This year, I’m doing something a little unorthodox. I didn’t set any personal goals for the new year — and that includes financial goals. Instead of setting goals for this year, I’m calling this my “year of exploration.”
You don’t have to spend a whole year trying to figure out who you are and what you want, but before you set another money goal, take the time to figure out what you hope to make of your life. Too often, we set financial goals because they are the “right” financial goals, not because they actually help us achieve anything meaningful in our lives.
Do I really need to put more money toward retirement, just because that’s a common goal and I haven’t maxed out every possible account yet?
Are Your Financial Goals Helping You Reach Your Life Goals?
One of the issues with finances is that, too often, we disconnect money from what’s happening in our lives. We know we have to pay bills and get rid of debt, and save for retirement and a rainy day, but we don’t think about why we do these things, or how money can be a means to an end for living a more fulfilling life.
A lot of the things we do with our money are “automatic” and follow a prescription for what we “should” be doing, even if we don’t really care for that the prescription. Over time, I’ve decided that I have no problem financing my cars, and I don’t want to buy a house again. And I’m not paying off my student loans early. These decisions go against the accepted rhetoric about how I should manage my money.
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But none of these choices will keep me from reaching my own life goals. This year, with my divorce less than a few months final, I’m taking a look at what I want out of life. I’m simply maintaining the current status quo with my money, and exploring what I want my life to look like going forward.
How can my money choices help me reach those goals? Well, I won’t know until I figure out what I want. For now, I know that I want to be able to do the following things, in addition to paying my bills and living costs:
- Prepare for retirement
- Contribute to charity
- Provide worthwhile experiences for my son
I already have mechanisms in place to help me accomplish these goals. Setting aside more for retirement isn’t a goal that makes sense for me. I already set aside slightly more than what an online calculator tells me I need. What might make more sense for me, though, is putting more money into my travel fund, or even changing the way I run my business so that I have more time for community service. I don’t know. I’m exploring what I want to do with my life moving forward, and once I know that, I can make financial goals that will help me accomplish that.
Before you make your next financial goal (and you can make financial goals anytime you want — not just at the start of a new year!), take a step back and figure out what kind of life you hope to create. Then, acknowledge how your finances can impact the outcome. What can you do with your money to help you reach your definition of success?
Wherever you are in your life, and whatever your finances look like right now, don’t just make goals to make goals. Honestly evaluate what you want, and figure out which financial habits are holding you back. Decide how you can change those habits to change your life. Then set financial goals that will move you a little closer to your long-term goals.