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Navigating the Road to Financial Success

  • Crystal Paine MoneySavingMom.com
  • 2012 10 Oct
  • COMMENTS
Navigating the Road to Financial Success

Editor's note: This article originally appeared on Money Saving Mom. Used with permission.

So, you have a fresh resolve to get your finances in order. There’s a temptation to want to go out and buy a stack of books or new financial software to help you get your act together when it comes to your budget.

While there’s much that can be learned from books (hey, I wouldn’t have written a book myself if I didn’t think this was the case!), a book, DVD series, or budgeting software won’t ultimately change your financial situation. Your financial situation won’t change unless you change.

So get in the driver’s seat, buckle up, and get your engines started. It’s time to steer yourself toward the financial success freeway.

1. Stop Spinning Your Wheels and Driving Around in Circles

What would happen if you took a family road trip to an unfamiliar location hundreds of miles away and you left your map or GPS at home? Very likely you’d waste hours driving around trying to figure out which way you were supposed to go and you’d probably never reach your destination unless you stopped and bought a map or kept stopping to ask for directions.

It’s the same with finances: if you don’t really know where you are going in the first place, you’re going to be hard-pressed to ever reach your desired destination.

So many people dream of getting out of debt, saving to pay cash for another vehicle, paying off their house early, or giving more generously to others. Very few people, however, get beyond the dreaming stage. Instead, they drive around and around without a map, wishing they could go somewhere, but never determining where it is they want to go nor how they are going to get there.

2. Know Your Final Destination

It has well been said: “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” Where do you want to be financially a year from now? What about five years from now? How about ten years from now?

Sit down with your spouse (if you’re married) and brainstorm answers to these questions. Then, write down the answers you come up with, even if they seem crazy and well beyond reach.

After your brainstorming session, look at your list of ideas and pick three to make your family’s financial goals. I recommend choosing one goal that you think you could fairly easily accomplish in the next six months, one goal that you think you could achieve in the next year or two, and one goal that seems quite audacious.

If you have credit card debt, car loans, medical debt, student loans, or any other consumer debt, paying these off should be your top priority Once you’ve paid off your consumer debt, paying off your mortgage or saving up for a large downpayment should be your next big goal.

Once you determine your top three goals, write them down and post them in a conspicuous location. When you write them down and hang them up somewhere for your whole family to see, it provides extra incentive to actually follow-through with the goals. No longer do you have pie-in-the-sky financial dreams, you now have very specific goals to serve as the driving force for decisions your family is making.

3. Create a Roadmap

Goals are good, but they won’t get you very far if you don’t break them down into bite-sized, measurable pieces. Start with your end date and work backwards. For instance, if you hope to have paid off the $500 balance on your credit card within six months, break the goal down into monthly chunks and then into weekly chunks.

To pay off $500 in six months, you’d need to put $83.33 per month toward the credit card bill. That’s $20.83 per week. Think about what weekly or monthly expenses you could cut or or lower to free up that amount.

If you review your budget and find that there is nothing you can cut or lower, review it again with a few frugal friends to see if they have any suggestions for you. If you still cannot come up with the extra wiggle room to make your goal, then you either need to extend your goal’s end date or you need to find an additional stream of income.

4. Check the Map Regularly

If you’re driving to a new-to-you destination that is many miles away, you will probably consult your map often to make sure you’re on the right road and haven’t made any wrong turns along the way. You need to do the same with your financial goals.

Set up a bi-weekly or monthly accountability meetings to review your goals, chart your progress, and consider if you need to make any course corrections. It’s much better to determine early on that you’ve made a wrong turn, than to take the wrong highway for an hour only to end up having to backtrack once you finally discover your mistake!

5. Celebrate the Mile Markers

Don’t forget to celebrate the milestones along the way. Plan a party or go on a special family date every time you pay off a credit card. Put $5 in a special “Family Vacation” fund jar every time you save another $50 dollars in your savings account. Or, maybe make a commitment as a family that if you all stick to the budget for an entire month, everyone gets $10 in “blow money” to spend on whatever they want (be sure to budget this in, of course).

You’ll likely encounter many bumps, potholes, traffic jams, and unexpected road construction while you’re en route, but if you keep moving forward–even if at a crawl–you’ll achieve much greater financial traction than you could have ever dreamed possible!

Crystal Paine is a wife, homeschool mom to three, author of the best-selling book, The Money Saving Mom®‘s Budget, and founder of MoneySavingMom.com, a site dedicated to helping you maximize the mileage of your money. 

Publication date: October 19, 2012