There is a certain stigma associated with New Year's resolutions, everyone jokes that nobody is ever going to keep them. Instead of making resolutions at the beginning of every year, I resolve to be a better person and set goals to help me become that better person. Rather than just resolving to go to the gym, I set a goal to hit a certain number of steps or do some sort of physical activity a certain number of days each week. And rather than resolving to save more money during the year, we put a dollar amount to it and figure out what we need to do in order to get there.
A majority of the goals that Joe and I set together as a couple are financial in some way. Our first January as a married couple, we set a goal to pay off all of our debt. That goal seemed a bit out of reach at the time, but the weekend before Christmas that same year, we were finally able to say that we were debt free! Since then we've set smaller goals like using the envelope system consistently and not spending the cash that we don't have or saving up extra money so that we could get a new bed. That last one was a challenge for us, only because our extra money tends to go to emergency savings or something more responsible. Our current financial goal is to refinance our house so that we can get it paid off sooner. Each of our goals is helping us reach those seemingly lofty, "Wouldn't it be nice if one day we could....?" dreams and plans that we have for our life together.
If you want to have success with the financial goals that you set, or really with any goal in general, there is one thing that you need to do.
I have often heard Dave Ramsey tell people that you can't set a budget and expect it to work month after month. Every month is different, so it only makes sense that you should create a new budget unique to each month. Of course, there's nothing wrong with using your basic budget as a blueprint each month. This same thing can be said for any goal that we set in life. I know that for me, setting a goal to go on a walk every single day is unrealistic. For one, it's way too cold right now to be outside walking, but also, there are days when I honestly don't have time to even think about a walk. Instead, I set a goal to hit a certain number of steps each day. To reach this, sometimes I have to do a little bit of extra house work, take one bag of groceries into my house at a time, or take the long way back to my car from campus. Sometimes I get a good chunk of steps in by going for a walk, but I feel a lot more successful knowing that I've set a goal to do something that is flexible with my current circumstance.
If you and your spouse have set a goal to pay off your debt this year, you've probably calculated how much you need to save on average each month. The problem is, some months, you are going to have more expenses and less money to put toward your goal. Knowing about how much you need to put toward your debt on a monthly basis is a great starting point. You can use that number to account for that payment in your budget and to encourage you not to spend money on things that you might not really need. Some months, you'll fall short of your goal because you have a lot of necessary expenses or something comes up forcing you to pause your extra debt payments and rebuild your emergency savings. For us, August has always been a hard month to put extra money toward anything because multiple cars are up for registration, which usually means a few unexpected repairs, and we've always had to pay for tuition and books that month as well. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there may be months when you are able to exceed your goal by a lot. December is usually our most successful month thanks to work bonus', Christmas money, and no tuition payments are due. The year that we paid off all of our debt, was successful because we got our extra money, saw that the amount matched what we still owed, and decided that the feeling of accomplishment was more fun than the things we had wanted to potentially do with some of those extra funds.
Every goal that you set needs to be reevaluated! When we started using the envelope system, we had to reassess each month until we were satisfied with the way it was working for us. The past year as we've been trying to be more consistent with making and sticking to our budget, we've adjusted not only for the special circumstances for each month, but also for areas of our budget where we've been well under or over budget and feel like we can reasonably adjust to accommodate that in future months. We planned to buy a new bed to celebrate both of our birthdays in October this past year, but other financial obligations arose, so we had to shift the time frame of our goal to be achieved for Christmas instead. Things are always going to come up, whether your goal is money related or not, the important thing is how your goal setting adjusts to meet those changes.
You can revisit and discuss any goals that you set together as a couple, not just the financial ones. You can also revisit your own personal goals, and discuss them with people who you know will help you adjust them to help you find the most success. Changing the way you're doing things doesn't mean that you have failed at your goal, it just means that you are improving the way you achieve it. If I resolved to set aside a dollar a day and I used that dollar to buy an ice cream cone one day instead, it would be easy to say, "Oh, I failed that one, it's not worth it to continue because I won't have the right amount saved at the end of the year now. However, if I set a goal to save up $365 over the course of the year, I know that means I need to save about a dollar a day, but if there are some days when I can't put any dollars aside and others when I can put aside extra, that's ok, because I'm still going to be well on my way to hitting that $365 at the end of the year.
Don't be afraid to sit down and talk about your financial goals, whether it's once a month, once a week or even daily for a while! Talk about the things that are and aren't working, then find ways to make the strong things you are doing work even stronger and replace the weak things with something that could become a future strength or work better. Keep the end goal in mind, and if you are moving in that direction, even if it's slowly for the moment, consider yourself successful!
What financial goals have you set in your marriage? How has revisiting and discussing those goals helped you achieve them? Are there any times when you've just coasted from the beginning to the end of the goal and found that you didn't have success? What do you wish you would have done differently that might have helped you reach that unachieved goal?