When you graduated from college/university what were your goals? When you left your home country to work overseas, what was your main purpose? Was it to augment your income? To save for retirement, house, or business?
Most of us would agree that all of us have financial goals in life. However, if I’m going to ask you today how far or near you are right now in achieving your aim, will you be able to answer? Will you be able to quantifiably say that you are around 20% or 80% towards achieving that specific goal? Most of us, perhaps, will be speechless since we are not really able to explicitly say the current status. Or much worse, even if we have been working for so long already, we have not done anything yet to achieve these financial targets. You may ask why. It is simply because we are not specific enough on how we plan to realize them. How can we reach a goal when in fact we don’t even know what specifically it is, how much we need for it, and how soon do we want accomplish it?
It is very important then that if you decide to have a goal, it has to be SMART – which stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
What typically happens is this: our financial goals are usually put in a single “savings” jar. This means, that if something comes up, like emergency or travel, or if you decide to start a business or invest in a property, you basically take out from the same jar. Sooner or later, without knowing, you’ll end up with an empty jar. With no more funds, how can you pursue your other goals? Therefore it is always recommended that each financial goal has to be “placed in different jars”. One saving jar for your kid’s education, a separate jar for your retirement, another jar for emergency, a different jar for future business, one more jar for your life insurance, and so forth. It has to be separate. Please note that I’m using “jar” here metaphorically. The jar can be a profit-earning investment vehicle (e.g. mutual funds, investments plans, insurance) where you actually put your money in and allow it to grow. Though I admit, I do have a physical jar or coin bank for some short term goals (e.g. travel fund).
Once you have individually separated each jar, you can now apply the SMART goals.
Your jar should not have a vague label or purpose. You can’t just say that you want to run a business, you should know what kind of business it is. It could be a restaurant, an auto repair shop, or a bakery. You can go into details as much as you want. And if you are considering a college education fund for you kid, you should already know the possible schools and courses for him/her to take.
How will you be able to save up a certain amount when you don’t even know how much you need? If you are planning for a restaurant business, you should already have a good estimate of your investment capital.
A goal should be realistic and attainable to be successful. Yes, you can dream for the stars (or Mars like Elon Musk) but assess your current capabilities, or even stretch it a bit more but make sure that it will remain realistic and achievable.
What is your main purpose for this goal? Is it even inter-related to your overall plans? Why buy a house in Canada when you are not even planning to live or go there? Ask yourself if this specific target aligns to your other relevant goals.
Give it a time-frame. A short term goal could be around 5 years or less while a long term goal can be 10 years or more. Giving your goal a deadline puts you in perspective on how far or near are you in accomplishing it.
Now that you already know how to set your goals, be sure to put it in practice by writing them down and applying the SMART guidelines. But always remember, though planning is a key part to success, it is in the consistent execution that brings you there. Good luck!