Financial Goals and Motivation: Eight Ways to Stay the Course

By Mike Peterson
In October 24, 2014

It’s not always easy to stick to a financial goal. Maybe you’ve decided to get serious about paying off that high-interest credit card in the next year. Or perhaps you’re finally ready to build up your emergency fund. Maybe you want to save up a down payment for a home. Maybe you want to get the money together for a big, much-needed family vacation.

 

No matter what kind of goal you’re working toward, you probably know that it’s not always easy to stay motivated, especially after the initial enthusiasm wears off. Most financial goals take some time to accomplish, and the stretch of time between setting the goal and realizing it can seem a lot longer if you’re struggling to stay the course.

 

So, how do you keep yourself from giving up? What can you do to ensure that you don’t simply abandon your goals when the going gets a little tough?

 

Read on for a list of eight ways to maintain your momentum:

 

1. Do a reality check. Adjust goals as needed. There’s no point in setting yourself up for failure right out of the gates. If your goals aren’t realistic and attainable, you’re not going to stay motivated for long. For example, if you’ve got $5,000 in total credit card debt, it might not be realistic to say that you’re going to pay it all off in three months. But it might be realistic to adjust that goal and say that you’re going to use the snowball method to tackle the credit card with the $1,000 balance and the highest interest rate.

 

2. Make sure your goals are clear and measurable. By “clear and measurable” I mean that your goals should include a specific amount of money and some sort of schedule. Examples of clear and measureable goals include things like paying off $2,000 of debt in the next year; saving up $10,000 for a down payment on a home in the next three years; or setting aside at least three months of living expenses by next summer.

 

3. Set smaller, attainable goals along the way. This is especially important when you’re working toward a fairly long-term goal such as saving for a large down payment for a home or paying off a substantial amount of debt. If you can’t celebrate a few smaller victories along the way, you may start to feel like you’re not making any headway. An easy fix for this is to set some smaller goals along the way.

 

4. Mix things up with a “money challenge.” If you find yourself feeling unmotivated, a money challenge may be just the thing! Money challenges make a game out of accomplishing a certain goal such as saving a certain amount of money, saving your change, or freezing all unnecessary spending for a specific amount of time. Choose a challenge that sounds fun and that aligns with your goal, and it might be just the pick-me-up you need to keep you on the path to success.

 

5. Monitor your progress. If you’re not paying attention to your progress, it’s easy to start slacking off. And when you start to slack off, it’s even easier to just give up completely. That’s why it’s critical that you monitor your progress regularly. If you’re saving up for a specific goal such as building an emergency fund or a down payment on a home, make a point to check your savings account weekly. Pay attention to how much your savings has grown. If you’re paying down debt, log in to your credit card account once or twice a month and keep track of your outstanding balance – it should be going down at a fairly steady rate.

 

The other great thing about monitoring your progress is that you’ll notice when progress has stalled out a bit. If your savings account has hit a plateau and hasn’t grown in a while, it may be time to make a few adjustments or brainstorm a few strategies that can help you save more.

 

6. Know your weaknesses. When it comes to money, everyone has some sort of weakness or temptation. Maybe it’s that friend who insists on Saturday afternoon shopping sprees (and who encourages you to buy anything you try on). Or maybe it’s the email from your favorite online retailer offering yet another limited-time “flash sale.” Maybe you tempted to spend after watching unrealistic reality TV or reading luxury lifestyle magazines.

 

I could go on, but you probably see what I’m getting at. At this point in your life, you probably know what tempts you the most. And if you’re trying to save, pay down debt, or reach some other financial goal, it’s best to avoid these temptations. Unsubscribe to store email lists and avoid media that makes you want to indulge. Spend less time with friends who encourage unnecessary spending (or suggest budget-friendly alternative activities).

 

7. Find support. Working toward any goal is easier when you’ve got someone to turn to when you need fresh ideas or a little motivation. You can find support in all kinds of places, from like-minded friends and family members to finance-related Internet forums and chat groups.

 

8. Be flexible and give yourself some “fun” money. It’s nearly impossible to achieve a financial goal if you’re too strict. Don’t get me wrong: Saving money and paying down debt are two things that require discipline. But if you never give yourself permission to give in to an occasional impulse purchase or spend money on something fun, you’ll probably have a hard time sticking to your goal long-term. To make sure that you don’t feel too deprived, set aside a certain amount of money each week or each month that you can spend on “fun” purchases. But make sure you stick to that limit.

 

When it comes to reaching major financial goals, it’s all about motivation. Although there’s no magic formula that can make saving and debt repayment easier, there are a few ways to change the way you think along the way. And sometimes that’s all you need to stay motivated.

 

Mike Peterson

Mike is the author of “Reality Millionaire: Proven Tips to Retire Rich” and he has been published in a variety of local and national publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, Deseret Morning News, LDS Living Magazine, and Physicians Money Digest. He holds a B.S. in business administration from the University of Phoenix.