Budgeting and Saving

Two key parts of money management to help you achieve financial success.

What Does It Mean to Set SMART Financial Goals?

by Carmen Chan

Whether you want to pay off your credit card debt, save for retirement, or work on another money objective, setting SMART financial goals is key to achieving your aspirations. SMART goal setting turns vague intentions into concrete plans. Instead of saying “I want to pay off my debt” or “I want to save money for the future,” it’s about aiming at crystal clear targets like “I will pay off $5,000 in credit card debt this year” or “I will save $1,000 for a family vacation next Christmas.” Suddenly, broad-stroke hopes are reshaped and set into motion.

How to Set SMART Financial Goals

SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Whether you’re looking for short-term wins or crafting long-term personal finance roadmaps, you’ll raise your chances of success by simply following the SMART goals template. Here’s a step-by-step guide to each of its important letters:

1. Make Your Goals Specific

The first step is to get specific about your goal. This is always important, especially for lofty ambitions like saving a million dollars. Without specifics on how and when those seven figures will get into the bank, a loose plan like that is destined to get ditched.

Developing a specific goal is a two-pronged approach. First, you need to know what you want and how much of it you want. What you want could be to save money, start an emergency fund, or pay off debt; how much should be a concrete number. Second, you need a reason why you’re doing this. This might not sound like a big deal, but it’s critical.

Ask Yourself: What is my specific goal and why is it important that I achieve it?

SMART Goals

An example of a specific goal is wanting to save $5,000 this year for an emergency fund (the what) in case your roof needs repairing or to help you stay away from credit cards (the why). Giving your goal personal meaning like this will help keep your eyes on the prize. If you aren’t sure about the numbers, do some research and make an educated guess. What’s most important is having clear direction to get started. You can always change your estimate later!

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2. Build Measurable Goals

Measurable goals are easy to track because they’re specific to start with. When your goals are measurable, you can make checkpoints along the way that prove you’re making progress. For example, if you’re hoping to save $8,000 within a year, you can set a midway target of at least $4,000 after 6 months. You can even set a daily target. Since there are 365 days in a year, if you save just $22 for all 365 days, then you’ll end up with $8,030!

Ask Yourself: Is there a straightforward way to measure my progress towards achieving this goal?

Matching your checkpoints to your pay cheque cycle can make saving even easier by putting the hard work on auto-pilot. However you do it, having a tangible number to work with will make measuring your success easy and maybe even fun. You’ll always have a clear idea of how you’re faring and if you need to make any adjustments along the way.

3. Motivate Yourself with Attainable, Action-Oriented Goals

Now that your goals are specific, you need to kick your plan into action. For example, let’s say your goal is to save $100 every month to either pay down your credit card debt or put towards a summer holiday fund. Where will you get the funds to pay off $100 in credit card debt, or where will you find that $100 in cash for your summer holiday? Will you keep accumulating the money in a savings account or pay it towards your debt right away?

Ask Yourself: Is my goal attainable? Is my action plan to reach it reasonable?

Only you can decide if your goal is attainable or not and chart out the actions you need to take to achieve it. Maybe saving that $100 every month is possible if you pack your lunch 4 days a week, stick to a smaller entertainment budget, or tuck away your credit cards for the year to avoid unnecessary spending. If you’re having trouble figuring out an attainable goal for yourself, scale it to your situation. So instead of saving $100 a month, you could try spending 50% less on eating out or another expense. Think of any potential roadblocks that could throw you off course and prepare backup plans just in case.

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4. Keep Your Goals Realistic

Setting a realistic goal means being confident that you can accomplish it. On the other hand, counting on something like a surprise inheritance or winning the lottery to achieve your financial wishes will likely lead to disappointment. Keep in mind that many long-term goals – like saving a cool million – will look unrealistic when you’re right at the starting line. However, breaking these big marathons down into smaller sprints can make a huge difference for your mindset. For example, you could challenge yourself to save as much as you can this month, and once you’ve achieved that goal, try to save a bit more next month. Each checkpoint that you clear will bring you one step closer to your dream.

Ask Yourself: Are my goals and action plans realistic? Do I need to break down big goals into smaller, more palatable ones?

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5. Stay Focused with Timely Goals

You know what your specific goal is, how to measure your progress, how you’ll achieve it, and if it’s realistic. Now it’s time to set a deadline. After all, telling yourself to achieve something “as soon as possible” could lead you down a twisty, never-ending path to nowhere.

Ask Yourself: Does my goal have a timeframe that’s realistic and that will keep me focused?

When setting your goals, sit down with a pen and paper and think through all of your objectives. You could end up with a mix of things to accomplish within 1 year (short-term), within 2-5 years (medium-term), and over 5 years (long-term). Once you’ve figured out a few goals, work them into your monthly budget and track your efforts to see how your goals fit into your everyday life. At the end of each month, reflect on the progress you’ve made and decide if any changes or adjustments are needed as you forge ahead.

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When to Seek Help with Your Financial Goals and Money

If you ever feel overwhelmed with goals to pay off debt or save up money, one of our credit counsellors would be happy to help you. A counsellor can help review your budget and plan or help you make SMART financial goals that fit your needs. Appointments are free, confidential, and non-judgemental. Give us a call at 1-888-527-8999, send us an email, or chat with us anonymously online.

Feel stressed about needing to save?

Get help making the best budget for you.

Budgeting and saving money are key to financial health, and the sooner you start, the faster you’ll be able to reach your goals. Get started now with free and confidential help from a non-profit credit counsellor. Our counsellors can review your financial situation with you, answer any questions you have, and help guide you towards concrete solutions.

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2 Comments

  1. Stephanie Cook

    I have a loan with go easy and fresh start finance! The second one is co signed with my mom! I was told that I should look into credit counseling! I’m hoping you can help!?

    Reply
    • CCS

      Feel free to give us a call, we’d be happy to help.

      Reply
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