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6 Jun 2008

It’s Good To Have Goals

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by Jesse Mecham

For the first several years of our marriage, my husband nagged, what felt like fortnightly, “we need to sit down and make some financial goals.” His suggestion was met with a habitual eye roll, (because I’m stubborn and snarky,) but also because I’m a financial first-grader in many regards and didn’t fully understand what he meant by “financial goals.” My response was always a reluctant consent for procrastinated compliance, “okay, but let’s not do it tonight, maybe at our next budget pow wow.” I mistakenly equated making financial goals with nailing down some arbitrary retirement figures upon whose altar I’d be sacrificing not-so-necessary, but oh-so-desirable Target purchases for decades to come.

As is so often the case, what we needed, even before financial goals, was better communication. Once I was freed from my errant preconceived notions and realized that my desires for a new camera or two inch blinds for the living room windows could also be included in (and eventually fulfilled by) financial goals, I was cheerfully onboard for setting them and working towards them.

Our goal setting sessions have, as a result of improved communication and understanding, become more successful and enjoyable. And the striving for said goals, even when it requires consumer restraint, has been equally satisfying.

Here’s what’s helped our financial goal-setting

At the goal-setting table it is mutually understood that there is no such thing as a stupid goal; if it is important to one of us, it’s important enough to at least consider making it a bona fide family goal.

Breaking up our objectives into short, mid, and long term categories has helped us prioritize our desires and devise appropriately aggressive savings strategies to reach our goals in a time frame we’ve mutually agreed on.

I hesitate to even mention this because it seems so obvious as to go without saying, but the only way your voice and your desires will ever be considered in the financial plans is if you actively and assertively participate in the laying of those plans. In abdicating the responsibility of setting financial goals to my husband, I was also abdicating my right to have my desires considered in the financial plan. It wasn’t until I stepped in as an active and opinionated participant in the goal-setting process that I realized how productive and satisfying a process it could be.

Having goals on the list that I feel strongly about has made it easier to resist enticing little non-necessity items that whittle away at the available funds sum. I don’t feel like a retirement martyr when saying no to a cute pair of earrings, because instead of trying to imagine the gratification that tiny sum will bring us in our grizzled seventies, I’m imagining that $7.99 going into the “new blinds fund,” feeling totally triumphant that my current restraint has just brought us closer to less distant future gratification.

Sometimes we have to speak each other’s financial language to help each other understand the importance of certain goals — it helps me contextualize his lofty aspirations for long-term savings when my husband says, “saving aggressively for the future is as important to me as our weekly date night budget is to you.” With just that quick sentence, it’s suddenly very clear to me how non-negotiable the long-term savings is for him, and the overall give and take feels less sacrificial and more altruistic.

With mutually defined financial objectives, we are able to consciously align our spending with what we value because we have determined and discussed those values (read: goals), in a moment much more rational and clear than the one at the check-out stand. Like most of my husband’s suggestions that I’m reluctant to agree to, operating with financial goals in mind has proven to be a tremendously helpful step in the right direction for the monetary arm of our household.

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Remember, budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. You can do this! Today. Right now. What do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress. (Ok, so kind of a lot.)

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