4 Best Practices for Setting Money Goals This Year

UPDATED: May 22, 2024
PUBLISHED: January 21, 2021

“I want to save more money this year.” 

“I want to become debt-free.”

“I want to start saving for retirement.”

These are all worthy goals, but that doesn’t mean they’re effective. Perhaps, like countless other people, you set goals like these year after year, but you make little or no progress.

Strive to make 2021 the year you finally achieve your financial goals by keeping these do’s and don’ts in mind.

DO rely on systems, DON’T rely on willpower.

Many of us rely on willpower to bridge the gap between the goals we set and the things we want to accomplish. But this isn’t always effective.

Instead of relying on your willpower alone, set up systems to help you actually achieve your financial goals. Instead of just “trying harder” to stay on top of your bill payments and set money aside for savings, for example, set up automatic bill pay and weekly automatic transfers from your checking account to your savings account. 

Systems like these help ensure your financially responsible intentions don’t become an afterthought.

DO focus on habits, DON’T focus on outcomes.

Refocusing your money goals on specific daily, weekly and monthly habits—rather than distant, vague outcomes—could help you follow through.

For example, instead of setting a goal to save up for a family vacation this year, turn your focus to the habit that will help make it happen, like transferring $50 to a dedicated vacation savings account at the start of each week. Clearly defined habits are essential in helping us make real progress.

DO stay flexible, DON’T be rigid.

Another common pitfall is failing to update our goals as we experience changes to our circumstances throughout the year. Goals are dynamic, and therefore our approach to them must be flexible.

It’s perfectly fine if some of your past goals are no longer relevant. And it’s normal for new goals to take precedence over previous priorities. But as that happens, it’s important to update your financial systems to reflect those changes. Schedule time on your calendar once a month to review your financial goals.

DO stay committed, DON’T try to be perfect.

Rather than giving up for failing to be perfect when you make money mistakes, give yourself credit for staying committed in spite of your missteps and the challenges you face.

You don’t have to be perfect to achieve your money goals, but you do need to remain committed to the process. Recognizing the positive progress you have made can help you do just that.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of SUCCESS magazine and has been updated. Photo by @photability/Twenty20.com

Stefanie O’Connell is a financial expert, Gen Y advocate, speaker and author of the book, The Broke and Beautiful Life.