When I was a kid, I’d tell my mom proudly that my room was clean. After a quick glance, she’d send me back in, saying something about “my version of clean” and “her version.” While I’m still not sure what she was talking about, many people set New Year’s Resolutions with good intentions, thinking they’re pretty good.
Then they’re disappointed when a few weeks later they’ve failed.
Do you want to be a failure when you practice goal setting?
Of course not.
Let’s find a better way. Today let’s try setting goals the way that financial advisors do with their clients. I can’t speak for everyone, but this method I’m going to describe worked well for me.
Never been in a financial advisor’s office? That’s why we call this site the Free Financial Advisor (irony, huh?). Here’s what I did with my clients in early meetings.
We set goals that stick. Here’s how:
…after we chained people up and made them swear off credit cards, we’d…
…of course I’m joking.
I’d begin a meeting by asking my client “what do you want for yourself?”
Although this is the same question people ask themselves when they make New Years resolutions, I received a much different answer. People would give me the goals they thought I’d want to hear, not what they really wanted.
Most often, they’d say:
1) I want college for my kids
2) I want retirement for myself
After I gasped in feigned surprise from hearing the same answer yet again, we’d dig deeper.
But let’s discuss these two goals (education and retirement) for a moment before moving on. These two goals aren’t at all the same ones that you give to yourself OUTSIDE of a financial planners office. Outside, goals are exciting. You want a new boat. You want to write a book. You want to quit your dead end job and go work for yourself.
You want to be a masked man in tights, fighting common financial planning mistakes.
Oh, wait. That’s mine.
So here’s step one: Write out your true goals. If you give yourself the goal you think “you’re supposed to have,” do what I did with clients. Ask yourself “what else” until they’re exciting. Then keep searching until you can’t dream up any more.
Goal setting sessions should include both short term and long term goals. I’d make clients outline all their goals. Here’s why:
Every goal affects the other ones. How you plan for college is going to have a dramatic impact on your retirement plan. Whether you join the country club will be affected by how quickly you get your new business off the ground.
By this time, clients think we’re done. This is the end for people who complete a New Year’s resolutions list. We’ve outlined the goals.
We’ve gotten a good start, but we ain’t anywhere near done, sister.
Next, step two: we prioritize your goals. Here’s the question I’d ask to help someone prioritize their dreams during our goal setting session. I’d ask,
“On a scale of one to ten, how important is it that you reach this goal, the way you’ve described it to me?”
Here’s what people would answer…
– Oh, I really really want all of these.
Then, I’d ask: “If you can have goal 1, but not goal 2, which would you pursue?” Using the retirement and college example above, I’d ask, “If you could give your children the best college possible, but it meant retiring later, would you retire late or find other education options for the children?”
Everyone thought I had an agenda and that I knew what they were going to say. The answer was obvious. This was the cool part for me. The answer was obvious, but not to me. It was obvious to them.
At this point, people would give a nice sigh of relief. In their mind, goal setting was over.
But it wasn’t. Although your average New Year’s Resolution was way over, we were now halfway.
My next job? If I’m a professional asking about goal setting, I still don’t know the goal. Sure, for you it’s retirement or your kids’ college. For me, the goal is an amount of money.
We’ve done a ton of work, but still haven’t actually set the goal.
How do you know how much to save for a goal if you don’t know the target? I’m often amazed when I see people saving five or eight percent into their 401k plan at work.
I’d ask, “Why are you saving that amount?” I’d usually hear answers like:
– It’s what I can afford.
– It’s the amount my company match.
– It’s the cap in my retirement plan.
I can’t remember a time someone answered, “Because that’s the amount it will take to reach my objective.”
But isn’t that what you’re really trying to do with a New Year’s Resolution? Aren’t you trying to reach a goal?
Here’s what we’d do next: in step three, I’d ask my client how much they’re saving toward each goal. My goal wasn’t to embarrass them, but it was to make them understand that there’s a lot more to goal setting than just throwing out a list of dreams and prioritizing them.
Quickly, we’d proceed to step four, finding out what each goal costs. Every goal has a simple equation to reach:
Money x Return = Goal
Money can be expressed as either savings or new contributions, and return depends on the amount of risk you want to take. Both factors affect each other. As an example:
If you need to save $10 (yeah, right….but let’s run with it) and achieve an 8 percent return to reach the goal, you now have some numbers to play with.
If you save $11, you could reduce the risk you take on investment.
If you achieve a high return, you can spend money on other things, speed up the goal, or Super Size it!
Once we know these numbers, then we can proceed with step five: create the plan to reach the goal. It doesn’t take long and we’re able to
Here’s my question: how do you know which you’d do until you’ve followed these steps:
1) Write out your true goals. Both long and short term.
2) Prioritize the goals.
3) Write out how much you’re currently saving toward the goal.
4) Find out the cost of the goal.
5) Create a written plan to reach the goal.
And there you have it! You’ve successfully completed New Year’s resolutions that are sticky.
Here’s the funny part: I didn’t do this process for my clients.
I did it for me. Because as their financial advisor, I knew they were going to hold me accountable to the goal, and I needed a clear picture of the goal and what it was going to cost before I recommended a plan of attack.
If the hired help does it this way for your goals, why don’t you?
Okay, now it’s your turn: What’s your #1 priority in 2012?
Mine? Lose 10 pounds. Cost: Weight Watcher’s membership. I work better on a team. Timeframe: 1 lb. per week/10 weeks till finished, then maintain.