It would be a magical world if you hit your money goals 100% of the time, with no roadblocks or hurdles along the way.
But if that was everyday real life? You probably wouldn’t be reading this blog, and let’s be real, you might be a robot sent from the future to show us how to be perfect with money.
Still here? Not a robot? Let’s continue.
As I told you last week, I won’t be hitting my 50% savings goal until October, thanks to how I’m handling some non-monthly expenses in the next few months. And in case you’re new here, it took me more than 5 months to even hit that 50% for the first time!
Let’s be serious, it’s a s-t-r-e-t-c-h goal.
Since I’m so very well practiced in terms of “not hitting your money goals,” I’ve also figured out a pretty bullet-proof system for handling it productively (instead of crawling into a cave, declaring the goal a failure and spending $600 on a pair of shoes because I DO WHAT I WANT, BUDGETS.)
Yeah, this system works way better than that.
It’s what I do every month when I don’t hit my 50% savings goal, and to be honest, it’s also what I do when I do hit that goal. It’ll help you learn what you can do if you’re not hitting your money goals, and build a plan to move forward with your goals – and your budget – intact.
Sorry, $600 pair of shoes, maybe next time.
Step 1. Review your spending.
In all honesty, spending is the biggest reason I haven’t hit my money goals in the past, and I would take a bet that it’s a big part of why you’re not hitting your money goals too.
I mean, it’s not like I was just too good at saving for one goal and that’s why I didn’t hit the other ones. (This is real life, remember.)
So when I realize I haven’t met my goal, I take a look back at my spending. For me, that means pulling up my handy tracking spreadsheet, but never fear – there’s a pretty easy way to do this even if you don’t write down every single purchase like I do.
Log in to your bank account and your credit cards, and grab your account history for the past month. You can either download it to an Excel spreadsheet or print it out, but you’ll want to be able to look at the full month in one place, and be able to make notes. This is, hands down, the biggest and best wake-up call about why you actually didn’t hit your goals.
It’s far too easy to forget how quickly small purchases add up over the month. Trust me, the fact that it took tracking my spending to realize that $20 at the farmer’s market every month was an extra $80 in our food budget still horrifies me.
Taking a look at your spending is basically guaranteed to come with a few wakeup calls.
Step 2. Check in with your values.
Before we even get into the actual money stuff, it’s really important to take stock of what you value.
This doesn’t have to be a huge, elaborate personal-development session either, where you nail down the exact top five things you value. Just take a minute or two and think about what is really important to you. I guarantee you know the answers – is it fitness? Family? Career? Growth? Learning? Friends? Fun? Adventure? Travel? Education?
Even just going through that list, I’m sure you had some yeses and some nos. No one can value everything!
Once you’ve got a good idea off the top of your head what your values are, take another look at your spending from the past month. Which items or experiences did you spend money on that are totally, 100% in line with your values? Which ones are unrelated – or even more importantly, which ones are totally against your values?
Because hey, it happens. I value health and fitness, but have been known to indulge in pub food. #balance
When you’re trying to figure out how to trim your spending to hit your money goals in the future, spending that doesn’t align with your values is a great place to start.
And you know what? Your money goals might be high up on the list of things that align with your values, too. If you value family, and are saving for a big family vacation or to expand your family (kids or dogs both count in my eyes) that should get a place on the priority list. (It might even help motivate you to hit that goal!)
Step 3. Ask yourself how much you enjoyed yourself.
Ok, this one is touchy-feely – yes, even more so than the values step. But hear me out.
Take a look at your spending, and ask yourself how each thing you spent money on made you feel.
Some of them will trigger awesome memories, like a dinner with your grandparents or food you bought for a picnic with friends. That’s awesome!
Others will fall more along the lines of “Oh right, I did buy that this month.”
If you’re trying to cut your spending while staying exactly as happy as you are right now? My suggestion is to keep spending on the things that you still remember, and that still make you happy, when you look back on them at the end of the month.
And start cutting out the “Oh right, that” items as much as you can (especially if they’re just recurring payments you don’t need anymore.)
Step 4. Make (realistic) plans to do better next time.
This is the part where we figure out how to hit that goal next time.
At this point, you know where your money went last month, you’ve figured out which spending to prioritize based on your values and how happy it made you, and now we get to look forward to see what that means for next month.
First things first, jot down a list of all the non-negotiable things you have coming up – like rent, insurance payments, cell phone bills and feeding yourself. (If you want an easy way to grab estimates for how much you should be spending, grab your copy of the One-Minute Budget.)
Then take a look at what you know will be happening in the next month, from irregular expenses to fun events you’d like to participate in – especially if those things fall in line with your values, or they’re things that have made you really happy in the past.
Then, check in with your goals.
Is this month looking like hitting that stretch goal is feasible? If yes, commit to it. The only months that I’ve managed to hit a 50% savings rate so far have been ones where I knew the goal was within reach, and reminded myself of that constantly – trust me, it really helps avoid impulse spending!
If it looks like the goal might not (or definitely won’t) happen? Don’t be discouraged. Instead, remind yourself how valuable the progress you can make is going to be. (In my case, this is a strongly-worded reminder to myself that 40% savings rates are still pretty great, Desirae.)
So no matter what your goal is – paying down debt, saving for a house, getting started with investing, increasing your savings rate, or another awesome money goal – don’t get too down on yourself if you miss it. Instead, use it as an opportunity to check in with your progress, make sure your spending is making your life great, and make a plan to get closer to it next time.
Have you ever missed a money goal? How did you handle it – and do you have any suggestions for other people who might be in the same boat?
PS. This is actually an expanded look at a framework I sent out to my email list a few weeks ago, but it was too good not to share. If you sign up now, you’ll get handy content like this once a week on Saturdays, plus the One-Minute Budget delivered as soon as you’re on the list!