You’ve been bold enough to set a financial goal. Great! Now it’s time to create a plan. A plan? Goals are supposed to be stepping stones to my financial plan, how many plans do I need? Funny thing is that planning is a significant part of executing a financial plan. Don’t think about goal planning as an arbitrary “how to” guide, think of financial goal planning as “research in action.”
Last week, we talked about how to set financial goals, which are the stepping stones to achieving your personal financial vision of the future. Goals provide the necessary links between where you are now and where you want to be at some point in the future. Setting goals says you are sincere about investing in your future. Following through on goals requires discipline and a level of effort that, at some point, can become uncomfortable. Embrace the discomfort. If it were easy, everyone would have ample savings, a comfortable retirement, and funds to spare.
Sometimes, planning the steps to reach a goal is best done backwards. In backward planning you look at what end state you want to achieve – the goal, and work backwards noting the steps needed to reach that goal.
For example “save $50 a week for one year.” We know the end state is $2,600 saved over 52 weeks.
In order to achieve this goal you need to examine your income and determine where the $50 will come from. Will it be un-budgeted? Available funds? Will you need to cut back on dinners out? Or, will you choose to take public streets instead of the toll road to work or shopping? Next, you’ll need to determine where the funds will be saved. Will it be a checking account, a savings account, a cookie jar, or some other financial vehicle? The final step is to determine how the money will get to your chosen holding location. Will you electronically transfer the money, physically place it in the cookie jar, or will you or your spouse (an extra accountability measure) make the transfer to the designated location?
This example is simple, it takes three planned steps. Now, write down these steps. Remember, the small book we talked about in last week’s article (Goals – Charting Your Own Financial Path)? We wrote the goals down. Now, on the same page as the goal, write the steps you’ve identified that are necessary to achieve this goal. This exercise not only reinforces your previous thoughts, but it also helps you solidify your commitment to this particular financial goal.
Discipline in planning is important. Have you ever gone to the gym without a workout plan? Most of the time you wander around looking at the different exercise equipment debating whether to do cardio, weights, upper body, or lower body exercises. The same mental stagnation occurs when a financial goal is set with no particular plan. If a financial goal is set without a plan, we can’t decide if saving accounts are appropriate, whether to take money from available income, or to reduce spending in a particular area. Most of the time, we end up simply keeping the goal in the back of our mind – never putting action behind the intention.
Planning is an essential step in goal achievement. It’s important to also realize that plans change. Perhaps you discover half way to your goal there is a more efficient way to reach your goal. There’s no harm in changing your planning steps. In the Marine Corps, we say “a plan is simply something to deviate from.” Meaning – you will have a plan, but circumstances will change and you have to change with them. It is important to plan, it helps you understand your resources, methods, and potential outcomes. Executing your plan is easy once you have a way forward. However, the only way to move forward with confidence is to intentionally identify and develop the specific tasks or steps you will need to take to accomplish the goal and to identify the resources you will need to accomplish those tasks. Once that process is competed, you will have a clear understanding of the actions you will need to take to achieve your personal financial goals.
Jonathon Rowles Captain, USMC (Ret.)
Disclaimer: (have to do it) – This blog should not be considered financial, investment, legal or tax advice. Consult your licensed financial professional, tax advisor or legal counsel. This blog is for educational purposes only.