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The first step to achieving all your financial goals is, well, setting them up. And when it comes to setting goals, no other method comes close to the SMART goal method. You can apply SMART goals to every aspect of your life, from career goals to fitness and even relationships. In order to be successful, goals should be:

  1. Specific
  2. Measurable
  3. Attainable
  4. Relevant
  5. Timely

Easier said than done, especially when it comes to finances. For most people, money is a murky, taboo topic. When they set new year’s resolutions, get a big raise at work, or defer saving for retirement, there’s an unspoken assumption that they’ll get better with money…someday. If that sounds familiar, don’t worry! Setting solid, SMART financial goals is a great way to give your money a purpose and channel it into working for you, and it’s incredibly easy to get started.

Specific

When setting financial goals, it helps to be as specific as possible. If you want to get a pet, for example, you might have an idea of what the adoption fees and other charges would be. But you would be surprised by some of the other costs of taking care of a pet: beds, toys, pet insurance, training, and more. It’s helpful to research and be clear about the dollar figure you’re aiming for. Being specific about your goal allows you to devise an action plan for how you’re going to achieve it. You can plan how much you need to save each week or each month to meet your goal.

Example: instead of setting a goal to ‘pay off your credit card debt’, set a goal to ‘pay off the $4,000 balance on the Chase credit card by June’.

Measurable

Make sure that your goal is easy to track. It is best to create a system around tracking your savings and expenses in whichever medium works best for you. Some people use digital services like Mint and YNAB or spreadsheets in Excel, others prefer pen and paper. If you have a system, it’s easy to measure your progress towards your financial goals.

Also decide how often you’ll measure against your goal to make sure you’re still on track. Most people plan on bi-weekly or monthly check-ins with themselves or their partners.

Example: You decide to measure your goal to pay off $4,000 of your credit card balance twice a month when you get paid. There are 12 paychecks before the end of June — you plan on saving $334 at each milestone.

Attainable

An attainable goal signifies growth – sometimes highly ambitious growth – from your current state, but it’s not one that is beyond the boundaries of reality. Too often, people get discouraged when they can’t meet the goals they set for themselves if the goals themselves were unrealistic.

Often, turning a goal from unachievable to achievable means just tweaking part of it. It might mean lowering the target number or extending the timeline.

Example: After meeting all your fixed costs and obligations for the month, you have $300 left to save towards your discretionary goals. You want to save up for a trip in 12 months that will cost $5,000. To meet this goal, you realize you will either have to shorten your trip to 4 days instead of a week or find a side-hustle that will earn you an additional $117 a month.

Realistic

Your goal might be attainable, but is it realistic? In the example above, what happens if you get a flat tire or urgently need a new washing machine? Instead of promising your friends a luxurious $5,000 vacation, opt for a more realistic amount for your financial situation. Challenge yourself but keep your goal within reach. Also consider that the resources you use to fulfill an achievable but unrealistic goal might have served better purposes.

Example: you set a goal to pay off $100,000 in student loan debt in one year. You forego rent and choose to live in your car. You get a second job, but soon you suffer from malnutrition and other health issues. Is your goal attainable? Probably. Is it worth it? Definitely not.

Timely

Finally, you have to give your goals a timeline. Having a timeframe not only gives you something to work towards, but also keeps you focused and excited. There’s something about having a definite date that tells the brain “this is really happening” and gets you fired up and energized.

Example: I will pay off $4,000 on my Chase credit card by June by making two $333 payments every month.

Some sample SMART finance goals

Now, combine it all together to create a S.M.A.R.T financial goal. Here are some examples:

Save $5,000 for an emergency fund by July by cutting out monthly subscriptions and starting meal prep. This will save $357 a paycheck or $614 a month.

Save $250 each month for a winter vacation by December by offering weekly tutoring sessions to the neighbor’s children.

And that’s it — by following these simple guidelines, you have made your financial goals specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Good luck!