Finding Your Most Important Goals
Please note this blog post was published over 12 months ago and so may not include the most up-to-date information, for example where regulation around investing has changed.
We talk a lot about goals at True Potential Investor, because we know from our own experience that setting goals is the most powerful way to manage your personal finances. We believe goals give you focus and put meaning behind the numbers in your investment or savings account. It’s why we take a goal-first approach when you invest with us – we believe it’s the best way for you to succeed.
Our knowledge comes from years of helping people save and invest their money, but we want to explain the thought process behind our approach. We believe using goals to focus your investments is based on more than intuition, there’s behavioural psychology at play too. This article explains why finding the most important saving and investment goals in your life is the best way to reach them.
Why focus on goals?
A crucial part of finding your most important saving and investment goals is to understand that you need focus to reach them. With any kind of goal, financial or personal, trying to complete too many at once simply doesn’t work. You can’t focus well if you choose too many goals, and as soon as your focus is split too many ways, you start to fall behind.
Leo Babauta of ZenHabits, a blog about developing good habits, believes that “focus is the most important determination of whether you’ll achieve a goal”. He’s convinced, after many years of experimentation, you will reach a goal that you focus on and you can’t reach a goal without it.
Similarly, Buffer looked into the science behind focus and found that, when it comes to making New Year’s resolutions, trying to achieve too many “is near impossible for your brain to handle.” Their article is based on a scientific study into consumer decision making by Baba Shiv, Professor of Marketing at Stanford University.
It’s clear to us that focusing on your saving and investment goals will help you to stay on track in the long-term, as well as get you off on the right foot. If you need help getting started, many of our users say their key goals are saving for a comfortable retirement and paying off their mortgage. You can set up your goals on True Potential Investor without making any financial commitment. Think about what is most important to you and let’s create your vision.
Creating a vision
We believe that a vision is what your life will look like when you have achieved your financial goals. It’s an important part of choosing your goals as it helps you understand whether they represent what you really want. If your vision doesn’t inspire you to start saving and investing, perhaps you haven’t yet found your most important goals.
Buster Benson, who writes extensively about behaviour change, argues that:
“If you find that the interest behind the resolution isn’t generating a lot of energy on its own, you may not be able to follow through on it, no matter how much you “want” to do it.”
Your vision might come to you naturally and seem obvious – that’s a good sign you’ve picked the right goals. On the other hand, you might find that you can’t think of an important goal, or that you have plenty of goals but can’t choose between them.
Try writing down your vision. Putting your financial dream on paper may sound silly, but it crystallises the goal in your mind. Feel free to dream big here, this is actually the fun part. Put down on paper what your life will be like when you’ve reached your goal, how you’ll feel and what you’ll do. The more detail you can include, the more you’ll know that you’ve found your most important goals. Once you’ve done this, you can save your goals on True Potential Investor.
It may seem a little daft to write down your financial goals, but it can make a huge difference to your chances of success. A study by Dr Gail Matthews found that the action of recording goals makes a person more likely to achieve them. Dr Matthews concluded that her “study provides empirical evidence for the effectiveness of three coaching tools: accountability, commitment, and writing down one’s goals.” To go the extra mile, share your goals with friends and family. Again, this helps clarify what it is you want and whether it’s really important to you. You might feel a little strange, but there’s probably nothing unusual about what you want. You’ll find that the people you speak to have similar ideas, they just haven’t planned them out as well as you have.
Work out a measurement plan
Even when you’re sure that you’ve chosen your most important goals, there are still some critical tests to apply to validate your plan. Your financial dreams are probably tied to your future happiness and as wellbeing charity Action for Happiness says:
“Happiness doesn’t just happen – it comes from thinking, planning and pursuing things that are important to us.”
At the moment, your plan is likely to include a large number and a date. For example, you might need to reach £400,000 in 30 years to retire comfortably. But it’s no use ending your plan there; you need to know what steps you’re going to take to reach your goal.
Break your goals down into at least a monthly schedule to make it easier to plan. Work out how much you need to invest each month and make a commitment to yourself. Even better, share your commitment with your family and friends. As with announcing your vision, sharing your schedule will help you to confirm that your plans are practical and your goals are worthwhile.
Consider adding benchmarks to your plan, so you can review how you are doing. For example, you could aim to have invested a certain amount after six months. That way, you won’t give up if you miss a month, but you’re still focused on the long-term. If you can, set up automatic payments so you can’t miss a scheduled saving.
If you do find that you’re falling behind your benchmarks, have a plan in place to deal with the shortfall. Top-up your investments with any spare money you have to close the gap to your goal. With impulseSave®, you can top-up from just £1. If you’re below your targets but haven’t got the spare money, take a look at your budget and see if you need to reprioritise your spending. By planning ahead like this, you won’t feel so lost if you do fall behind your schedule. Simply knowing that you have other options is often enough to keep you motivated and on track.
Plan to celebrate your success
A counter-intuitive, but useful, strategy to help find your most important goals is to plan for success. This is tied to the vision you wrote down before and takes the shape of a more in-depth plan for when you reach your goals.
As well as the happiness you’ll get from reaching your goals, for example enjoying your retirement or moving into your new home, make plans to reward yourself. Match your rewards to your benchmarks; if you reach your target for the end of the year, treat yourself to a meal at your favourite restaurant or a family trip somewhere fun. This helps you put your most important goal in perspective. If saving feels like a 30-year endeavour without reward, you won’t get very far.
Choosing your most important financial goals might seem like an easy task, but following these steps can prevent you from chasing the wrong dreams. All it takes is a little time and effort to work out what is really important to you. By getting the groundwork right, you’ll find that focusing on a few goals can have a big impact on how likely you are to reach it. As Aristotle once said, “well begun is half done”Start planning your goal