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What To Do When Your Financial Goals Feel Unrealistic

Working towards your financial goals is a great, proactive move, but if goals are unrealistic, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment and veering off track.

You may want to save up for a down payment on a house, pay off your credit card debt to be debt free or save for retirement. Sometimes financial goals – and the path to achieving them – seem absolutely insurmountable. So what can you do when your goals feel unrealistic?

Sometimes the goals are too big, sometimes they’re too generic, and in other cases, the path to success you’ve set out needs some fine-tuning. Here’s what to do when your financial plans aren’t working out:

Try to Determine What’s Wrong

Are you trying to save $1 million by the time you’re 30, or hoping to pay off steep credit card bills within a calendar year?

Sit down and be honest with yourself as you do some careful number-crunching and self-reflection. If your goals require you to make debt payments or set aside savings that exceed your earnings or your monthly budget, you need to accept that the goal you’ve set is unattainable in the interim.

Don’t be dissuaded if this is the case. This realization is an important step because it means you need to revise your goals, for now.

In other instances, your goals may be unattainable because of other factors. Are you overspending with online shopping or eating out so that you aren’t setting aside monthly savings to align with your goals? Do you need to move from part-time work to full-time work to earn more to put towards debt repayment? In these cases, adjustments can be made to put your goals back on track.

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Identify Ways to Deal with What Is Standing in Your Way

Obstructions like student debt, credit card debt, or paying off other loans, can stand in the way of achieving your goals.

If your goals feel unrealistic, consider if these roadblocks are stopping you from chipping away at saving for your financial future. For example, if you’re socking away savings for retirement but paying 19% interest on your credit card balance, your debt needs to be dealt with first.

Readjust your priorities so that you’re funnelling resources equally – if not more – to clearing outstanding debts so you can focus on your long-term goals.

It could be a balancing act: you could allocate most of your savings to debt repayment, while creating the habit of saving 10% of your earnings every month. This way, once your debts have been cleared you’ll have a small nest egg already saved.

Be Sure to Set SMART Financial Goals

Set financial goals, however big or small, need to be SMART goals, meaning they need to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.

Keeping these parameters in mind will help you determine:

  • What your specific goal is: Is there a concrete figure you want to save up for or pay off? Why are you completing this financial goal – is it to create an emergency fund or to pay off your credit cards?
  • How will you measure your progress? Will you evaluate your financial situation every month or every quarter?
  • What will you do to make these goals happen? While you may want to save up $500 for debt repayment every month, where will this money come from and how does it fit into your budget?
  • How much time will you give yourself to achieve your financial goal?

SMART goal setting is a sure-fire way to ensure your financial plans aren’t just broad stroke hopes, but rather achievable goals that you’ve set into motion.

Break Your Goals Into Smaller Chunks and Set Checkpoints

Achieving a major goal in life never happens overnight. It takes willpower, dedication and persistence. This applies to your financial goals too.

Goals can feel unrealistic if they’re gigantic lofty ideas, such as saying you want to save $1 million or that you want to retire in 10 years. You might feel the burden of a goal so cumbersome, you don’t quite know where to start.

Instead, break your overarching goal into smaller chunks, such as planning how to save $6,000 each year or putting $250 extra into your retirement savings account every month. Suddenly, in smaller-sized chunks your goals are much more approachable and you can work them into your budget.

Celebrate the milestones along the way. If, after five years, you’ve managed to save $30,000, that’s a checkpoint you should definitely be proud of.

Checkpoints also help you evaluate if you’re on track with your smaller goals and help you consider how these smaller goals fit into the bigger picture.

Align Your Goals With Your Budget

Your chances of success when it comes your financial goals hinges on your budget. Here’s why: your budget details how much income you’re pulling in each month along with all of your expenses, including fixed costs like rent and utility bills, to fluctuating costs like eating out, entertainment, and other categories.

Your financial goals need to be worked into your monthly budget in a realistic, sustainable way. If you’re trying to save $500 every month, but you only have $500 leftover in your budget after paying your fixed expenses, your goal isn’t realistic.

Scrutinize your budget and be aware that you need to make sure it balances, but in a way that’s reasonable. Could you pack a lunch every day and shave off $200 from your monthly spending to put towards your savings goals? If eating lunch out with colleagues on pay day is something you really enjoy, shave $180 off your spending instead. You can make sacrifices – within reason – to make your budget work, but make sure it’s a budget you can adhere to in the long run.

Have a Contingency Plan

Life throws curveballs that are bound to slow down your path to achieving your goals. Put together a contingency plan when the inevitable takes place.

This could mean putting away $20 a month for a slush fund or setting aside a small part from your goal-savings for a rainy day.

You’ve been duly warned: emergencies are going to throw your plans off-kilter. Your roof will need repairs, you may face a cutback in hours at work, or your car may breakdown along the way. Simply being aware that you’ll face setbacks is good – having a plan to mitigate them when they happen, that’s what will keep you motivated and on track!

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Review, Revise, Review

Whether it’s tracking your progress at key checkpoints, tweaking your monthly budget as income or spending fluctuates, or if it’s a matter of reconsidering your goals as life stages change, reviewing and revising are crucial parts of your financial journey.

Maybe mid-way through your progress your family will expand, you’ll change careers, or you’ll realise you want to focus most on saving for retirement.

Embrace changes and use them as an opportunity to reflect on the goals you’ve set, what they mean to you, and how you’ll get to the finish line.

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Get Professional Help With Your Financial Goals If You Need It

Regardless of the financial goal, seek help if you need it. If ever you feel inundated with goals to pay off debt or save up money, one of our professional Credit Counsellors can help. Contact us for a free appointment to discuss your overall financial situation. Appointments are also completely confidential, in person in an office, or over the phone; whatever works best for you. You aren’t obligated to take any further action by speaking with a Counsellor and your meeting is a judgment-free zone. There are no hidden fees, fine print, or strings attached. We are here to help you with your finances, provide you with information and guidance, answer your questions, and give you hope for a better financial future. Contact us by phone, email, or anonymous online chat.

Need expert help?
Looking to get back on track?
Get started today by making an appointment to speak with one of our credit counsellors. We’re happy to answer your questions and help you. All of our appointments are free, confidential and non-judgmental.

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