Fast forward 10 years. What do you see yourself doing? Is it raising a family? Running your own business? Whatever you see in your future, knowing your goals is essential for achieving what you want in the long run. Here are some steps to figure out your priorities and create a financial plan to turn your dreams for 2026 into a reality.
Know Yourself. Do you value creative freedom and prefer the freelance life, or career recognition by steadily climbing the ladder in the corporate world? While your job, address, and your relationships may change, having a clear sense of your values helps you stay on track despite uncertainty. Check out Smart About Money’s Life Values Quiz and Monster.com’s Work Values Checklist to gain personal insights about what is important to you.
Be Honest About Your Financial Situation. This is essential to creating a plan that works. Maybe you haven’t chipped away as much as you hoped at your student debt. But you know what? That’s perfectly okay. In order to land where you want, you need to know your jumping off point. Personal budgeting apps such as such as Mint, LearnVest, and Level Money keep track of your daily finances as well as log your savings goals, helping you find your financial blind spots.
Look at the Big Picture. Your finances at their worst can feel like a constant uphill battle, and at their best can give you the energy to design the life you want. So if becoming a homeowner is a dream of yours, start by creating a five-year savings plan and visiting your local credit union to learn about mortgage options. Because credit unions are not-for-profit, you’ll find that they can often offer lower rates and more options than traditional banks. Their personalized service will also make the end goal less intimidating.
Chunk It Down. Achieving long-term goals can be daunting. Use the SMART approach when it comes to your financial goals, so that they’re Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely (worksheet here). Breaking down your goals into manageable units with specific steps can turn a wish into a reality. For instance, instead of saying, “Wouldn’t it be great to spend two months recording an album?” Sit down and figure out exactly how much money you would need to save in a year’s time to do that. Then break it down into four three-month chunks.
Schedule Check-In Meetings with Yourself. Create an appointment with yourself to check in on your goals and engage in self-reflection. According to a recent paper from Harvard Business School, setting aside 15 minutes at the end of your workday to reflect can impact your success. So whether it’s every three months, six months, or a year, keep it consistent and mark it in your calendar. Use it as time to gauge the progress you’ve been making.
Be Flexible. There’s a good chance that our values and situations may change along the way. In the past people normally stayed at a job for many years, but a recent study by Career Builder showed that 45% of employees plan to stay in their current job less than two years. Apply the same budgeting strategies and goal-setting habits you’ve developed throughout your self-designed plan. Keep an open mind, embrace changes, and adjust accordingly.
By following these steps, you’ll have a great start on planning for the long haul and turning your dreams into a reality. Along the way you’ll inevitably run into obstacles or have a change of heart, but by consistently checking in and staying flexible you’ll tackle your goals. Just remember to stay focused and be true to yourself, and you’ve got it in the bag.
Editor’s note: This post was previously published on October 24, 2014 and updated.