Defining and Setting Goals for a Good Financial Life
Defining your financial goals can be difficult, just like reaching them. Also, defining your goals can be a process and they may change over time. Let's start with some general ideas that could be the definition of a good financial life.
Some of the long term goals that many people list include:
- Owning and living in a nice home.
- Being able to afford travel and to take nice vacations.
- Saving enough to have a financially secure retirement.
- Paying less in income tax.
- Earning more on their investments.
- Being able to afford college educations for their children.
- Having assets that are passed on to their heirs.
These are relatively concrete concepts, the costs of which can be determined with a calculator and some assumptions.
But there is more to a good financial life than just long term concrete goals that can be calculated. There are short term and intermediate term goals that should be taken into account.
- Being able to afford a comfortable home in a safe neighborhood, whether the home is rented or owned.
- Driving a nice and reliable car.
- Being able to afford gifts for loved ones.
- Taking nice, but not extravagant vacations.
- Accumulating some net worth.
- Getting out of debt.
- Starting the process of saving for retirement and college educations.
There are also intangibles that should be considered.
- A feeling of being in control of your finances.
- Handling finances without too much stress.
- Feeling that you are making progress toward your long term goals.
- Not worrying about money.
- Not spending too much time and effort handling your finances.
- Knowing you are doing the right things financially and not making mistakes.
- Financial peace of mind.
The benefits of patience and time
All of these things can be within your reach, but each of them takes effort. The key is to start early, learn as you go, make fully informed decisions, avoid major mistakes and balance all your goals.
Learning to manage your finances intelligently can be different than learning most skills. Learning to ride a bicycle is relatively simple - you get on, you balance yourself, you pedal, you turn and you brake. There are very few variables. With your finances, there are many variables and those variables change over time. You have different jobs and income levels, your expenses change and there can be unexpected expenses, certainly the investment markets fluctuate, the tax rules change and your goals change. Some of these changes you can control and others are beyond your control.
In addition, our minds are not naturally accustomed to thinking about finances the way we need to. We all tend to want immediate gratification and to believe we are in control of all aspects of our lives. Achieving financial goals, whether they are long term, short term, or intangible requires that we make decisions that balance short term and long term priorities.
The good news for young adults is that all of the tools needed to achieve your goals are available. The information you need to improve your financial literacy is readily available; you have access to all the products and services you need and time is on your side.