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How to achieve financial goals: Short-term, long-term & everything in between

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Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

As you look to the future, you can see yourself saving for a purposeful retirement, giving generously to your favorite causes and supporting your family through life's milestone moments. To achieve those financial goals, it helps to draw up a solid plan.

By setting meaningful, concrete objectives, you can treat your money as a tool to help you attain what matters most to you, your loved ones and your community. It's a process that takes patience, persistence and a series of thoughtful steps.

Set SMART financial objectives

As you identify what you want to accomplish with your money, set goals that are SMART. The acronym helps you remember to make your goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

  • Specific: Define each goal in detail. Ask yourself questions that begin with who, what, when, where, why and how. Your answers will help clarify what you hope to achieve.
  • Measurable: Determine how you'll track your progress, in real numbers. Is success based on how much you deposit in a particular account? How often you take a certain action? How long it takes to reach a milestone? Markers along the way will ensure you're on the right path.
  • Achievable: Set realistic goals. Don't aim to save $1,000 a month if your income and expenses can't accommodate it. Instead, pick an attainable monthly savings target—whether that's $500, $100 or $50. You could also set your savings goal as a percentage, such as 10% or 20% of your income; this can make it easier to stay the course as your income fluctuates.
  • Relevant: Focus on the reasons your goals are important. Are you saving for an early retirement? Why? Do you have travel aspirations? Grandkids to care for? A post-retirement career you're eager to launch? If goals are grounded in your values, you'll be more motivated to pursue them.
  • Time-bound: Use target dates and timelines to track your progress. If you simply plan to save a certain amount by the time your child enters college, you might not hit your mark. Instead, set smaller savings goals as checkpoints along the way. Then, if your efforts don't keep pace with your plans, you have time to adjust.

Consider short-term vs. long-term financial goals

Not all financial goals require extended timelines. It's important to identify objectives you can check off within a few months or years, too. Examples of short-term financial goals might include paying off a credit card or setting up a budget. Such accomplishments can then help you reach long-term goals like paying off your mortgage or funding your kids' college education.

Test for success

Make sure each of your financial goals passes your personal "acid test"—that it's truly valuable to you and you're willing to go the extra mile to make it happen. If you encounter hurdles along the way, you're more likely to clear them if you've already thought about what you'll do—or give up—to keep forging ahead.

A goal can be "Achievable" and still present some challenges. You'll want to anticipate obstacles and be ready to pivot. That may mean building up an emergency fund, so you can leave other accounts alone if unexpected expenses arise. Or you might obtain disability or life insurance to make sure progress toward your goals continues in the event of illness, injury or death.

Draw up your plan

SMART goals are a solid start. Next, you need a financial plan to map out the strategies to achieve them. There are a lot of perceptions around what it takes to make and maintain a financial plan. You can write everything in a notebook. You can build detailed spreadsheets and set phone alerts to prompt check-ins. Or you can work with a financial advisor to visualize a variety of strategies that evolve as you make progress and your circumstances change.

Put your plan in motion

Once you have a plan, it will help you take action. Let's say your goal is to sock away enough money in two years to cover living expenses for six months. You plan to get there by setting aside some income from every paycheck. Now, it's time to open a dedicated account and set up automatic deposits. The financial plan inspires action to help you work toward meeting your goal.

Sidestep roadblocks

Everyone hopes that their financial plan advances with minimal disruption, but stumbling blocks can arise - both within and beyond your control. For example, emergencies are outside of your control, but tapping your emergency fund for non-emergency spending is a block you can avoid. To help you avoid and recover from stumbling blocks, your financial plan could include establishing separate accounts based on specific financial goals or expenses.

And, of course, everyone faces setbacks sometimes, so don't view them as a reason to give up on your goals. Instead, see them as an opportunity to refine your approach.

Keep your emotions in check

Regardless of how well you've prepared, life will occasionally trip up your financial plans. Emotions may run high. That's natural. But strive to manage those reactions. Acknowledge any feeling of financial stress, but don't let it fuel rash decisions that could alter your long-term trajectory.

Find your source of support

As you set SMART goals and draw up plans to reach them, consider all available resources. Connect with a Thrivent financial advisor for insights and collaboration. They can help you chart a path to achieving your financial goals—and give you confidence that your life goals will closely follow suit.

If requested, a licensed insurance agent/producer may contact you and financial solutions, including insurance may be solicited.