January 1st now seems like it was AGES ago, doesn't it?
Two steps forward, 1 step back is OK!
Here are a 3 easy steps for pacing yourself and staying on-track…all year long.
Step 1: Set Defined Goals
Any person who is successful with ANYTHING will tell you that one of the first keys is to set defined goals, and determine your motivation for those goals.
- You can't just say, “I want to get in shape this year” and expect results. Why? Because how the heck do you know if you're “in shape” if you never define what “in shape” means? Same with finances. Don't just say, “I want to get out of debt” or “I want to spend less on groceries” or “I want to put more money into savings”. You have to be specific.
- At this year's Frugality Boot Camp (FBC) we really focused on setting, achieving, and maintaining financial goals. I'll share with you a few slides and snippets that we covered at camp to help illustrate my points, starting with this exercise:
- “I want to get out of debt” or “I want a new car” or “I want to become a stay-at-home parent”.
- If you want a new car, figure out exactly how much you need. “I want a new car…so I need $1,200 for the increased monthly payment for the year since it's $100 more per month than I'm paying now, and $2500 for the downpayment = $3,700.”
- If you want to get out of debt, do the math and figure out how much you need! Are you just wanting to pay off your credit cards? Pay off your house? All of your student loans, or just some? Figure out exactly how much debt you want to tackle this year, and set the dollar amount to it.
- If you want a new car say, “I want a new car, and need $3,700. I want to buy it in 6 months, so I need to set aside $617 per month.” Is that doable? If not, extend the goal time-frame. If you say, “I want to buy it within the next 9 months” that brings it down to $411 per month, for example.
- If you want to get out of debt, add your debt up, divide it by 12, and say, “I want to pay off all my credit cards and student loans, so I need $6,400. I want to achieve this within 1 year so I need to put $533 toward debt each month.” If you don't have that much to put toward your debt, then make it a little more realistic. “I want to pay off my credit cards and one of my two student loans, so I need $1,985. I want to accomplish this in the next 12 months so I need to put $165.42 toward debt each month.”
- Once again, make it realistic…but also make it a challenge!
- This is, quite possibly, the most important step. Why? Because 3 months into it you're going to hit a rough patch, lose motivation, want to give up, or whatever it is. The WHY behind your goal is going to be the only thing that will keep you going! So figure out what it is, and make it good enough to pull you through the rough patches.
- “I want to get out of debt because I want to get ahead in life. I want to provide for my family and protect them; and I want every dollar I make to go directly into my family's pocket, and not toward interest.”
- “I want a new car so I can safely drive my family where they want to go. I want a dependable vehicle that won't break down and cost us so much in repairs, so we can put that money toward a family vacation next summer.”
- BE SPECIFIC and dig deep!
Physically sit down (as a couple if you're married) and take the time to discuss and define these goals. Focus on one goal at a time if you have to. But start somewhere, and get to work!
So now that you've set your goals, how do you stay on-track?
Step 2: Track your progress
If you stay organized and on-top of your goals throughout the year, you'll be chipping away at them without hardly noticing…and will achieve them in no time!
- Take the time to do it right. When working on a goal, do everything you need to get organized so you only have to do it ONCE.
- For example, if you want to “get out of debt” as your goal, you need to figure out: how much debt you have, how much you are spending each month, how much leftover money you have to put toward debt, if you don't have leftover money you need to figure out where money can come from, etc. This could take hours upon hours…but that's life! It's simply what needs to be done in order to achieve your goal! Remember, if you take the time to do it right, you'll only need to do it once.
- In terms of financial goals, you'll want to operate on a MONTHLY mind-set. Break everything down monthly. But, from there, it helps to break it down weekly so you can track it easier – much like my personal budget (see HERE).
- HERE's how we track our money and spending, and it's really really really really helped us. Remember, we were over $10,000 in debt (on Credit cards alone!), had no savings, and moved to 1-income when I had my son…and we managed to get out of debt in under one year. Having multiple bank accounts played a big role in that, as well as honing in on tracking my own budget, and managing how I grocery shop.
- Daily: Be aware daily of where you are for the week budget-wise.
- Use your phone. Use a list app (Evernote is a great free one), write notes to yourself, track your spending, set alarms and reminders on your calendar. Remind yourself to be constantly aware of your budget.
- For example, I knew I was going to lunch with girlfriends this week on Friday, but it's also Valentine's Day week. I needed most of my budget to go toward Vday, but I needed to plan to leave enough budget to cover going out to lunch Friday. On Thursday I went back and checked my budget to make sure I could go on Friday. Don't wait until the end of the week to be aware that you've gone over budget!
- Weekly: Hold weekly weigh-ins, just like on The Biggest Loser.
- Pick one day of the week where you sit down with your spouse (if married) and review how your spending/budget/goal went that week. Put it on the calendar and don't skip!
- This won't take nearly as long as the monthly one.In fact, it can potentially be pretty quick – especially if you've stayed on-track that week! It will be a, “here's how I did on my budget this week…I have $14 leftover, so let's put that toward our debt to pay it off faster. Next week I have a birthday part and a shower, though, so I probably won't have any leftover. How'd you do on your budget?” kind of a thing.
- Look at how you did that week.
- Look at the upcoming week and anticipate upcoming expenses. My lunch and Vday example just above is a good example of this.
- Once again, you want everything to run on a monthly budget, but break it down weekly so stay on top of it better. For example, if you know you need $533 to put toward debt each month, divide it by the weeks in the month (usually 4 or 5). This month (Feb) you know that you need to be setting aside $133.25 each week.
- Each person gets a row (we added an extra for you, just in case you need it). Fill in their name, and their individual budget duties.
- Include the budget AMOUNT next to the budget NAME, so you can remember what the budget total is.
- Keep it simple and lump your budgets together rather than having lots of little separate budgets!! I promise it will be easier to stay within budget if you do it that way!
- For my budget, I keep it very simple and only have a “Grocery” and “other” budget. Fuel is a business expense in our family so my husband is the one that covers it, but you might want to add it to yours.
- At the end of the week go through and track the total you spent on each budget.
- At the bottom fill in the “how did I do?” box. Do this each week for the entire month.
- Monthly: Sit down and review the entire month together.
- Summarize everything for the month – what you earned, what you spent, what you have leftover, unexpected expenses that came up, look at your bank accounts, personal budgets, family budgets, expenses coming up the next month that you may need to plan for.
- Just know it will take a while. But remember, take the time to do it RIGHT!
- Make it a monthly date night. No skipping!
- Review your finances from that month line by line and hold yourself accountable. Just know that someone will probably end up crying…or, that's what ends up happening on our house, anyway 🙂 Talking about finances is tough! But once you do it regularly, it does gets easier. The easiest way to avoid tension is for you to go through your OWN budget, and your spouse goes through THEIR budget. You are still walking through it line-by-line together, but it's better than “why did you spend this?” “what's this?” “you went over budget here”. Instead it's, “I went over on this budget”…”I spend this much on groceries”…and it helps because you don't feel like you're being attacked.
- Quarterly: Don't make any changes to your new budget until you've tried it for 3 months.
- You need to give it a solid “go” for 3 months before you change anything. Sometimes getting the hang of a new budget can take some time! So give it 3 months.
- After 3 months review your notes from your previous monthly reviews. Make minor changes if necessary, then set a new 3-month goal.
- Be realistic, but make it a challenge! For example, let's say you are trying to set aside $133 each week to put toward your $6400 in debt (the example I used earlier) to pay it off in 12 months, which is $133/week. But let's say that every week you're missing that number by nearly half. It's probably safe to say that it might not be a realistic goal. Reassess your goal and make it a little more realistic. Maybe extend your 12 month goal to an 18 month goal, which would change your weekly debt payment from $133 to $89 per week. It will take you longer to achieve your goal, but it will greatly increase your changes of being able to achieve it at all!
Step 3: Stay Motivated
- Remember the WHY.
- Remember on Step 1 how you wrote out your goal in great detail? Remember step 4, the “why”? That's your big ticket. Rather than looking at the dollar amount, look at the WHY. “Man, $133 per week toward debt? That sucks…” won't get you very far. But if you remember WHY, it will change to “$133 per week is going to be tough, but it's worth it to be completely debt free in one year, and that will allow us to finally build up our savings so we can go on a family vacation…” or whatever it is.
- Remind yourself. A lot.
- Write it on your mirror (dry-erase marker works great). Set a daily alarm in your phone. Write it on your hand. Put a note on the visor of your car. Set a graphic as your computer background. Not just the goal you're trying to accomplish, but the WHY behind it.
- Celebrate along the way – create mini-markers.
- Reward yourself for mini-achievements! You're already taking the time to track your progress weekly, monthly, and every 3 months. Choose one of those times as your mini progress marker, and if you stick with your goal until that point, celebrate! Go out for ice cream. Buy yourself a little something. Do something fun. Throw a mini party. Do it all within budget, of course, but indulge a little and it will give you the boost you need to make it to the next marker.
- For example, maybe you say “If I can stick with my budget for 2 weeks, I get $20 of my budget to go buy myself a new shirt.” or “If we can hold to the budget for 1 month, we get to go to our favorite restaurant as a date” (planning ahead for it in your budget, of course).
- Make it visual. Create a thermometer, graph, or chart that shows your progress. Once you reach a certain point on the graph, celebrate. Find what works for you and do it!
- Create a support system.
- Getting your spouse involved is key. No matter what your financial goal is, you guys need to be in it together, 110%. There's no, “I'll work on my budget this year and you can work on yours next year” thing. You need to be in it – all the way – together.
- But, beyond your spouse, get others involved! Your family. Friends. Kids. Neighbors. Homies. Pals. Mailman. Anyone! Fill them in on what you're trying to do, how you're doing, and have them help you celebrate as you meet those mini-markers.
- A friend of mine has been losing weight. She is constantly posting pictures and updates on Instagram. At first I though, “wow, that's brave of her to post her weight on social media…” and I was skeptical. But honestly, she's slaughtering her goal, and that's why! Once you declare it to the world it's harder to fizzle out with it. Plus, it makes us proud and in awe of her hard work, helps us to appreciate what she's going through, makes us mindful of her situation and emotions, and now she has a great support system for when she has a “bad diet day”. It helps everyone who is working at a similar goal to see how she's achieving her success, and gives her a group of people to talk to/get ideas from about what works and what doesn't.
- Consider starting a little group with friends! You can do “weekly budget weigh-ins” where you go to lunch or dessert at someone's house, and you each review how your week went. Maybe you don't give specific numbers if you don't want people to know your budget, but you could talk percentages or whatever. (Though, being real will help you get farther, faster just FYI!) You can share ideas, motivation, tips, stories, and all celebrate together as you achieve your mini-marker goals.
- Focus on your attitude.
- Really, it's ALL about attitude.
- The only difference between FEAR and EXCITEMENT is your attitude about it. Don't be afraid or focus on what you'll be giving up in order to achieve your goal, focus on how amazing it will be when you achieve it and get excited about it!
I am blogging on behalf of Visa Prepaid and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Discover more at http://www.VisaPrepaid.com or join the Visa Prepaid community at http://www.facebook.com/