Take a long-term view, little steps to achieve money goals

JANUARY is more than half gone, and if you are like most Australians, the goals you made with such enthusiasm a few weeks ago, have faded away.

That's probably because you fell for what psychologists call the "fresh start effect" whereby you use a point in time such as a significant birthday, or a date like New Year's Eve, to create a new mental accounting.

That lets you put past failures behind you and start the plan of a better future.

Most studies about goal setting recommend the SMART technique - you are most likely to reach our goals if they are specific, measurable, attainable, personally relevant and time bound.

But the trouble with many time bound goals is that you relax once you are making measurable progress. You know the feeling - you start to reduce your calories to reduce weight, and within a few days you are thrilled to find that results are showing. For too many of us the way to celebrate that success is to go back to our normal diet.

In my experience the secret of achieving goals is take a long-term view, and then set small individual goals as you go along the path to financial independence.

The best way is to develop a routine - a simple one is to just devote 10 minutes every day to doing something to help your your financial progress.

If you were lost, the best map in the world would be hopeless, if you didn't know your location. So, the first step is to write out exactly where you are now.

It simply of a matter of recording your financial assets, and any liabilities, plus details of your net income.

The hardest part of doing this is to start, so decide today to spend 10 minutes writing out a statement of your financial position.

It's likely after 10 minutes have passed that you will be so engrossed in the task that you will happily keep on going.

Alternatively, putting your financial situation in writing may throw up other tasks such as finding out the interest rate you are paying on your home loan, or the current balance of your superannuation.

These jobs could be added to a to-do list that will be the basis of your 10-minute exercise tomorrow, and maybe the next day. Keep it up until it becomes a habit and you will be amazed at the progress you can make.

It sounds simple but it works a treat. Also arrange your affairs so investment happens automatically.

This could be as simple as increasing the repayments on your housing loan by converting monthly payments to fortnightly payments, or opening a RAIZ account and having a set sum invested in it each payday.

As I pointed out last week, the biggest drawback to becoming financially independent is to spend more than you earn, and credit cards are designed to encourage us to do just that.

A major goal should be to replace your credit card with a debit card whereby all spending is debited to your bank account, instead of being borrowed to be paid back from future earnings.

The secret of achieving goals is take a long-term view, and then set small individual goals.

TEN MINUTES WELL SPENT: Financial planning can be less daunting in small chunks.

TEN MINUTES WELL SPENT: Financial planning can be less daunting in small chunks.

I appreciate this could be a big task if you are hooked on credit now, but maybe be a good intermediate goal would be to pay back 10% of your outstanding credit card balance each payday to cover your past excesses, and do all new spending on a debit card. This would have the balance paid in full within 12 months, after which time you could start an investment program free from the burden of consumer debt.

  • Noel Whittaker is the author of Making Money Made Simple and numerous other books on personal finance. noel@noelwhittaker.com.au