Financial Mistakes #4: Not Setting Financial Goals

This mistake should not be a part of my history.

I’m a goal-oriented, future-focused person with a degree in finance.  I’ve read many books on personal finance, goal setting, and self-improvement.  My brain likes to make plans and problem solve.  And I consider myself somewhat ambitious.

So why did I fail to make & meet my own money goals?

I’m not crystal clear, but as a 51-year old looking back at my younger self, I would bet it had something to do with limiting beliefs.  I think deep down, I never believed I could really achieve what I dreamed about.  And I had some pretty big dreams.

Maybe I just didn’t want to look like a failure, or disappoint myself.

With that, having a husband whose only goal was to make another batch of beer had lulled me into complacency.  My subconscious, deep-seated insecurities accepted a paycheck-to-paycheck life without question.

And as a result, we’re still struggling.  Even as we approach Christmas, I feel the familiar tension of wanting to be a generous giver and not having enough money.

So. sick. of. this.

Today I’m trying to be better at having goals.  I still feel something holding me back – I resist writing them down, or getting specific.  I don’t want to share them with anybody and be held accountable.

But I’m not letting those feelings stop me from moving forward.  I know where having a goal-less life gets you, and I don’t like being here.


Don’t Rely On A Flashlight

Before I started paying attention to our financial future, my focus was always stuck on the current problems.

How am I going to pay this bill?
Where is the money going to come from?
Why do we always run out of money?

My “goal” was just to get everything covered, and try to stretch what was left until the next paycheck.

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It was like using a flashlight to guide me.  Walking around in the dark, using just enough light to see my next step, trying not to trip on anything.  My vision was only a week long.  Payday to payday.  Wiping my brow in relief if we made it through with a few bucks left.

I was only concerned about what was right in front of me, thinking if I just get through this financial obstacle course then everything’s good.  And every payday was like starting the obstacle course over again.

Having no goals is like walking around in the dark with a flashlight.

Then, about 2 years ago, a light switch turned on.  I stumbled on other bloggers that had big financial goals – and achieved them.  I was reminded of what was possible, and my ambitious nature started to wake up.

I realized there was so much more opportunity around me, which I had been missing all this time.  And my vision grew from a little flashlight beam on the ground to the vast horizon where my future stretches out for 30 years.

What a difference in perspective.


The Value In Setting Goals

I believe everyone is born with a sense of purpose, but most of us lose it as we get older.  It gets buried under the challenges of life, or insecurities picked up along the way.  So many people settle for what life gives them, instead of being intentional about creating a life that reflects their purpose.

One of the main benefits of having goals is to line up your purpose with your actions.  They give you direction, focus your energy, and give you a sense of accomplishment when achieved.  They help you to be future-oriented.

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And “purpose” doesn’t have to be a huge deal.  It’s not always about your life’s purpose.  It could be a smaller purpose that helps you get to the larger one.

Looking back, I realize I didn’t have purpose with our finances.  I never determined a direction or connected our present with our future.  I was totally stuck just trying to get from week to week.

What I really needed was something in the future to focus on.  Something to work toward.  I needed to put my flashlight down and turn on the lights to see the bigger picture.

Goals are born out of a vision – typically, one that will improve the quality of your life.  If you don’t have a vision for your future, and one you can connect goals to, you will end up settling for whatever life hands you.

It’s important to have goals that will guide your actions and provide motivation to keep going.  To keep moving forward toward a richer, more fulfilling life.

Otherwise, you’re spinning your wheels.


What I Learned From This Mistake

I know this sounds crazy, but I really didn’t start challenging our financial situation until I started reading other bloggers’ stories of getting out of debt and achieving financial freedom.  This was, like, a thing?

I had just accepted our circumstances as “life”, and I didn’t even define our behavior as living paycheck to paycheck.  Spending all of the money and waiting for the next payday was normal – and acceptable.

I mean, we were making ends meet, right?  We live in a comfortable home, we have food on the table, I can (occasionally) buy things from Target…

What I learned from other bloggers is that once they got intentional with their money, their circumstances no longer controlled them.  They didn’t let $40K of student debt, or a $35K income keep them from having a vision, setting goals, and reaching financial independence.

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Those circumstances weren’t barriers to having the life they wanted.  Instead,

They defined a vision,
determined their purpose,
created goals to support that purpose,
aligned their actions with those goals,
and are now living out the vision they started with.

And I realized that by not having any financial goals, I was giving all the control to our circumstances.  I was being passive instead of taking action.  And believing that was my only choice.

The biggest lesson I learned from this mistake is that my situation will never change as long as I just focus on today.  That my circumstances don’t have to control my behavior.  I can choose to respond differently.  I can take back control and change the course of my future.

And having goals gives me that direction.


I’m Still Learning

I tend to be more of an Eeyore than a Tigger.  I focus on what’s wrong, what I’m doing wrong, and the worst thing that could go wrong.  Frankly, I’m amazed I don’t drink (more).

This is why it’s important for me to keep my thinking in check.  I do this by reading books and blogs and listening to podcasts that inspire me to keep moving toward my vision of a fulfilling life.

These habits have really helped to reactivate the ambitions I once had.  They remind me to keep setting goals and focusing on the bigger picture.

I’ve also discovered that having goals is good for my mental health.  I get my eyes off the struggles we’re going through as a family and remember that life will not always be like this.

There is hope for a better future, and I can be a part of making that happen.

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