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Do you ever wonder where you are really going, financially? Perhaps you have dreams of owning your own home, buying new furniture, taking a vacation, or retiring early. Perhaps you just want a little more. So how do you get there? All too often, financial dreams are abandoned in lieu of life’s practical obligations. They may seem unachievable, or even silly. But they’re not. You can go from dreaming to achieving financial health by following these five steps.
Step One: Identify Your GoalSurprisingly, this is often the most difficult step. You might have suppressed your true desires for so long, you no longer know what you want, beyond an undefined wish for more. However, a goal should be two things. It should be tangible, so you can track your progress and know when you reach the finish line, and it should be exciting, so you’re motivated to keep going when you’re tempted to give up. This step deserves your utmost attention. Goals can be short-term (under a year), mid-term (one to three years), or long-term (three-plus years). Have multiple goals? Either work towards them simultaneously or narrow your focus to one. The key is to not overwhelm yourself.
Step Two: Look at the NumbersNow that you have a goal, it’s time to understand your options. Examine your income and expenses, and determine how much you can save each month. Start small, and do what you can. Consider increasing your cash flow with overtime hours, a part-time job, or even an overdue raise. Omit or reduce unnecessary expenses. Get creative, and be realistic.
Step Three: Consider TimingIt’s important to assign a time frame to your goal. Mark your calendar with the projected achievement date. If your goal is mid- or long-term, allocate milestones on the way to your goal (for example, $500 in my IRA account by June 1, or $1,000 by December 15). Check in with yourself often, and do your best to stay motivated.
Step Four: Design a Savings StrategySet up a recurring transaction to have your allocated savings amount deducted from your paycheck or checking account and deposited into a savings account automatically. It’s easy, and you’ll never miss what you don’t see. A traditional savings account is usually sufficient for short-term goals, but if you have years to build capital, you’ll want to move it into an account where your money will really work for you.
Step Five: Be FlexibleDon’t give up when you slip a little. If you don’t hit your savings goal one month, resist the urge to panic. Consider it a temporary setback. With a little extra effort, you may be able to make it up over the next couple of months. If you find yourself regularly unable to meet your savings goal, you might need to revisit the first four steps and reassess.
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