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VOL. 45 | NO. 4 | Friday, January 22, 2021

Crafting smarter money goals for 2021 starts with simple steps

By Sean Pyles

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Setting money goals in 2020 was likely an exercise in futility. Maybe you’d been saving for a trip abroad, but the pandemic kept you at home. Or you wanted to save up for a down payment on a house, then the recession left you out of a job.

The pandemic made achieving yearlong goals a challenge for many last year. In fact, 29% of Americans with financial goals for 2020 said COVID-19 forced them to put some of those aspirations on hold until 2021, a NerdWallet survey finds. The poll was conducted online in late fall by The Harris Poll and included more than 1,700 U.S. adults with 2020 financial goals.

Although the pandemic is still part of our daily lives, the new year offers an opportunity to craft fresh money goals – and perhaps the trials of last year can help you clarify your financial ambitions.

Know your priorities

Before you set your goals, think about your current financial situation and your priorities for the new year.

“Take an inventory of where you are and more importantly who you are,” says Jordan Awoye, an equitable adviser based in Long Island, New York.

First, dig into the state of your finances, including your income, monthly expenses and emergency fund. Understand where you are right now to get an idea of where you could be in a year’s time.

Then think about your personal priorities and values – and how they may have shifted as a result of the pandemic – to pinpoint what you want from your finances. Maybe you want to get back to a baseline of where you were in early 2020, before a year of financial challenges. Or maybe you want to use the money you saved while staying at home to put a down payment on a house.

Craft smart(r) goals

With the foundation of your priorities and motivation settled, it’s time to establish the framework to build your financial future. That means crafting your goals in a way that makes them easier to achieve. The SMART template for goal-setting can help:

• Specific: Make your goals as specific as possible. If you want to curb your spending, for example, pin down how much you spend on unnecessary items each month. Then set an exact dollar limit for such spending.

• Measurable: Choose a way to track your progress. If you’re paying down debt, think about using a debt tracker. Or if you want to save a certain dollar amount, consider visualizing your goal in a savings progress chart that you’ll color in as you go.

• Attainable: Your goals need to be something you can accomplish within a year. If you’re paying off $10,000 in credit card debt, for example, find what you can realistically pay monthly, multiply that by 12 and use that amount as your goal.

• Relevant: Choose goals that are meaningful to your personal values. Similar to finding your “why,” choosing relevant goals helps ensure that your 2021 financial plan is connected to your life goals.

• Time-Limited: Setting a deadline can keep the pressure on. And think about breaking up your overarching goal into smaller pieces that you’ll achieve on a monthly basis.

Boost your progress

Finally, here are a few simple tips to build momentum:

• Automate: Taking a “set it and forget it” approach can make accomplishing your ambitions easier. For savings goals, try direct depositing a portion of your income into a high-yield savings account. And for debt payoff, set up automatic payments for an amount above the minimum due to ensure you’re making progress.

• Cut your interest rate: If less of your payment goes to interest, more of it goes to debt payoff. You may be able to reduce your rate by refinancing your mortgage, student loan or car loan. If you have credit card debt, see whether you can qualify for a debt consolidation loan or a balance transfer credit card with a 0% APR promotional period.

Sean Pyles is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: spyles@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @SeanPyles.

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