How to set motivational financial goals!


I don’t know if you set personal goals, but I recently set myself a very challenging one. I decided I’d like to be able to retire at age 55, in 13 years’ time. I have no idea if I’ll achieve this, yet I feel calmer now I have a clear goal. I had no such clarity a year ago, only the worry that came with realising I needed to take control of my finances, and seriously focus on my (retirement) savings.

I’ve been setting smaller monthly financial goals all year, controlling my spending, coming up with a realistic budget, getting a better mortgage deal, and so on. Writing them down in this blog, and tracking progress, has been hugely motivating.

Goal-setting can be a great way to focus your mind on what’s important to you, avoiding distractions, and helping you achieve what you want.

Goal-setting can be bad for you!

So it’s ironic that goal-setting can also be de-motivating!

I’ve felt great at times this year, but I’ve also felt frustrated with myself, self-critical, and de-motivated when certain jobs roll over month-on-month and I don’t see quick-enough progress.

Perhaps you’ve set yourself a challenging goal, but are overwhelmed by the scale of the task in hand?

Or you’re inspired by others who have achieved what you’re striving for, but feel despondent comparing your slow progress with their success?

Or you fail to achieve a goal, and you feel low and lack enthusiasm?

I think our emotions and positive thinking play a big part in our success, so how do we stop our negativity from getting in the way?

SMART goals

First, make sure the goals you set are SMART. This is a well-known goal-setting acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-specific

  • Specific: The goal needs to be well defined.
  • Measurable: You need to know if the goal can be obtained and by when, also when you’ve achieved it. Break it down into measurable elements.
  • Achievable: The goal should stretch you but still be attainable. Think about what you will need to do to achieve the goal, and the impact on other areas of your life.
  • Realistic: Choose a goal that is feasible based on your skills, resources and time.
  • Time-specific: Set a deadline that gives you enough time to achieve the goal, but not so much that you lose focus.

One example of a goal that is too vague is “I want to save more”.

You’ll stand a better chance of success with the SMART goal “I want to save £5,000 in the next 3 years so that I can buy a car, by saving £140 per month into my Santander bank account’.

Handy tips if you’re feeling demotivated

Assuming you have a SMART goal, broken down into smaller, manageable tasks, you should still expect there to be difficulties along the way. So, what tips are there to keep us motivated when we fail at some tasks?

  1. Make it meaningful: Goal-setting for goal-setting’s sake is pointless. Don’t lose sight of what you are trying to achieve and why it’s important to you. In the simple example above, if you don’t really want, or need, a car, you’ll probably not stick to saving £140 a month.
  2. Challenge yourself…: If there’s something significant that you want to change in your life, it’s likely to be a challenge, isn’t it? Otherwise you’d have changed it already.  Also, picking a goal that is too easy can apparently mean you’ll be bored and unmotivated.
  3. …but not too much! However, picking a goal that is too hard can have the opposite effect. We need to be like Goldilocks, and find the bed (read ‘goal’!) that’s not too hard, not too soft, but just right! It’s difficult to change our behaviour and way of thinking, and if you need to push yourself outside of your comfort zone then allow yourself the time to do this.
  4. Baby steps:  Small, short-term goals are best to stop us feeling discouraged. Break down a bigger goal into multiple small goals. The idea is to create as many small ‘wins’ along the way as possible, to build momentum and boost motivation.
  5. Start out lazy: Steve Chandler, in his book ‘100 ways to motivate yourself’, includes this tip which he calls ‘light your lazy dynamite’, and I think it’s particularly good if you’re already feeling de-motivated or depressed. Break your task down, and allow yourself some slow motion to begin. Accept you’re going to do the job in a slow, lazy way. Thinking of starting slowly is an easy thought, and the important thing is to take some action, no matter how fast you do it. When you flow slowly into a task, speed will often come without you forcing it.
  6. Build a track record: This is another tip from Steve Chandler. Get a notebook, set small goals each day, and finish them. Write down what you have finished each day. The more you write down, the more confident you become that you can finish tasks. The idea is that you are building a track record that proves you can motivate yourself to do whatever you want.
  7. Adjust your goal rather than give up entirely:  There is always a chance that you won’t achieve what you intended, and this is sometimes due to circumstances outside of your control. If you fail, use it as an opportunity to re-assess your goal. Is it realistic? Did you set too short a deadline? Did you have the right people around to help you? Did you go about it in the right way? Be prepared to be flexible! Look back at point # 1 above, and think about what you are trying to achieve, perhaps there is another, better way of you achieving this?
  8. Celebrate: As you achieve a task, congratulate yourself on getting a step closer to your destination. Reward yourself, stop thinking and enjoy the moment!

I was questioning whether setting monthly goals was too much, but I think monthly goals are just fine. I need to look at whether they are too ambitious though! I know I have a huge task ahead of me if I’m to be able to retire at 55, and my sense of urgency is probably pushing me to make some unrealistic goals. I also have a tendency to want everything done yesterday, and often under-estimate how long things take.

I think I should remember that our goals should make us happier, not miserable!

I’d love to hear what you’re working towards, and any tricks you’ve discovered that keep you motivated along the way.


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2 Responses

  1. Julie says:

    I would love to know how your pet sitting business is coming along?

    • Sarah says:

      Hi Julie, it seems to have stalled as I try and design a leaflet I like! I’m not used to being creative so it’s taking a bit longer than I hoped… Are you thinking of doing something similar? would love to hear your experiences if so!

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