Most people consider budgeting to be a dirty word and a punishment for overspending. The goal is to get back on track. Success requires painful self-sacrifice to be endured only so long as necessary.
Vanquish the dreaded “B word” from your vocabulary. Instead of a budget, develop a plan for spending. Rather than a punishment for past transgressions, a spending plan is a road map for getting from where you are today to where you want to be in the future.
The first step is to decide where you want to go. You would not say you are going out west someplace for a vacation. Wandering aimlessly westward until you find someplace worth stopping might not result in the kind of vacation you wanted.
The more specific you are about where you want to go, how to get there, when you will arrive, how long you will stay, and what you will do with your time, the better your vacation will likely turn out to be. The journey to financial success and long-term financial security begins with SMART goals.
A SMART goal is:
Specific. Exactly what do you want? The more detailed you can be, the better. Instead of saying you want a new house, be specific about the kind of house you want, the part of town you desire, the features it will include and things that would perhaps be nice extras. Instead of saying you want financial security, define what that would mean to you. Unless you specify what you mean by financially secure, you will never know when you reach it.
Measurable. Once you know what you want, put a price on it. How much will it cost? Whatever the goal, come up with the specific dollar amount you need to achieve it. For distant goals, such as retirement, be sure to consider inflation.
Actionable. What steps will you take to reach your goal? Can you afford the amount you need to set aside each month to reach the goal? If not, revise your goal.
Realistic. Your goal must also be realistic. If you were trying a new nutrition plan, saying that you will never eat fast food again is probably not realistic. You will have times where that might be your only option. But you will take steps to prevent that. The same is true with your finances. Set realistic goals when budgeting that you know you can stick with and are going to be attainable for you and your family.
Time-bound. When do you want to accomplish your goal? Be specific, like by Nov. 30, 2020. The deadline and the cost of your goal allow you to calculate how much you need to contribute each month to reach it. If you cannot afford the monthly contribution, you need to scale back your goal or back up the deadline date.
Setting goals for your long term financial security is not an easy task. Thinking realistically about the future when there are so many unknowns can be difficult. Working on multiple goals and keeping up with routine, day-to-day expenses at the same time adds to the challenge.
That is why a plan for spending is so important. Your plan for spending is the road map to where you want to go.
SMART goals, your spending plan, and the magic of compound interest are the three most important tools in your financial toolbox. For more information about planning your spending, managing expenses, or getting out of debt, contact me at the Hall County Extension Office 770-535-8293.
Sources: Michael Rupured, UGA FACS Financial Planning Specialist
Carin Booth is the family and consumer sciences agent at the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Office in Hall County. She can be reached at 770-535-8293 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column runs monthly.