Smart short-term financial goals to set for yourself

Money

Written by:

 

Setting financial goals is an important step toward becoming financially secure. If there is something you hope to achieve in the not-too-distant future, say buy a car or make a down payment on a home, it may not be enough to simply hope you get there. Making a plan can significantly increase the likelihood of you meeting the goal.

 

Going day to day without any financial goals can cause you to spend too much, then come up short when you need money for unexpected bills and have to rely on high-interest credit cards.

 

Short-term financial goals are generally things you want to achieve within roughly one to three years. They can be singular goals, and once reached you are done. Or, they might be incremental steps to much larger financial goals (such as funding your retirement, paying off a mortgage or paying for a child’s college tuition).

 

Setting and reaching short-term money goals can also give you the confidence boost and foundational knowledge you need to achieve larger goals that will take more time. While everyone’s goals are different, here are some short-term financial goals you may want to start working toward.

 

Related: Tips for becoming financially independent

Building an Emergency Fund

One of the most important short-term financial goals is creating an emergency fund. This is cash savings that can cover three-to-six months (or more in some cases) worth of living expenses just in case something unexpected comes up, such as a medical bill, job loss, or a major car or home repair.

 

Knowing that you have money in the bank in case of an emergency can bring peace of mind, and also make it easier to work toward your other financial goals. An emergency fund can also act as a buffer to keep you out of debt since you’ll be less likely to have to rely on credit cards should something unexpected happen.

 

You can build an emergency fund by putting some money toward it every month, or you make it happen more quickly by funneling a large payment, such as tax refund or bonus, right into this fund.

Tracking Your Spending

Getting a sense of how much you are actually spending each month is a critical step in working toward both short-term and long-term financial goals.

 

You can do this by tracking your expenses for a month or so, then setting up a realistic budget to help you prioritize your spending, rather than spending haphazardly (which can lead to trouble when it comes time to pay bills or having any money left over for savings).

 

You can track your spending by using a budgeting app. You can also create a budget the old-fashioned way by going through your bank statements, bills and receipts from the last few months and categorizing each expense with a spreadsheet or on paper.

 

Once you see where your money is actually going, you may discover some surprises (such as $200 a month on lunches out), and also find places where you can easily cut back. You might decide to bring lunch from home a few more days per week, for example. Or, you might want to get rid of rarely used subscriptions or streaming services, or ditch the gym membership and work out at home. This money you free up can then be redirected towards your savings goals, like creating an emergency fund, buying a house or funding your retirement.

Paying Down Credit Card Debt

If you carry credit card debt, you may want to make paying it off one of your top short-term financial goals. The reason is that the interest on credit card debt can be so costly, it can make achieving any other financial goals much more difficult.

One strategy for paying off credit card debt is the avalanche method, which involves paying the minimum on all but your highest-rate debt. You then put extra money toward the card with the highest interest debt. When that one is paid off, you would roll the extra payment to the card with the next-highest interest rate, and so on.

 

Another option is the snowball method, in which you pay the minimum on all cards, but use extra money to pay off the debt with the smallest balance. When that’s paid off you move to the next smallest debt, and so on. This can give you a sense of accomplishment that helps keep you motivated.

 

Or you might consider consolidating your debt by taking out a personal loan to pay off all of your cards. Personal loans usually offer lower interest rates than credit cards, and having only one payment each month can help simplify the payoff process.

Paying Off Student Loans

Student loans can be a drag on your monthly budget. Paying down student loans, and eventually getting rid of these loans, can free up cash that will make it easier to save for retirement and other goals.

 

One strategy that might help is refinancing into a new loan with a lower interest rate. You can check your balances and interest rates across your federal and private loans, and then plug them into a student loan refinancing calculator to see if refinancing offers an advantage.

 

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that not all refinancing options are created equal. There are scores of bad actors on the internet who might promise to get rid of all your debt but will only damage your credit score. If you do refinance, you’ll want to make sure you’re working with a reputable lender. You may also want to keep in mind that refinancing federal student loans with a private lender could mean losing some of the benefits associated with federal student loans, such as income-based repayment or deferment if you fall on hard times.

 

If you have multiple student loans and won’t benefit from consolidating, consider using the avalanche or snowball method of repayment (described above) to pay them off faster.

Contributing to Your Retirement Fund

If you’re not yet saving for retirement, this may be a great short-term financial goal. Or, if you’re putting in very little each month, you may want to work on upping the amount.

 

If your employer offers a 401(k) and gives matching funds, for example, it’s normally wise to contribute at least up to your employer’s match. You can then start increasing your contributions bit by bit each year.

If you don’t have access to a 401(k), you may be able to open up an IRA and start saving for retirement there. (Keep in mind that there are limits to how much you can contribute to a retirement per year that will depend on your age.)

 

While retirement is a long-term rather than short-term financial goal, taking advantage of this savings vehicle can reduce your taxes starting this year (since money you put into a retirement fund is taken out of your income before taxes are calculated).

 

Even more importantly, starting early can pay off dramatically down the line. Thanks to the power of compounding interest (when the money you invest earns interest, and that interest then gets reinvested and earns interest as well), monthly contributions to a retirement fund can net significant gains over time.

Saving More Money

If you already have an emergency fund, you may want to start thinking about what you are hoping to buy or achieve within the next several years and beyond. This could be anything, including buying a new high-tech toy, going on a great vacation, making a down payment on a home or doing a major renovation.

 

Saving up for this goal, rather than paying for it with a credit card, helps you avoid paying more for those things in the form of high-interest payments.

 

For financial goals you want to reach in the next few months or years, consider putting this money in an account that earns more than a traditional savings account, but allows you to access when you need it, such as a money market account, an online savings account or a cash management account.

 

For longer-term savings, you may want to look into opening a brokerage account. This is an investment account that allows you to buy and sell investments like stocks, bonds and mutual funds. A taxable brokerage account does not offer the same tax incentives as a 401(k) or IRA, but is much more flexible in terms of when the money can be accessed.

The Takeaway

While day-to-day spending tends to grab most of our most attention, it is important to also focus on bigger goals. Short-term financial goals are the things you want to do with your money within the next few months or years. Some key short-term goals include setting a budget, starting an emergency fund and paying off debt.

 

From there, you may want to start saving for things you want to buy or do in the relatively near future, and also start thinking about investing your money to help you build wealth over time.

 

Learn more:

This article originally appeared on SoFi.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

 

SoFi Money
SoFi Money is a cash management account, which is a brokerage product, offered by SoFi Securities LLC, member FINRA  SIPC. Neither SoFi nor its affiliates are a bank. SoFi Money Debit Card issued by The Bancorp Bank. SoFi has partnered with Allpoint to provide consumers with ATM access at any of the 55,000+ ATMs within the Allpoint network. Consumers will not be charged a fee when using an in-network ATM, however, third-party fees incurred when using out-of-network ATMs are not subject to reimbursement. SoFi’s ATM policies are subject to change at our discretion at any time.
SoFi Invest
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA  SIPC. SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC-registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).
2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal. Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.

SoFi’s Relay tool offers users the ability to connect both in-house accounts and external accounts using Plaid, Inc’s service. When you use the service to connect an account, you authorize SoFi to obtain account information from any external accounts as set forth in SoFi’s Terms of Use. SoFi assumes no responsibility for the timeliness, accuracy, deletion, non-delivery or failure to store any user data, loss of user data, communications, or personalization settings. You shall confirm the accuracy of Plaid data through sources independent of SoFi. The credit score provided to you is a Vantage Score® based on TransUnion™ (the “Processing Agent”) data.
SoFi Student Loan Refinance
IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO REFINANCE FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS PLEASE BE AWARE OF RECENT LEGISLATIVE CHANGES THAT HAVE SUSPENDED ALL FEDERAL STUDENT LOAN PAYMENTS AND WAIVED INTEREST CHARGES ON FEDERALLY HELD LOANS UNTIL THE END OF JANUARY 2022 DUE TO COVID-19. PLEASE CAREFULLY CONSIDER THESE CHANGES BEFORE REFINANCING FEDERALLY HELD LOANS WITH SOFI, SINCE IN DOING SO YOU WILL NO LONGER QUALIFY FOR THE FEDERAL LOAN PAYMENT SUSPENSION, INTEREST WAIVER, OR ANY OTHER CURRENT OR FUTURE BENEFITS APPLICABLE TO FEDERAL LOANS. CLICK HERE  FOR MORE INFORMATION. 
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice. Advisory services are offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC an SEC-registered Investment adviser. Information about SoFi Wealth’s advisory operations, services, and fees is set forth in SoFi Wealth’s current Form ADV Part 2 (Brochure), a copy of which is available upon request and at adviserinfo.sec.gov.

More from MediaFeed:

6 strategies for becoming debt free

 

It isn’t the $5 cups of coffee. Or the $50 a month for the gym.

It isn’t that new smartphone, or your shoe addiction, or even that pricey cable subscription. These are common things everyone likes to waggle their finger at when they talk about overspending. But it isn’t necessarily any one of those expenses that really gets people into debt.

It’s usually all of them. And then some.

According to the 2018 U.S. Financial Health Pulse survey by the Center for Financial Services Innovation, 46.5% of Americans said their spending equaled or exceeded their income in the past 12 months. 33.9% said they were unable to pay all their bills on time. And 29.5% said they had more debt than they could manage.

That’s a lot of people who are worried about money.

Though frivolous or impulsive spending can be part of the problem, the slide sometimes starts with the best of intentions — with the desire to get a college education, perhaps, or to own one’s own home.

According to Northwestern Mutual’s 2018 Planning and Progress Study, mortgages and student loans, along with credit cards, are among the leading sources of debt in the U.S.

And when the nonprofit organization Student Debt Crisis surveyed student loan borrowers in 2018, 86% said student debt is a major source of stress. Add in credit card payments, car payments, utility bills, groceries and gas, and all the other things — big and small — that take our money every single day, and it’s clear how debt can become a deep, dark hole.

Which is why it’s so important to have a plan to get back out.

If you’ve wanted to become debt-free for a while, but didn’t know how to get there, think of your plan as a rescue rope you can hold onto during the climb. Everyone’s situation is different, but here are some popular strategies you might consider on your journey to becoming debt-free.

Related: Are you bad with money? How to know & what to do 

 

Doucefleur / istockphoto

 

If you have a significant amount of debt to pay off, you’ll likely be looking to cut costs in a meaningful way. A budget can help with that. First, when you’re going through bills, it can help to determine your priorities, this information can assist you in making informed decisions about what can go and what should stay.

Later, it can create a feedback loop, as you (and your partner, spouse, or other family members) compare real-world spending to the numbers in the budget and consider whether to take corrective action to stay on track.

And over time, it also may be possible to uncover the behaviors that have been holding you back.

If the idea of bird-dogging every penny has been a barrier to budgeting, or if you’ve tried and failed in the past, it may help to keep the process simple. The 50/30/20 rule is a simplified budgeting strategy that’s gained traction because it limits the number of spending categories a budgeter must establish and then follow.

After determining net take-home pay (what’s left after paying taxes), it breaks down the spending money that’s left into three buckets: needs, wants, and savings:

•   50% of the money goes toward needs, including housing costs, utilities, groceries, transportation, medical expenses and any regular debt payments that have to be made (credit card bills, loans, etc.). From there, it’s up to whoever is drawing up the budget to determine what are the true necessities and what belongs in the wants bucket.
•   30% goes to those wants. That’s everything from grabbing takeout, to your Netflix subscription, to getting your car washed and detailed for date night. Logically, this is the portion of the budget that has the most potential for trimming, but emotionally, it might require some real effort to get everything to fit the allocated funds.
•   20% goes to savings. This money might go into an emergency fund, some sort of savings account for short- and long-term goals and/or an investment savings/retirement account. If you decide to pay extra toward your credit card or student loan debt, that expense also would go in this category.

The percentages are meant as a guideline, and they can be tweaked to fit individual needs. The key is to make a budget that’s strict but doable.

 

fizkes/istockphoto

 

Yes, this is easier said than done, but before rolling your eyes and moving on, consider the possibilities.

Is it time for a pay raise? If a bump is overdue, it might be time to have a talk with the boss.

Is there side-gig potential? Do you always have nights or weekends off, and would your employer be OK with your taking on a part-time or occasional job for extra money? Maybe a friend does catering, landscaping, house-painting, or some other work and could use an extra hand from time to time.

Could a hobby become a money-maker? Crafty folks can sell their wares online or at craft fairs and flea markets. History buffs can give lectures or teach classes. Animal lovers can offer dog-walking or cat-sitting services. Where there’s a passion, there’s often a way to earn income.

 

MARHARYTA MARKO

 

If that raise comes through, or you earn a bonus at work, or you get a tax refund from Uncle Sam, instead of living it up while the money lasts, consider using it to pay down some debt.

A few hundred dollars might not feel like it’s making much of a dent, but every dollar you pay over the minimum can help reduce the interest you owe on a credit card or student loan.

To get some idea of how paying even a little extra toward a bill can help, check out the alert on your monthly credit card statement. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 requires card issuers to warn consumers about how long it will take to pay off a balance if only the minimum is paid each month.

 

Farknot_Architect / istockphoto

 

One way to consolidate debt is with an unsecured personal loan. You may be able to consolidate all or some of your debts at better terms, such as a lower or fixed interest rate and possibly pay them off in less time than you expected.

This strategy could be useful for those who aren’t up for keeping tabs on several bills every month. A personal loan can consolidate multiple debts together into one manageable payment, which could help make it easier to keep tabs on what you’ve paid and what you still owe.

And because the interest rates offered for personal loans can sometimes be lower than the rates on credit cards, you could end up paying less in interest over the life of the loan than you would have if you just kept plugging away at those individual revolving credit card balances.

Typically, the better your financial and credit history, the better the loan terms are likely to be, so it can be a good idea to check your credit record and make sure the information listed on credit reports is accurate.

Then look for a lender who offers the best terms to fit your needs. Keep the length of the loan in mind, as well as the interest rate and other terms to help you on the road of becoming debt-free.

 

DepositPhotos.com

 

It could be difficult (okay, next to impossible) to stop using credit cards completely since they’re commonly used for things like booking or holding flights, making online purchases and more. But making a commitment to reduce credit card utilization could help you cut spending and reduce the amount of money that’s only going toward interest on those cards.

A credit card is a convenient way to pay — if you can keep your balance at zero. But if you can’t afford to erase the balance each month with a full payment, the interest can start piling up.

And though many credit cards make limited-time “no interest” offers, it’s good to review the terms in detail.

For instance, some cards may have terms where if consumers don’t pay off the entire balance by the end of the promotional period, they may be charged all of the interest accrued since the date of purchase.

To better the chances of staying in check, some options may be to consider recording all credit card purchases with a budgeting app or pen and paper and to try and face the costs in real-time, instead of weeks later when the bill arrives.

 

DepositPhotos.com

 

Seeing progress is inspiring for many people. Think about how good you feel when you lose a little weight from dieting or gain some muscle from working out. Even small wins can be motivating.

How does that apply to downsize your debt?

Two of the commonly recommended approaches to debt repayment are the Debt Snowball and Debt Avalanche methods. These strategies vary but primarily focus on paying extra toward just one balance at a time instead of trying to put a little extra money toward all your balances at once.

The Debt Snowball

The Debt Snowball method directs any excess free cash you might have to the debt with the smallest outstanding balance. Here’s how it can work:

•   Start by listing outstanding debts based on what you owe, from the smallest balance to the largest. (Disregard interest rates.)
•   Make the minimum payment on all other debts and pay as much as possible each month toward eliminating the smallest balance on your Debt Snowball list.
•   After you pay off the smallest debt, turn your attention to the next-lowest balance.
•   Keep going until you are debt-free.

The Debt Avalanche

The Debt Avalanche method targets the highest interest rates rather than the balance that’s owed on each bill. It’s more about math than motivation — you can save money as you eliminate each of those high-interest loans and credit cards, which should allow you to pay off all your bills sooner. Here’s how it can work:

•   Disregard minimum payment amounts and balances, and list balances in order starting with the highest interest rate.
•   Make the minimum payment on all other debts and pay as much as you can each month to get rid of the bill with the highest interest rate.
•   Move through the list one debt at a time until you pay off all the balances on your list.

Though the methods are different, both plans provide focus, and as each balance disappears, momentum grows. But a newer approach, the Debt Fireball method, may be a better fit for modern-day debt, which could include a large amount of low-interest student loan debt.

The Debt Fireball

The Fireball method takes a hybrid approach to the traditional Snowball and Avalanche strategies. It’s called the Fireball because it can help blaze through bad debt faster by making it a priority. Here’s how it can work:

•   Categorize all debts as either “good” or “bad.” “Good” debt is generally things that can increase your net worth such as student loans or mortgages. (Interest rates under 7% could be considered good debt—rates above 7% would likely fall into the “bad” category.)
•   List all those “bad” debts from smallest to largest based on each bill’s outstanding balance.
•   Make the minimum monthly payment on all other debts and funnel any extra cash available each month toward the smallest balance on the Fireball’s “bad” debt list.
•   Once that balance is paid in full, move on to the next smallest balance on that list. Keep blazing until all “bad” debt is repaid.
•   Pay off “good” debt on the normal schedule while investing for the future. Apply everything you were paying toward “bad” debt to investing in a financial goal.

The Fireball makes sense mathematically because it gets rid of expensive (or bad) debt first, but it also provides plenty of motivation because momentum can grow as you approach the finish. These two combined elements could provide an extra boost to your efforts.

 

DepositPhotos.com

 

The deeper the hole you’re in, the longer it may take to climb out. But having the right plan in place before you start could give you a better shot at sticking to a budget, minimizing your dependence on credit cards and methodically reducing your debt in a way that keeps you motivated and saves you money.

Learn more:

This article originally appeared on SoFi.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s
website 
.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636. For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

 

fizkes / istockphoto

 

Featured Image Credit: Pra-chid / istockphoto.

AlertMe