We all want things that are perhaps out of our immediate reach on a financial level. There are things that we need to buy and then there are things that we want to buy. But many Americans aren’t even putting money away for the things that they need, let alone the things that we want. With one in five working Americans not saving money for retirement, emergencies, or other financial goals, it is clear that a lot of us have problems regarding saving.
There are a lot of reasons why saving money can range from being somewhat to extremely challenging for Americans. For one thing, a lot of us don’t necessarily make enough money to save. For another, we are often forced to or encouraged to take on more debt. Americans take on debt to go to college, pay medical bills, and finance their houses through home mortgages. While some debt is manageable, lots of people are unable to fully balance paying off their debt and paying for their needs and wants. But some people could pay off their debt and achieve their goals; they just don’t know how to establish financial goals in the first place.
The year 2020 has been challenging for all of us, between the health and financial crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to the global protests regarding racial inequality. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of the COVID-19 vaccine and Americans will be able to save money in the future as we recover from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. It’s important that you explore how to establish financial goals ahead of 2021 so that you can start the year off right and make changes that will allow you to be more financially healthy in the future. The more financially literate you are, the easier it will be for you to someday afford the things that you want — whether that’s a remarkable vacation or some diamond jewelry. You don’t necessarily need to have the highest-paying job in order to afford these things. Indeed, educating yourself is often much more valuable. With that in mind, let’s explore some of the ways that you can not only establish your financial goals but achieve them.
1. Know What You Want
It’s a good idea to have actual numbers in mind when you’re exploring how to establish financial goals. If you have a certain amount of money that you’re working towards, you’ll be able to make more specific and concentrated choices regarding your financial goals, as well as feel more directly motivated to achieve those goals.
With that in mind, you may want to make a list of things that you want or want to do most. For some people, financial goals may be more practical, like becoming debt-free. For others, they may involve more tangible things, like being able to afford plastic surgery. Either way, having at least a rough goal number in mind is important.
You can think of these goals in terms of New Year’s resolutions for 2021, in particular. If you want to be able to afford something that costs $10,000 by the end of 2021, how much money will you need to set aside every month in order to afford that thing? Think about putting aside a specific fund that is meant to accommodate your goal. If you have a savings account associated with your special financial goal, you will be able to put the money for that goal aside and prevent yourself from “touching” it for other more short-term purposes. Limiting yourself from withdrawing money that you don’t need to spend is an important part of learning how to establish financial goals.
2. Consider Refinancing Your Loans
It’s quite possible that some of your current financial hardships exist because you committed to loans that are no longer economically healthy for you. A lot of Americans take on a large amount of debt at a surprisingly young age. This leads to various issues down the road. You may have a monthly payment that you are unable to afford, which makes it difficult for you to save money or even pay for your basic needs. This could lead to your defaulting on your loans, which will of course negatively affect your credit score in major ways. You may also find yourself committing to bad credit loans with high interest rates because you need to make unavoidable payments. Essentially, this creates a vicious cycle in which you incur more debt and find yourself unable to pay it off.
This is why you should consider refinancing the debt that you currently have, especially if it comes in the form of mortgages or student loans. Now is actually a good time to do this if you’re trying to figure out how to establish financial goals. While the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to all of us, it also presents new opportunities. Lenders have been forced to negotiate with borrowers who can no longer make the same payments that they once did because entire industries have been eliminated. Many Americans have been able to secure historically low mortgage rates as a result. Federal student loans will also remain in forbearance until January 31; this could give people time to refinance their private student loans in order to lock in lower rates.
3. Pay Off (Or Down) Your Credit Card Debt
Americans have a lot of credit card debt. We often over-rely on credit cards — sometimes to the point that we put ourselves in bad financial positions. Furthermore, we don’t consider the credit card processing fees that can drive the amount that we spent on credit cards up even further. In short, it can be easy for people to miss how to establish financial goals because they’re so preoccupied with credit card debt. In 2021, you should try to make it a goal to pay down your credit card debt as much as possible so that you no longer have to worry about it. But how can this be achieved?
There are a few methods that apply toward paying off credit card debt. One is known as the debt avalanche method, which sounds intimidating but is actually fairly straightforward. Those taking this approach will pay off their highest debt first. This means that you get the worst debts out of the way, which will have a positive impact on your credit score while also allowing you to make lower payments each month. At the same time, you’ll have a chance to focus on how to establish financial goals efficiently.
The other method is called the debt snowball method, which involves paying off your smallest amount of debt first. This is often easier for people with lower incomes or other commitments. It can allow them to make incremental changes that are often easier to tackle. No matter what approach you take, you need to make paying off your credit card debt a priority. If you’re really struggling with your payments, think about seeking credit counseling, or perhaps choosing a low-interest balance transfer. In some cases, personal loans and debt settlements can also be good options that will allow you to at least be free of the issues that come with credit card debt.
4. Sell Things You Don’t Need
A lot of us spend time during the beginning of a new year clearing our houses of things that we no longer need. While this will inevitably involve throwing out a lot of trash, you may also find some treasure that you could turn into money. Go through your home and be ruthless, selecting things that you don’t really need and selling them for as much as possible. In some cases, this may involve selling things that you would normally justify keeping. But if you really need money and want to focus on how to establish financial goals in the new year, you should try to sell as much as possible. There are a few different outlets for selling items that you no longer need or want. On a general level, you could conduct a yard sale or sell items individually on websites like Craigslist, but generally speaking, this won’t bring a lot of income. If you have items like furniture and jewelry that tend to be more valuable, you could consider visiting a pawn shop or an antique store. Owners will typically haggle with you over pricing, but if you do your research, you might be able to negotiate an impressive payout.
Still, selling items online could be a better option in many cases. Yes, this will involve more effort, including finding the right sites to work with, listing the items online, and shipping them once they are sold. But many websites not only allow you to set your own prices but potentially encourage bidding as well. A bidding atmosphere can quickly drive the prices of items up, even if you’re trying to simply sell used electronics or memorabilia. Additionally, you don’t need to worry about processing the payments yourself and much of the marketing can be done for you. While it can be a little difficult to sell items that you were once attached to, being able to achieve your financial goals in 2021 can be well worth the sacrifice.
5. Automate Your Savings
Saving money is difficult. It can be hard to stay frugal when you want to spend money on items that you love — or, for that matter, dip into your savings to spend a little more on food. But the reality is that as you learn about how to establish financial goals, you’ll quickly discover that saving money is extremely important. If you don’t already have strong savings habits, you’ll probably need to start automating your savings. This will take the responsibility out of your hands somewhat, and force you into a savings routine that will help you reach your long term goals.
Most online bank accounts will allow people to have both checking and savings accounts to start out. You can then create an automated process through which, each month, your saving account automatically draws a certain amount of money from your checking account. This is a great way to create the fund for your financial goals that we mentioned earlier. It’s important to note that savings accounts are more difficult to draw from on a whim and often incur interest over time. This takes the thinking out of saving money and it’s usually a fairly easy process. Most employers will allow employees to divide their paychecks into different accounts, which is another way of making automatic contributions. In a similar sense, you should have as many necessary payments automated as possible. Often, companies like automotive insurance providers offer incentives for those that enroll in automatic payments, which will keep you from defaulting on payments unintentionally and hurting your credit score.
6. Establish an Emergency Fund
You never know when a disaster, whether personal or financial, may strike. The last thing you want is to find yourself on the phone with a bankruptcy attorney because a horrible medical emergency happened and you are completely unable to pay it off. While an emergency fund cannot always cover all of your emergency expenses, it can certainly help.
An emergency fund often differs from a savings account. Usually, it will have anywhere from three to six months’ worth of living expenses. You should set parameters so that this account will only be accessed in case of a true emergency. While it can take time to save this amount of money, doing so is well worth it, as the pandemic has proven. Consider setting up a high-yield savings account for your emergency fund in order to accumulate money more quickly.
While it can be difficult to reconcile with your own financial mistakes as you explore how to establish financial goals, now is a great time to begin rectifying those mistakes. Be strict with yourself, but understand that you are doing so in order to be better off later. Before more financially independent and healthy can change your life in ways that you can’t even imagine.