Budgeting and Saving

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

What Does It Mean to Set SMART Financial Goals?

Whether your aim is to pay off your credit card debt, save for retirement, or work on another money goal, learning how to set SMART financial goals can ensure you achieve your objectives.

What is a SMART goal and how do you set one? SMART goal-setting turns vague goals into concrete, specific plans. Instead of saying, “I want to pay off my debt,” or “I want to save money for the future” your goals are reshaped into tangible objectives such as, “I will pay off $5,000 in credit card debt in 2019” and “I will save $1,000 for a family vacation at Christmas.” Suddenly, broad-stroke hopes are set into motion.

How to Set SMART Goals

SMART is an acronym which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Here’s a step-by-step guide to SMART goal-setting. If you’re crafting smaller goals and long-term personal finance plans, simply follow the SMART goals template below.

Make Your Goals Specific

For starters, you need to get specific about your goal. Is your goal a lofty “I want to save $1 million”? Without specifics on how and when you’ll save up seven figures, you’re destined to ditch these loose plans.

Developing a specific goal is a two-pronged approach – you need a concrete number, if you want to save money, start an emergency fund, or pay off a certain amount of debt. You also need a reason why you’re doing this – this part is critical but often overlooked.


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

Special tip! It could be as simple as saying you want to save $5,000 this year for an emergency fund in case your roof needs a repair or to help with your commitment to stay away from your credit cards. In any case, you need to get specific and give your goal some personal meaning so that you stay inspired and on track.

If you aren’t sure how much you need to save, say, for a trip or a new car, do your research and come up with an estimate. An estimate will get you started; it’s your goal so it’s okay to revise it later if need be.

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Are Your Goals Measurable?

Measurable goals are easy to track because they’re specific to start with. When your goals are measurable, there are checkpoints along the way, making it easy to track your progress.

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

If you’re hoping to save $8,000 within a year, you’ll know that at the six-month mark, you should have at least $4,000 if you want to stay on track.

Special tip! Break your goal down based on your pay cheque cycle to make it even easier to stay on track, e.g. $4,000 divided by 52 weeks in the year is $77 per week, times 2 if you are paid every other week. This comes to saving $154 bi-weekly.

If you want to cut down on eating out by 50 per cent compared to the year before, you have a tangible number to work with to measure your success. Measuring your progress is key because it gives you a sense of how you’re faring and if you need to make adjustments along the way.

Put Your Savings on Auto-Pilot

Motivate Yourself with Action-Oriented Attainable Goals

Now that your goals are specific (“I want to put $100 extra towards credit card debt every month to pay off my debt” or “I want to save $100 every month to pay for a summer holiday”), you need to kick your goals into action.

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: How will I stay on track and achieve my goal? Is my action-plan feasible in the long run?

This part of your goal-planning details how you’ll achieve your goal. It could be by promising to pack your lunch four days a week, sticking to a smaller entertainment budget, or tucking away your credit cards for the year to steer away from unnecessary spending.

Asking if your goals are attainable also considers how plausible your action plan is. If you’re hoping to save $12,000 within a year, and you’re hoping to attain this goal by relying on an inheritance, a pay increase, or other factors that are out of your control, you may need to revise your plans. 

Reality check: Think about your goal based on a bi-weekly pay cheque. It would take saving $462 every other week to come up with $12,000 in 12 months, and even more if your timeline is shorter!

To make sure your goals are attainable, think of any potential roadblocks that could throw you off course and make contingency plans to address these.

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Ensure That You Set Realistic Goals

Just like checking to see if your goal is attainable, you need to consider if it’s realistic. Are you hoping to pay off your debts by winning the lottery? This is more of a wish for your financial fate than a realistic goal.

While setting goals may seem daunting, start by creating small, but challenging and realistic goals that are within your realm of achievement. Instead of vowing to save $1 million, challenge yourself to save a sum of money that your budget affords. Once you’ve achieved that goal, try setting a goal for a larger sum or for a longer period of time.

It’s great to dream big for your financial goals – make them more palatable by setting smaller checkpoints to strive toward and celebrate along the way.

Ask yourself: Are my goals and my action plans realistic? Do I need to reshape my big goals into smaller, easier to monitor goals?

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Timely Goals Keep You Focused

You now know what your specific goal is, how to measure your progress, how you’ll achieve it, and if it’s attainable and realistic. What’s next?

You need to set a deadline for your proposed goal – this portion of SMART goal-setting ensures you have time parameters to measure your progress and gives you a timeframe to work within. Time management is key.

Telling yourself to achieve a goal “as soon as possible” or without a time constraint at all could lead you down a twisty, never-ending path with your goal.

Ask yourself: Does my goal have a timeframe that’s realistic and that will keep me focused? Finally, when setting your goals, sit down with a pen and paper and think through all of your goals, short-term and long-term. You could end up with a mix of short (within the year), medium (within 2 to 5 years), and long-term (over 5 years) goals.

Once you have identified a few, work them into your monthly budget and track your efforts to see how your goals fit into your everyday life. Each month, reflect on whether you made progress with your goals and consider whether or not you need to make adjustments to stay on track and forge ahead.

Use This Interactive Budgeting Spreadsheet to Try Out Different Budget Options

When to Seek Help With Your Financial Goals and Money

If ever you feel inundated with goals to pay off debt or save up money, one of our Credit Counsellors would be happy to help you. Appointments are free, confidential, and you can talk to a Credit Counsellor in person or over the phone. You aren’t obligated to take any further action by speaking with your Counsellor and your meeting is a judgment-free zone. There are no hidden fees, fine print or strings attached. The Counsellor had lots of experience and will help you review your budget and options to reach your goals. Contact us now – you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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  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!?

    • CCS

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

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