For the Young Family: The Importance of Setting Achievable Goals
Have you ever heard someone, after falling short of a goal or becoming discouraged while pursuing one, say, “Oh well, it probably wasn’t a realistic goal anyway…”? That’s what is called “rationalizing away a goal.” Chances are that person didn’t have a real strategy in place for achieving the goal, or the discipline to follow a strategy. But, if the goal wasn’t realistic to begin with or, if it there was no emotional attachment to it, why bother with a strategy?
A big part of the problem is that people often set goals without having or strictly following a strategy for achieving them. But, the larger problem may be that people don’t know how to set achievable goals - goals that are realistic, clearly defined, and even inspiring. Considering the stakes, whether it’s to buy a house, fund a college education, or to become financially independent, goals that are not perceived as achievable are nothing more than hopeful aspirations; and, for most people, that doesn’t motivate them to action. Who really wants to make a sacrifice for a hopeful aspiration?
Is it a Goal or just a Pipedream?
Yes, you need a plan or a strategy to be able to achieve a goal; but, the goal has to inspire you to take action and exercise the discipline necessary to relentlessly pursue it. For that to happen, the goal needs to be clearly defined in terms of cost and timeframe; but, more importantly, if there is no emotional attachment to the goal, you are less likely to muster the motivation to stick to a strategy. You need to visualize the outcome; feel the satisfaction of having achieved the goal; and, feel the pain of not achieving it. That is what inspires people to make the necessary sacrifices.
Setting achievable goals is not rocket science; however, it does require a proper mindset to ensure the process is taken seriously. To prevent a goal from becoming a mere pipedream, young families must run it through a process that will determine how achievable it really is and then create the action plan to achieve it.
Steps to Setting Achievable Goals
- Itemize all of the things you need and want for your family, including your “must haves” and “nice to haves.”
- Assign a time frame for each need and want and then arrange from shortest timeframe to longest timeframe.
- Assign a numerical ranking to each based on its importance with “1” being critically important and “10” being not very important. Needs should always be prioritized over wants, and shorter timeframes should take precedence over longer time frames.
- Calculate the cost of achieving each goal. One way to do this is to estimate the cost in today’s dollars then calculate the future cost using a rate of inflation (i.e. 3%). A simple future value calculator can do that for you.
- Calculate how much needs to be saved towards each goal. For instance, a goal that will cost $20,000 in ten years would require a $135 a month savings starting today based on a 5% rate of return. (Free online personal finance programs like Mint.com can do much of this number crunching for you)
- Calculate your savings commitment. Rework your budget around your savings commitment. If you’re total savings commitment is $1,000 a month, make that the very first expenditure that gets paid. If, after reworking your budget, you can’t come up with the total savings commitment, you need to either find budget savings or ways to increase your income; or, you will need to adjust your goals. It may mean, at least for now, that you will need to remove a goal from your savings commitment, until your financial situation changes.
- Create a formal action plan. For each achievable goal, assign a savings commitment and timeframe. Break the timeframe down into short term milestones or benchmarks with specific dates for measuring your progress.
- Track your progress. On the specific milestone dates, review the goal and your progress towards achieving it. If you are not on track, make the necessary adjustments to your savings commitment and budget. Include all family members in these milestone checks in order to encourage their commitment.
Finally, find ways to internalize your goals to make them a part of yourselves. Talk about them frequently, and how it will make you feel when you achieve them. If the goal is to buy a bigger house, clip pictures from magazines of the type of house you envision. Make the goal a family rallying cry so they know why they might have to make certain sacrifices now to enjoy a better life later.