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Why Is Goal-Setting Important?

Getting what you want doesn't always come easy. More often than not, you've got to work hard to achieve the results you desire. Getting out of debt and securing your financial future is no exception. This requires dedication, perseverance, and the know-how to manage your money to the best of your ability.

Still, there's another very helpful but often overlooked way to reach your aspirations. It's a process called goal-setting, and for people who achieve what they set out for, it's the one thing most of them have in common. They most likely charted out a long-term plan; mapped out the times, tasks and deadlines along the way; and stuck firmly to their plan in order to achieve their goals. "People never plan to fail; they just fail to plan" (or set goals).

What Are Goals, and How Are They Different from Pipe Dreams?

Consider the scenarios between these two families: the Johnsons and the Smiths.

The Johnsons The Smiths
hope to get out of debt will be out of debt by January 2002 based on monthly payments of $600
want to purchase a house will buy a house by March 2001 with the $10,000 saved as the downpayment
wish to eventually send their child to college will have $14,000 in savings, bonds, and stocks to be applied to tuition by the time their child is 18 years old

So, which family has a stronger foothold on achieving their desired goals? Clearly, the Smiths have a strong game plan with specifically defined tasks and actual timelines and deadlines to obtain their goals. If they work hard and follow their plan, there's a good chance they'll get what they're after.

The Johnsons, on the other hand, have merely pointed out the things they wish for without targeting an action plan to achieve them. Without a plan to stick by, they might find their wishes are little more than pipe dreams or wishful thinking.

Sometimes when people write down their goals, they discover that some of the goals are broad and far-reaching, while others may seem smaller in scope. Dare to dream, but be realistic about what you can attain. And because goals can vary so differently, a good idea is to break them down into three separate categories of time. One more thing to remember: Placing a timeframe on your goals really depends on a lot of different factors, so that timeframe can change anytime.

Long-term goals (over 5 years)

Long-term goals are those that won't happen overnight, no matter how hard you work to achieve them. They make take a long time to accomplish, so give yourself a reasonable amount of time, based on your best estimates of what it will take to achieve them. Examples of long-term goals might include college education for a child or purchasing a home. Whatever the case, these goals generally require longer commitments and often more money.

Intermediate-term goals (1-5 years)

Intermediate-term goals are those that can't be executed overnight but might not take many years to accomplish. Examples may include purchasing/replacing a car, getting an education or certification, or paying off your debt (depending on the amount).

Short-term goals (within one year)

Short-term goals generally take under one year to achieve, based on the date the task is needed, the total estimated cost, and required savings.

So, what are your goals? Make up a list, decide which timeline your goal(s) fit into, detail the steps necessary to achieve your goals, then take action toward reaching those goals.

More help: Developing a Financial Goals Chart