If you’ve already spent the time to sit down and write out your financial goals for the near-term and long-term you’re already ahead of most people. By writing your goals down, you’ve developed personal directives to help guide your financial decisions in a deliberate way. But, once you’ve developed those goals, how do you move forward? How do you take those goals and break them down into a manageable “To Do” list?
Think Through the Steps
Like any goal you’ve set in life, there are often several steps that you need to take to accomplish it. For example, when you decided you wanted to go to college you had to maintain good grades in high school, engage in extracurricular activities, file a college application including an essay and references, visit colleges, and even look into loans and other possible financing options for school. Finance goals are no different. One goal can often require a surprising amount of steps, and for long-term goals, it may take a fair amount of time to achieve your goal. This just increases the importance of developing a plan and to do list to keep you on course to accomplishing your goals.
When you’re looking at a specific goal, think through exactly which steps are required to reach it. Let’s look at the steps that might be necessary to accomplish the goal to pay off credit card debt.
Goal: Pay off all credit card debt
Steps to Take:
- Make a list of all credit cards and their current balances
- Update list with current interest rates and minimum payment requirements
- Call each credit card company to negotiate interest rate
- Set autopay for minimum payment amount so that I will never miss a payment
- Decide whether to use the snowball or high interest method to pay down debt
- Reorder debt by which credit card I plan to pay down first
- Make and understand my monthly budget
- Schedule additional payments on first credit card balance based on what my budget says I can afford
- Once first card is paid off, repeat Step #8 by applying that amount to second credit card
- Repeat as many times as needed
No Step is Too Small
As you can see in the example above, there is no step too small to be included in your To Do list. In fact, you could break those steps down even further. Step #3, for instance, could be broken down into each individual credit card company that you need to call. This is especially helpful if you find motivation in crossing things off your list. The smaller you can make the step, the easier it is to accomplish and it allows for more opportunities to feel accomplished in your journey towards your goal. Never underestimate the power of inertia!
Focus on Timing
An added benefit of making your To Do list steps as small as possible is that tasks become small enough to accomplish quickly. To continue with the example above, if you divide Step #3 into several list items, you could easily manage to call one credit card company per day. You could simply take 20 minutes of your lunch break to call each company, and if you have five credit cards, it will allow you to cross off all five items by the end of the week and move on to Step #4.
Additionally, you should be able to predict your monthly payments to the credit card companies based off of your budget and schedule those out monthly. That exercise will allow you to see just how long it will take you to accomplish your goal. It’s important to have a realistic idea of how long it may take so that you don’t become discouraged or so that you can make adjustments if necessary.
Overall, your To Do list should perform the important task of keeping you focused and working towards your financial goal. See if you can use some of the tips above to build out your own To Dos and feel free to contact us if you are struggling to develop the steps you need to take to accomplish any or all of your goals.
Written By: Lindsay Dell Cook
Lindsay Dell Cook is a CPA, writer, and founder of Budget Babble. She lives in Philadelphia with her uber supportive husband, and enjoys taking their adorable mutt for walks or reading a good book while buried under a pile of cats.