By Stephanie Yates
This time of year many of us dress up our kids as witches, goblins, and ghouls so that they can visit neighbors in search of the best treats of the season. One historical account of the origin of Halloween comes from the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain. This festival celebrated the end of the harvest season and a time to inventory your food stores in preparation for winter. Given these scarce resources, this festival was also a time to scare off the dead who were believed to have the ability to come back to life causing havoc and damaging those stores.
Against that backdrop, perhaps this might be a good time to reflect on our financial resources and scare off some money ghouls and goblins. Why not take inventory of your own resources and determine if they are sufficient to last you through the winter and beyond? Why not employ some wise financial planning to scare away those lurking dangers that could wreak havoc on your finances?
How do you know what you need for the winter if you haven’t made any plans? What is it that you really want to accomplish financially? Do you want to get out of debt? Is there a major purchase that you are considering? Have you thought about what you need in order to retire comfortably? These are all potential topics for goal setting. There are two things that you should keep in mind when setting your financial goals.
First, consider various time horizons. Ideally, you should try to set at least one or two goals in each of three different time horizons. Short-term goals are those things that you would like to accomplish within the next year. Medium-term goals have a time frame of one to five years and long-term goals are those that you expect will take at least five years or more to achieve.
Second, in order to be sure that you have put enough thought into these goals and can hold yourself accountable, make sure that they are SMART. SMART goals are ones that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. That is, if I set a goal that simply states that I want to be “better” at saving money, that’s a fairly weak goal. How do I know if I’ve accomplished it or not? What does this goal really mean? I need to specify what I will do in that regard and when I will do it without being too grandiose. Therefore, if I set a goal that states that I want to increase my emergency fund by $1,000 by next September, I have something that is much more useful.
Another area of our finances that we should consider reviewing is our spending. Are you living within your means? Do you have a spending plan or budget? Does it need to be updated? A spending plan is an important tool for helping you accomplish your goals. If I set that goal of saving $1,000 within a year, I need to take a look at my current cash inflow and outflow to determine how I can make that happen. Will I need to cut back on my chai tea latte consumption or is it possible that I could exceed that goal? If traditional budgets aren’t your style, you may want to take some advice from Elizabeth Warren and her daughter Amelia Warren Tyagi in their book All Your Money: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan. In it, they suggest a 50/30/20 budgeting plan. This means that 50 percent of your after-tax income should be allocated to necessities, 30 percent to spending, and 20 percent to saving. Not only will this give you a simpler way to approach budgeting, but potentially a goal to set since most of us don’t save anywhere near 20 percent of our income!
Now that you’ve set some short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals and developed a spending plan to help you achieve them, there’s one more thing that you need to do to help you get through the long winter. You need to monitor your plan. Are you sticking to your budget? Are those goals still attainable and realistic? Every month or at least every quarter, you should check in on your progress toward your goals. You should also compare your actual spending to planned spending. Maybe you had to guess at a few things and now you have some history to help you refine your numbers. It’s perfectly fine to change your plan as life happens. Life is dynamic, so your financial plan should be as well.
Since I’m not a farmer, this is how I prepare for the winter. Those money goblins can’t scare me if I’ve got a good plan in place!