Setting attainable goals that work
Well, we’re here at the beginning of February…how did it go with those New Year’s Resolutions? Did you quit smoking? Are you hitting the gym? Eating healthily? Probably not. Because you set yourself up for huge changes, rather than set attainable goals.
How I set my attainable goals
I’m down 4 pounds since the first of the year. Don’t get all impressed, I have 40 to go, and those 4 were most likely alcohol weight – after a long weekend of drinking, the scale always tips toward the wrong side.
But we’re not here to talk about my weight. This is a personal finance blog – let’s talk about your finances.
What was your financial resolution this year? Spend less and save more, or some variation on that theme is one of the top New Year’s Resolutions. Did you plan for this change, or decide that January 1 would dawn, and you would suddenly have a handle on your finances?
I’m not trying to be mean – but statistics show you are overwhelmingly apt to fail in your New Year’s Resolutions. So how do you get yourself into that 8%? Here’s my advice for setting attainable goals.
1. Have a plan for your attainable goals
You’re reading this, which means you’re thinking about money. That’s a HUGE first step. Getting it on your radar puts you leaps and bounds ahead of the pack. Maybe you’re tired of living paycheck to paycheck – always worried that you won’t be able to pay your rent or your utility bills. Maybe there’s a little left after the bills are paid, but only just a little.
Since you’re here, and you’ve already started thinking about money, let’s move on to step 2 and start DOING something about it. This is no longer the beginning of a new year, let’s not call it a New Year’s Resolution. Let’s call it Getting Your Financial House in Order. And let’s take it in small steps.
2. Read your credit report
There are three credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. By law, they are required to provide you with a copy of your credit report, at no charge to you, once every 12 months.
The easiest way to get a copy of your credit report is to go to www.annualcreditreport.com which is the website set up and maintained by the three bureaus to comply with the law.
You can either get a report from all three agencies, or you can monitor your credit throughout the year by getting a report from one agency now, then a different one in four months, and the last one four months after that.
Each agency’s report will be a little different because some companies only report to one agency, but the majority of the information will be the same throughout all reports.
The most important thing is to read through it carefully, to make sure the information is correct. If you come across items that are not correct, such as a late payment that was on time, or an account that still shows a balance rather than the paid off status it should show, even completely incorrect information that isn’t yours, now is the time to protest these issues and get started clearing them from your record.
But keep in mind, you can only dispute information that is incorrect. Accurate, but unflattering information can’t be removed from your report.
3. Improve your credit score
Now that you know what’s on your credit report you can start to improve your credit score. Did you know that 35% of your credit score is comprised of on-time payments?
Another 30% is your credit utilization – meaning how much you owe vs how much credit you have. Let’s say your credit limit was $1,000 on a credit card. Having a $300 balance is a 30% credit utilization. But if you max out that card – or come close – you’ll throw your debt to credit ratio way off, and lower your credit score in the process.
Read that again – 2/3 of your credit score is made up of just two factors – your ability to make your payments on time, and your credit balances.
Why is your score low? Are you frequently making late payments? Most companies have automatic payment options. Don’t want to make automatic payments? Schedule the payments on your electronic calendar to ensure that you don’t forget. Your SmartPhone has a calendar, and your email probably does, too.
If all this seems too hard or confusing, sign up for our ‘Improve or Build Your Credit Score powered by Experian.’ With this step-by-step plan, we’ll walk you through everything you need to either improve or build your credit score.
This could literally save you tens of thousands of dollars over your lifetime, all 100% free.
4. Spend less
Where does your money go every month? Do you have a budget or do you just wing it?
First, step in making a budget is to know how much you’re spending. Tracking your spending can be as simple as getting a notebook and writing down every time you spend a dime. I keep track of what I spent it for, where, how much, and a running tally for the month.
One or two months of tracking will give you a good idea of what you need to budget for on a routine basis. Don’t forget to add in those odd once or twice a year expenses like car insurance.
One or two months of tracking will also show you what you can cut out. Do you go out for drinks with friends every Friday night? Hosting a BYOB at your house can save you a ton of money – and the point to going out with friends is to hang out with those friends.
5. Earn more
Increasing your income is another great way to improve your financial health. But how? Adding a second job is an easy way to increase income, but if you already have a great-paying job – or one you enjoy – you don’t want another one that could jeopardize it. Working retail is an easy, no-stress gig, but it doesn’t pay very well.
A great way to earn more money is with a side hustle. Fortunately, we talked with the king of side hustles, Nick Loper, on Queer Money®.
Listen to Nick Loper of Side Hustle Nation on Queer Money®:
If you aren’t so excited at the prospect of adding a job, is there an opportunity to increase your current wages? Can you add a certification or a degree to bump yourself up to the next pay grade? Is there a promotion in your future or could you add responsibilities to make that happen?
6. Participate in your company’s 401(k) or 403(b) plan
Does your company offer a 401(k) or 403(b) plan as part of your compensation? If you do not participate, make it a priority to start today. You could be leaving free money on the table if they match your contributions.
Some may argue that the company-sponsored 401(k) or 403(b) doesn’t give you many great options, and that may be true – I once worked for a company that offered terrible options. But if your company also matches your contributions, the very least you should be doing is contributing just enough to get their full match.
Another thing to consider – every dollar you contribute is a dollar you don’t pay taxes on. The 401(k) contribution limits are $19,500 for 2020 for those under 50 years old and 26,000 for those 50 years and older.
Learn about all the value and differences of 401(k) and 403(b) plans on this Queer Money®:
7. Start a Roth IRA
A 401(k) is a pre-tax way to invest for your retirement – you don’t pay taxes on the money invested in the account, but you do pay taxes on the money when you take it out. Presumably, you will be in a lower tax bracket after you retire, so you’ll pay fewer taxes.
But a Roth IRA is a post-tax way to invest your money, with a twist. All the money you put into the Roth is taxed at your current rate, but it grows tax-free. When you take disbursements – which can start at 59-1/2 and after the account has been open for 5 years, you pay ZERO TAXES on the money.
And, you can keep contributing to the Roth IRA for as long as you are earning income. Traditional IRAs only allow contributions up to age 70-1/2.
Learn everything there is to know about Roth and Traditional IRAs on this Queer Money®:
8. Track your progress
Keeping track of what’s going on in your bank account can be really motivational. Our exclusive Budget Buster Bundle will help you create a Dynamic Budget that works with you and your goals (not against you) and helps you track every penny, so you know how well you’re doing with reaching those goals.
9. Form your plan
I gave you six different options, six different places to start to help with setting attainable goals. You shouldn’t aim to do them all at once. Start with one. Set yourself up for success by setting attainable goals and then following through.
For more information on creating a rockin’ financial plan, click this link here.
Mindy Jensen is the Community Manager for BiggerPockets.com, the premier real estate social network. She writes about real estate and personal finance, and in her spare time, she’s a real estate agent and investor, flipping houses with her husband. Keep up with her on Twitter (@MindyatBP) or follow her on Facebook.
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