you’ve done that, you’re already ahead of 46% of Americans.
Easy ways to begin building your emergency fund include:
Setting up direct deposits to your savings account
Selling items you no longer need
Picking up a side hustle
Doing online surveys
Cutting non-essentials like cable.
If you’re really aiming to get the most bang for your buck, store your emergency fund in an account that earns you interest and doesn’t charge you fees. Cough, cough…like a Kasasa account.
4. Start saving for retirement early.
Time magazine reported that 30 percent of men and 38 percent of women have $0 saved for retirement. This is a staggering stat, considering the cost of living around the country is rising as salaries try to keep up. The beautiful part about saving for retirement is compound interest! When you put your money in a retirement account (401K or Roth IRA), your money grows while you live your life.
Yes, it may seem like retirement is far off, but consider this: if you invested $5,000 into a retirement fund that was earning 6 percent interest a year, in 40 years you’d have over $800,000. Compare that to the $200,000 you’d have if you kept it under your mattress.
An easy way to begin saving is to open up a 401K plan. Usually, these are provided through your company. A lot of companies will even match your contributions, which means you are literally getting FREE MONEY. Take advantage of any match you get and max that out.
The other popular option is a Roth IRA – it usually doesn’t come with a match, but you can contribute up to $5,500 a year to this account.
The difference between the two are the way they are taxed: 401Ks allow you contribute to the account before taxes – you are taxed when you take money out. Alternatively, your Roth IRA will be taxed going in.
Experts say you should be putting away 15% of your gross income towards retirement, but if you can’t manage that, every dollar counts. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t contribute anything at all.
If you put these four steps into action today, I’d wager that if I were to check back with you in three months, you will be on your way to crushing your goals.