Did you make a New Year’s resolution? Have you been feeling tempted to break it? You’re not the only one! Over 80 percent of the people who make resolutions do not keep them. In fact, according to research conducted by an organization called Strava, most people give up by the third Sunday of January, a day that has been dubbed “Quitter’s Day.” Other research points to February as being the month that people abandon their resolutions. Whatever the day or month, the fact of the matter is, giving up is easy to do. And when your goal is saving money, the temptation to spend is often just too great, unless you plan carefully and act strategically.
In my experience in the banking industry, the biggest savings mistake people make is not identifying what’s important to them. Saving money takes discipline. If you don’t have something specific to work toward, something that is meaningful and will inspire you, you won’t be motivated to create positive savings habits, you’ll get discouraged, and you’ll quit.
So, before you break your resolution to save in 2021, I’d like you to re-evaluate your savings strategy using the S.M.A.R.T. method of goal-setting – a way to approach, write and analyze goals to make them more achievable.
S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym you can apply to goals, to ensure they are:
5 Steps to Setting a S.M.A.R.T. Savings Goal
1. Be specific.
If, when making your New Year’s resolution, you simply said, “I’m going to save more money in 2021,” you were definitely on the right track. Saving money is always a good goal, but dig deeper. Ask yourself:
- What do you want to accomplish?
- Why is this important enough to be a goal?
- Who do I need to involve to make this work?
- Do I have any obstacles in my life that will make this goal difficult to achieve?
Let’s compare two goals:
I want to save more money in 2021.
I want to put a down payment on a house.
The second goal is more detailed. It names what’s important to you – buying a home. At this point, you don’t have to have a detailed list of how you’ll accomplish the goal. Simply think of this step as creating a savings mission statement.
As we move through the next four steps, that goal will become even more specific, and will evolve into a savings plan.
2. Set up a way to measure the goal.
The best way to accomplish a goal is to assign a number to it, a metric, to give you something to work toward.
Building off our goal above, let’s make it measurable:
Instead of saying, “I want to put a down payment on a house,” say:
“I want to save $6,000 for a down payment on a house.”
With the added dollar figure, you now have something to keep you on track, something you can watch progress and something to keep you motivated.
3. Make sure your goal is achievable.
If you set an unrealistic goal, you’ll lose momentum quickly. Be sure to ask yourself, “Is my goal attainable?”
Let’s take another look at our down payment goal. Is $6,000 attainable? Does it feel insurmountable? Are you wary about committing that much money, when you have other financial responsibilities?
Financial management tools are helpful in determining whether your savings goals are achievable. Bank of Utah’s My Money Hub, for example, is an online feature that lets you monitor all of your finances, and even create and visualize budgets. Take advantage of those tools so you have a bigger and better picture of your financial situation.
4. Determine whether your goal is relevant.
The key to setting a relevant goal is to decide if it fits into your life long-term.
Let’s go back to the down payment example. If you don’t really want the responsibility of being a home owner, this goal would not be relevant to you, and you wouldn’t work hard to achieve it. Make sure your goal fits your lifestyle and personality; don’t force it.
5. Give your goal a deadline.
Your goals must be time-bound. Vague end dates make temptations even more desirable. You could start making excuses not to save, such as, “I don’t want to make my lunch any more. I’m just going to eat out while I’m at work. I can always start saving later.”
Let's think about our down payment goal and figure out how to add an end date. Ask yourself, "When do I want to have the $6,000 ready to put down?" In 18 months, two years? You could even make it more specific by adding how much you want to save per month. Just remember, to make your timeframe realistic, too!
Putting it All Together
Now that you’ve learned the individual elements of S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting, I want to point out that you don’t always have to go in order of the acronym – it’s just handy for remembering the key components that will help you set strong, solid, achievable goals.
For example, being specific and being relevant go hand in hand. You need to decide what’s important, and relevant to you, first, before determining how to make it specific. Similarly, you know your finances best, so you probably already know what’s attainable. Knowing what’s achievable makes setting a metric, or making a goal measurable, easier. Again, you don’t have to go straight down the acronym to set a good S.M.A.R.T. goal, and you may even go through several revisions until you land on something that works for you.
So, let’s take one last look at our original goal of, “I’m going to save more money in 2021.”
Using the S.M.A.R.T. approach, it now should read something like: “I want to set $250 aside each month for the next two years, to save $6,000 for a down payment on a house.”
It’s specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Now, you’re ready to take the next step.
Making it Work
Once you have a S.M.A.R.T. goal, it’s important to understand that you also have to be disciplined.
I had a customer who, through meticulous goal-setting and disciplined financial habits, did save $6,000 in a year and a half, toward a down payment on a house. He stopped going out to lunch with his coworkers. He stopped going to Starbucks every morning. He gave himself a strict allowance to follow each week. And, he set up automatic transfers, to ensure a portion of his paycheck automatically went to his savings account rather than his spending account.
If you take the S.M.A.R.T. approach, you, too, can meet your savings goals, whether you’re saving to buy a home, pay down debt, send a child to college, go on vacation or build up an emergency fund. Know that you may slip up, at times, and that’s normal, but with your goal-setting skills, you can get back on track.
If you need help saving, reach out to the Bank. We can help you get started, we can help you track your progress, and we will celebrate with you when you achieve your goal. And, won’t it be nice to say, “I actually kept my New Year’s resolution!” Not many people can.
Carrie Haroldsen is the branch manager for Bank of Utah’s City Creek Banking Center. She has worked for Bank of Utah for three years but has been in banking for 18 years. Carrie and her husband have three grown sons, one daughter-in-law and two fur babies. She enjoys traveling, camping, and spending time with family and friends.