It’s time to make a change.
You’ve got something you want to achieve, and you’ve decided to do it. Great. It can be a little tricky figuring out where to start though. The SMART goal framework is an easy way for you to sit down, ask yourself some questions, then go forth and make it happen (with a higher chance of success).
Deciding that you’re going to ‘save more money’ or ‘pay off that credit card debt’ isn’t going to cut it, unfortunately. When you’re trying to come up with specifics, you can either work backwards or work forwards.
Example: You want to save $4,000 for some travel.
Working forwards: “I can comfortably put aside $100 a week for this trip. When I have enough money, I’ll go.”
Working backwards: “I want to travel in three months' time, and I need $4,000 to do it. I need to put aside $335 a week for the next 12 weeks to make that happen.”
Whichever way you decide to approach it, write down actual, concrete numbers.
No: Save more money.
Yes: Save an extra $50 every week.
One of the beautiful things about using the SMART model is that each letter of the acronym links very closely to the others. When you’re thinking about your specific goals, you have to make sure the outcomes are measurable. Most things are, in some way, measurable. You just have to figure out which metrics you need to look at.
No: Get better at investing.
Yes: Find two new podcasts on investing to follow and listen to them at least once a week.
You can set the loftiest goals in the world, but if they aren't realistic for you, they won’t work. You can’t be saving $500 a week if you’re earning $800 a week and your rent alone is $250. Make sure to take into account factors like your budget, expectations, time frames, needs, and wants. Having unattainable goals only leads to disappointment.
No: Save $4,000 for a holiday in one month (with an income of $800 a week).
Yes: Save $4,000 for a holiday in six months (with an income of $800 a week).
This one is a little more conceptual than the others, but still a very important step. When you’re considering a goal, you have to remember that whatever resources you put towards that goal will be pulled from somewhere else. If you’re saving extra money, where was that money before, and what was it doing? If it was paying for your kids’ tuition, it might not be realistic to use that money elsewhere. Or if your goal involves getting a second job, and you end up working so hard you never see your partner or visit your grandmother...is it really worth it? Will you be able to stick to it? Should you?
Ask yourself: who else could be affected by me reallocating my resources towards this goal. Are there negative effects, and is there a way to work around them?
Finally, set a time limit. It’s great to go all-in and be totally dedicated to achieving something. But it’s mentally much more manageable to stay on track when you can see the finish line. At the end of the day, it is worthwhile being disciplined and giving some things up to achieve other things, but time is precious, and you should enjoy it.
No: I’m going to save 50% of my paycheck (indefinitely).
Yes: I’m going to save 50% of my paycheck for the next three months.
This framework can be applied to pretty much any area in your life, not just finance. It’s simple, and it’s effective. If you have a larger SMART goal, you can even break it down into smaller, sequential SMART goals.