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Short-term financial goals: 5 examples & how to achieve them

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What comes to mind when you hear the term "financial goals"? For many of us, it's our dreams for the long haul: Having enough to retire. Paying off a mortgage. Putting a child, or grandchild, through college. But make no mistake, short-term financial goals are important, too. These are objectives tied to more immediate needs and expenses. And though everyone's timelines look a little different, these goals typically can be accomplished within a few months or years.

Here are just a few common short-term financial goals, and some tangible steps you can take to achieve them.

1. Tackle debt

Debt grows. So the quicker you pay it down, the less money you'll spend on interest. This can help you free up money toward your other financial goals.

Not all debt is bad, but if you're overwhelmed by it, a solid short-term goal is to rein it in. Choose a debt payment plan that you find motivating, effective and realistic. Two of the most common methods can help you get at it from different angles:

  • Debt avalanche method. Make the minimum required payments on all your debts each month and apply any extra money you can toward the one with the highest interest rate.
  • Debt snowball method. Make all your minimum payments, with any extra money you have going toward the smallest amount of debt first.

The debt avalanche method often saves the most money because you're getting rid of a high interest-generating source. It can put you on a path to eventually paying less in interest and more on principal balances, which ultimately helps you pay down your debts faster. However, some people find the debt snowball method to be personally satisfying as they watch account balances zero out.

2. Create a budget

The goal with budgeting isn't to set and master the perfect budget within weeks. Instead, commit to improving your budget over time until it works for you. Check on it each week or at the end of the month to see which spending categories you're struggling to stick with. You might find that you need to cut back more in certain places or that you need to adjust in order to devote more funds to one category over another. Regularly checking in also can help you be more mindful of the purchases you make.

Your budget can evolve over time if you pay attention to what's going right and what's going wrong and make adjustments accordingly. Don't forget to budget each month for financial goals like paying down debt or buying a home—so you can make steady progress toward them. You may also want to factor in some cash for more fun uses, like a dinner out or an activity with your family. When you're spending the money on these types of expenses anyway, it pays to budget for them.

3. Save for emergencies

It doesn't hurt to save for a rainy day. An emergency fund lets you stash away money in case an unexpected expense or loss of income comes your way.

Most experts recommend building up enough money to cover three to six months of your expenses. This cache can help you avoid turning to expensive alternatives—such as credit cards and personal loans—when you need to pay for an unexpected car repair or a major medical bill.

4. Learn more about personal finance

Not all short-term financial goals have to be debt- or savings-focused. Consider setting a goal to simply learn more about finances. The more informed you are, the more comfortable you'll likely feel when making financial decisions.

Many people don't learn much about how to manage money while in school. So take your financial education into your own hands. Read financial books and articles, enroll in free or low-cost online or local financial courses, or reach out to a financial advisor. Not only do financial advisors have a wealth of information to share, but they can help you set a successful path for your particular short-term goals.

5. Make room for fun

After your bills are paid each month, many people hope to have some money left over for travel, hobbies and wants. These are the pursuits that make life rich and meaningful. So how can you carve out more of that "fun money"? Start with little changes. Not using a streaming service as often as you thought you would? Cancel it and direct the monthly fee toward a travel fund instead. Give up one takeout meal a week and put the money aside toward a manicure or a round of golf. And, as windfalls like bonuses or raises come your way, earmark a small portion for discretionary spending.

Don't forget: You don't need to take on all of your short-term goals at once. As you accomplish a couple within a matter of weeks or months, you'll again free up some money to swarm around a different goal or set a brand new one. Some of those goals should be more fun or fulfilling—whether it's taking a vacation, planning a date night, or doing something meaningful for a person or cause you care about. A solid financial strategy takes into account the things you love.

How to determine which short-term goals are right for you

To set the right short-term financial goal for you, think about which areas of your life cause you stress and which bring you comfort. You may find that your mounting credit card debt brings a lot of worry into your life, which makes paying it down a solid goal to work toward so that you can shift gears to being happy with where your money goes.

You may realize that growing the savings account dedicated to a down payment on your first home gives you a lot of comfort and satisfaction. If so, upping your contributions to that fund each month may be the perfect short-term goal for you.

A Thrivent financial advisor can help you sort out which short-term financial goals are right for you and your overall financial picture. They can also help you connect the dots from your short-term goals to your long-term goals and beyond.

Thrivent and its financial professionals do not provide legal, accounting or tax advice. Consult your attorney or tax professional.