SMART Goals are goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound. But why should we have goals in the first place? Earl Nightingale said, “People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going.”, and Mark Twain stated, “Without dreams and goals there is no living, only merely existing, and that is not why we are here.” Goals give us direction and purpose in our life. If you have no goals, you merely drift aimlessly in life. You have no idea where you are heading, and you do not know what your purpose is. If you do not have financial goals, your financial life does not head in the direction that you want it to. With no purpose for building wealth, you will not build wealth.
Have Meaningful Goals
Don’t think you are too old when it comes to having goals. As C.S. Lewis said, “You are never too old to set a new goal or to dream a new dream.” This is true for your financial life as well. When you are in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and wondering about retirement, there is no better reason to set goals! When retirement is staring you in the face, use that as motivation to reach your goal. You are never too old to start building wealth.
I never liked the annual goal writing that we had to do when I worked in corporate America. Most of the goals I was required to write down were things that I considered to be my everyday job duties. We had goals like, “Write a status report every week and get to work on time.” I was always under the assumption that part of my job role was to do these things well. I compared these goals to “Get out of bed every morning.” (There were still some people who did not receive high marks with these goals. You’d be surprised.) And then for documenting our own progress of these goals, it was the same thing year after year: “I’ve been to work on time every day, and I’ve sent out the status report every week this past quarter.” It was nonsense! Don’t write goals like that!
Write goals that add purpose to your life. There are some that can’t physically get out of bed each morning, and they have the goal to get out of bed. That is a meaningful goal in their situation. For others who are physically able to get out of bed but are just lazy, you have a different problem that needs your attention.
We automatically fail at our goals when we don’t have any. No Goals = No Purpose. Fail! We also fail when they are not SMART Goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound.
Let’s look at each of these by creating a goal for becoming financially independent.
Your goals need to be specific. If you have the goal of “I want to do something”, that is not specific. Your goals need to be specific or you won’t know what you are trying to achieve. If you hired someone to “build me a house”, you might get a birdhouse, a dollhouse, a brick home, or a log cabin. You will not get your dream house. “I want to be financially independent” is a specific goal. It’s not measurable or time-bound, and we do not know if it is attainable or relevant, but we will continue to define our goal.
If the goal is “to reach financial independence”, we won’t know if we’re ever there since the goal is not measurable. The goal should be, “I want to have $1,000,000 net worth so that I can be financially independent”. Now the goal is measurable, and we will know when it is reached. Our goal is specific and measurable, but it is not time-bound, and it’s possible it is not attainable or relevant.
If your goal is not attainable, you will fail. Right now, our goal to have a net worth of $1,000,000 is attainable. Once we time-bound it, it might not be attainable anymore. If your goal is to have $1,000,000 saved by age 65 and you are 64 and have nothing saved, your goal is not attainable. You will need to change your goal. If your goal is not attainable, it is just a dream.
Having a goal to retire is relevant. Having a goal to have a net worth of a billion dollars to retire is not relevant. For all practical purposes, that amount of money is not needed to retire. A relevant goal is a goal that aligns with your other goals in life. Ask yourself, “If I achieve this goal, will it benefit me and put me where I want my life to be?” If the answer is “Yes!”, then the goal is relevant.
Your goal needs to have a due date on it. It needs to be time-bound. You can’t just say you want to reach financial independence. If you don’t know when you need to meet your goal, you won’t know how to plan for it. You cannot measure it, and you will not know if you ever reached it. “I want to have $1,000,000 net worth by the age of 55 so that I can be financially independent by age 55”, is a goal that is time-bound.
Now we have a SMART goal. Our goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Here are some examples of financial SMART goals that you might have if you need to pay off debt, save an emergency fund, or pay off your house early:
- Pay off $50,000 in debt in 24 months so that I can be debt free.
- Save $24,000 in the next 12 months so that I can have a 6-month emergency fund.
- I want to pay off my house in 5 years so that I can be 100% debt free!
Write your SMART goals on paper and hang them on your fridge so you can read them every day.
The next step is to break your goals into actionable steps.