What should my goals be?
Everyone has life goals and aspirations. So this question shouldn’t be hard to answer, right?
And yet, when asked in the context of financial planning, it can be a tricky question to figure out.
For some, it might be a hard question because you only have a small amount of money that you can save, but many life goals you want to save for. Putting a tiny amount of money toward all of your goals might not make sense, so which goals do you save for today?
For others, it might be a hard question because you’re not sure what your future goals will be. You don’t know if you’ll get married or have children. So you aren’t sure if goals like a wedding or a big house or college tuition even make sense to save for.
Luckily, we have a few ideas on where to start. These are evergreen goals that anyone could benefit from saving for:
No two people’s retirement will look the same. But, there will come a point in everyone’s life when they stop working.
At that point, you will no longer have regular money coming in to live off of. Instead, you will have to start spending the money that you’ve saved.
We know that it can be scary to start spending your savings, especially since most of your life is spent trying to accumulate more money. But, don’t worry, that’s why you saved it in the first place!
It’s important to realize this fact that during retirement your expenses will be covered from your savings. This helps put into perspective how much you might need. Especially as people are living longer and retirements can span 20+ years.
So hopefully you are convinced by now that retirement is an important goal to be saving for. The earlier you start, the more time you give yourself to accumulate a nest egg.
When making your short list of goals to save for, retirement is a good one for anyone to add!
2. Emergency Fund
Another goal that is a good candidate for the short list, and applicable for anyone to save for, is an emergency fund. An emergency fund is a pot of money that you draw from in an emergency.
This fund gives you a safety net if something unexpected happens and you need money fast. For example, your car breaks down or you have a medical emergency or you lose your job.
Hopefully you will never need to use this fund, but you don’t want to be left scrambling in the event that you do.
We wrote a post on how to calculate a reasonable savings target for an emergency fund. You can check out the details here.
No matter where you are in life, having a plan in place for the unexpected is always a good idea!
3. Short-term goals
You probably have some goals that you want to achieve in the near future. Do you have your eye on a big purchase? Are you dreaming about a tropical vacation?
If your short-term goal is a big enough goal with a clear amount of money that you need to have saved, then you could consider having a fund set aside just for that purpose.
For example, are you purchasing a house this year or sending a kid to college? Those are likely more defined goals that you know you’ll need to hit soon. Therefore, it may make sense to have a dedicated account reserved.
But, if you don’t have a specific short-term goal or if you have a few, you might want to consider setting a general goal to cover all those near-term purchases.
Lumping them together into one ‘short-term goals’ bucket may make it easier to save up more quickly.
Thinking about your short-term goals as one savings pool could help anyone who is getting overwhelmed by the idea of defining all their goals.
4. Long-Term Goals
Just like the ‘short-term goals’ bucket, you may want to consider a general savings bucket for long-term goals.
This may be particularly useful for anyone who isn’t sure what goals they may have in the future. Will they want to move to a new house? Will they have a family? Will they want to go back to school?
If the answers to these questions are still unknown, it can be intimidating to try and figure out what you should be saving for today.
That is where the idea of pooling all those goals into a general ‘long-term’ bucket may be useful.
Now, you may ask why not just combine short- and long-term goals into one pool? Well, the different time horizons might actually mean that you have a different savings strategy for each of these goals.
For the short-term goals, you will likely need cash to pay for them in the near future. Whereas, you probably won’t need to touch the savings for your long-term goals for a while.
This may lead you to consider different types of accounts for each goal. If you need cash accessible, a savings account is probably the best option. It’s a place where your money can still grow with interest, but where it is easily accessible whenever you need it.
For the goals you won’t achieve for a while, you may have the option to invest that money. Investing can mean higher growth rates for your savings, but it can also mean more risk of money lost.
If you have time to ride out the ups and downs of the market, this may be a bet worth considering.
In sum, if you aren’t sure exactly what your future goals will be, pool them together into one general ‘long-term goal’ and start saving today!
While these four goals may give you a place to start on your savings journey, you should make sure you get specific about your plans. Having a strategy in place to hit your goals can help make sure you achieve them.
Figure out more specific savings targets. How much do you need to be contributing every year? How long do you have till you reach your goal? Which goals can you invest for and what type of portfolio might work best for that goal?
These are the types of questions that you can ask as you set up a plan to meet your life goals.
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