How to set your financial goals

1 min readLast updated January 23, 2024by Rachel Carey

A survey by the Gallup polling organization revealed that 30% of US adults are unlikely to set themselves financial goals in 2023. But knowing how to establish these goals is vital to securing your long-term financial stability, so knowing where to start and how to achieve those all-important targets counts.

What are financial goals? 

Financial goals are your individual objectives that influence how you save and spend money. They might be shaped by things you want to achieve quite soon or by more distant targets later in life. In other words, financial goals can be short, medium or longer-term.  

However big or small these goals might be, it will be easier to achieve them if you identify and set them in advance. By doing this, you will be able to see when or if you’re straying off target or using money in a way that makes your goals more difficult to meet. You’ll be able to exercise focus and self-discipline because you’ve got milestones to motivate you. 

Why is setting financial goals important? 

Think of setting financial goals like putting together a good itinerary for traveling. You need a clear starting point and an achievable end point. You need a time frame for reaching your destination and a good idea of how much money will be involved.  

The reason it’s so important is that, Without clear financial aims outlined in a structured way like the Financial Planning Pyramid, it’s too easy to drift from your targets, miss opportunities, and become a little directionless. The potential for wasting your hard-earned money is greater without firm financial aims. Remember when establishing these personal goals to be realistic and keep things simple. Aiming for the unattainable or not understanding exactly where you’re heading will test your resolve. 

When setting financial goals, where should I start? 

First, you should think about the time frame for your financial goals. Financial goals come in all shapes and sizes, so try to organize yours into short-term, medium-term and long-term. Now, you can manage expectations and see how much progress you’re making more clearly. 

  • Short-term goals – there’s no expert consensus on the length of a short-term goal. There are too many variables – you might save up for an exciting family vacation, for example, or a special Christmas get-together. The University of Chicago states that a short-term goal should be achievable within a year, but the Council for Economic Education measures it as less than two months. Essentially, it should be somewhere between the two. 

  • Medium-term goals – here, we might be talking about saving up for a down payment on a property, and again, there’s quite a lot of variation in the exact measurement in time. The University of Chicago says we’re talking about one to five years, whereas the Council for Economic Education estimates two months to three years. 

  • Long-term goals – whatever your shorter goals are, your biggest target is most likely investing for retirement. Again, there’s debate about duration, but you’re probably looking at a minimum of three to five years. 

These timescales are only yardsticks; your circumstances and income will dictate what short, medium and long-term mean for you. If you’re in any doubt about how to set up or measure your goals, speak to a financial advisor. 

How do you set up your financial goals? 

The easiest way to approach this is in systematic steps. For example: 

1. Understand why you’re doing it 

To get inspired about your financial goals, you need to understand why they’re important and why you’re setting them. Give yourself some clear-cut reasons and motivation. 

For example, you could build up a contingency fund to pay for the essentials if you lose your job. Or pay down a credit card debt so you can use the money for saving for a house down payment instead. Everyone has good reasons to set financial goals. 

2. Establish where you are right now 

It can help to fix your goals by assessing your current life. Look at your income, tax situation, budget and net worth. A clear idea of these markers will give you a great point of departure – a level launch pad for your financial goals. 

3. Get SMART 

Behind every successful goal, there are other elements – the steps you need to take to get where you want to go. Quentara Costa, a certified financial planner with Powwow in Massachusetts, highlights a strong basis for reaching your goals using the acronym SMART. This stands for: 

  • Specific 

  • Measurable 

  • Achievable 

  • Realistic 

  • Time-bound 

You can apply SMART to all kinds of scenarios. Perhaps you’re saving for a vacation. Get the details straight before you make a move. Pick a destination, decide when to go there and calculate the cost. Then, decide whether this short-term goal is achievable and practical given your income, savings and outgoings. If the goal seems over-ambitious, don’t give up on it; modify some of the parameters and see if it works. 

4. Speak to a financial advisor 

A financial advisor can always help you create and stick to your financial goals, so seek some expert advice if you’re unsure where to begin or feel you’re losing your way. 

The bottom line 

Setting financial goals is a sound strategy. It can help you make the most of your money throughout life.  

Remember not to beat yourself up if you have to deviate from your set path now and again. Everyone has to deal with big car repair bills or maybe unexpected medical expenses. You might even lose your job. But that needn’t stop you from sticking to your goals; it just means you might have to modify them while getting through a tricky period.  

It’s good to be flexible and realistic to navigate life’s ups and downs. Plan for the unpredictable instead of being uncompromisingly rigid. 

If you want to talk about starting your journey of financial advice, reach out to Unbiased today to connect with a financial advisor who can listen and offer advice based on your circumstances.   

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Senior Content Writer

Rachel Carey

Rachel is a Senior Content Writer at Unbiased. She has nearly a decade of experience writing and producing content across a range of different sectors.