By Joel Dansby* on Aug 23, 2023
How often do you set new financial goals? How often do you achieve them?
Most of us aren’t very successful with our goals, even when we have the best intentions and strong willpower.1 Sometimes, that’s because we’re setting unattainable goals. Other times, we’re missing the big picture and setting our goals with blinders on.2
Either way, many of us get tripped up with our goals right out of the gate simply because of how we set them — and because we don’t realize there’s a better way to do it.1
And the better way isn’t complicated or time-consuming. It involves a simple strategy you probably already use in some other area of your life.2
So, let’s take a look at a goal-setting exercise to see:
- Where we can go wrong
- How to set better goals for ourselves
- How we can stop being our own worst enemies with goal setting
Top 3 Financial Goals: Self-Reported Goals
What is your number one financial goal right now? What do you want to be able to achieve more than anything else financially (and in life)?
That’s what most folks say when they list their number one financial goal off the top of their heads.2
In fact, retirement is the top financial goal by far, beating out any other self-reported goals by at least three times.2 And that’s true across practically every generation, background, and earnings bracket.2
Now, what about your second and third financial goals? What would you say those are?
Again, most folks stick with similar answers off the cuff, saying their second and third top financial goals are to:
- Buy a house.2
- Feel more secure about their finances now.2
Those all seem like decent goals, and they may even be some of the ones you’ve set for yourself.
Whether or not they are, here are the real questions to ask:
- Have you set the best goals for yourself, based on where you want to be in the next 5, 10, or even 25 years?
- Is setting goals off the top of your head the best approach?
- How could better goals give you better chances of success?
Top 3 Financial Goals: List-Generated Goals
Now, let’s look at this from a different angle. Instead of coming up with goals out of thin air, check out the short list of “options” below.
- To be better off than my peers
- To pay for personal self-improvement (e.g., go back to school or learn a new skill)
- To experience the excitement of investing
- To start a new business
- To buy a house
- To help pay for my kids’ college educations
- To stop working and do something I love
- To go on a dream vacation
Now that you have, is “retirement” still your top goal? Would you change any of your top three goals?
Believe it or not, most folks change at least one of their top three financial goals after looking at a longer list of options. And at least half change their first or second financial goal.2
This change alone is remarkable because it highlights how lists can influence us.
But here’s what may be even more fascinating — those goals were not swapped out for objectives of “equal value.” Instead, folks replaced their original, top-of-mind goals with new objectives that were clearer, more precise, and far more value-based.2
In other words, lists can unlock better choices and show us all of the options when we’re setting goals.2
Why Lists Matter in & Outside of Financial Goal Setting
Pop quiz — If you had $1 million to give away to any charities of your choice, however you wanted to, how would you divide that up?
Would you rather dive in and just start giving willy-nilly? Or would you prefer to look at a list of 100 charities first and make some thoughtful choices?
Recognizing the true value of lists can be a little easier in a different light, outside of goal setting. That doesn’t make lists any less powerful in helping us make smarter choices, however.2
On the contrary, lists detail our options and make things clear for us all the time. They give us a way to see past those familiar choices we gravitate towards, and they can do wonders to help us identify better choices, especially when we’re making big decisions about finances and our futures.2
That’s true no matter what we want in the future or where we are in life.2
How to Set Better Goals for Your Finances & Your Life
Goal setting isn’t a one-and-done, set-it-and-forget-it task. It’s also not something you want to do on the fly if you’re serious about setting better goals and really achieving them. The reality is that any of us can struggle with setting goals in finance and life, and we may be fighting a losing battle with ourselves if we haven’t set good enough goals.
It doesn’t have to be a battle, though, and we can WIN. By simply having the right tools and perspective, we can really hone our ability to set the right goals for ourselves. And that can be one key to staying on track, remaining motivated, and achieving real progress and success with any goals in both finance and life.2,3
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