Looking toward a bright future can be one of the most exciting aspects of your college years. As you work hard to achieve your educational goals, you may be envisioning your upcoming career success as well as the fulfillment of other goals. Do you dream of having a home of your own? Of traveling the world? Of celebrating your life’s success with a comfortable (or even early) retirement?
Long-term goals such as these, as well as shorter-term goals along the way — buying a car, establishing an emergency fund or eliminating credit card debt, for example — require setting financial targets and creating a plan to reach them.
Here are some tips for setting and achieving your financial goals:
Define and prioritize your goals. Make a list of what you’d like to achieve with your money — anything from buying a new phone or tablet or taking a vacation on spring break, to buying a home, starting a business or saving for retirement. Then rank these in order of their importance to you and indicate whether each is a short-term goal (paying cash for the coming semester’s books), an intermediate goal (saving for a car) or a long-term goal (building your retirement nest egg).
Assess your financial situation. Now take a look at your budget. If you don’t have a formal budget, it’s a good time to create one. List out your monthly financial obligations — rent, utilities, groceries, technology, transportation, entertainment, insurance, a monthly savings contribution, etc. — and then subtract those from your monthly income to see how much is left for your newly defined goals.
Don’t be discouraged if there’s not a lot of cash to spare! You may need to adjust your expectations about how long it may take to achieve a certain goal, but remember that your circumstances can change, and starting small is how many big dreams come to fruition.
This objective assessment may also cause you to reprioritize your goals. For example, if you see that you have a lot of credit card debt, you may want to prioritize paying that off before you start saving for a vacation. Waiting until next year to take the vacation you had planned for this spring might be disappointing at the moment, but you may find it’s worth it if it means being debt-free by the time you go. Reprioritize your goals as needed from this perspective of being fully aware of your financial circumstances.
Set specific financial targets. Vague targets are difficult to hit; be as specific as possible with yourself in planning how you intend to reach each goal. Asking yourself questions may help: What is the monetary value attached to each goal — that is, how much do you need to save? What is your target date for reaching each goal? How much will you need to put toward that goal each month? Remember that, for longer-term goals, you can start with a small amount and build your contribution from year to year as your income grows.
Keep track of your progress. Being able to see exactly how far you’ve come (and how close you are to your goal) can be a fantastic motivator to keep you moving in the right direction, as well as point out any areas where you may need to make adjustments to your plan. There are plenty of apps available to help you visualize your progress, or you can keep a journal.
Talk about your goals. Peer pressure isn’t always a bad thing: Sharing your financial goals with like-minded family members and trusted friends may help you hold yourself accountable and stay on track toward achieving them. You also may find it helpful to discuss your goals with a financial advisor. They may have insights or tools to help you manage your money more efficiently and potentially reach your goals more quickly.
Keep a positive outlook. If you become discouraged along the way because things aren’t going exactly as you had planned — maybe a financial emergency took you off track for a while or you made a misstep in keeping with your plan — remember that we all experience setbacks at one time or another. Just stay focused and keep in mind that any progress is good progress. Your goals are in sight!