Setting personal goals is very similar to writing a business plan – both can help ensure success in the future.
Setting goals is something that lots of people talk about but few really take the time to do, at least in a formal way.
Sure, you might jot down your goals for the year – lose 10 pounds, find a new job, save for a trip to Italy.
But just writing down a goal rarely helps you achieve it.
Building lists of tasks to reach those goals can help, and many people take that next step. But lists on their own won’t get you there, and for some people they have drawbacks. If you’re a person who gets so focused on tackling each item on your list, you may lose sight of the big picture – the goal itself. And you might miss opportunities that create a better path to your goal.
But when you write down your goals, make lists, compile them into a plan AND shift your mindset, the results can be life-changing.
Businesses take time annually to set goals and develop a plan to reach them. Without clear direction – and a formal plan – a business is unlikely to succeed, even if it is offering a great product or innovative service.
Need proof? Data shows that almost 20 percent of small businesses fail in their first year? It’s safe to say that many of those failures can be attributed to lack of direction.
By five years, about half have ceased operations.
For more insight on setting goals, I talked to Ginger Gallagher, who is the president of Vela Agency in Winston-Salem, NC. Ginger is also a very involved member of the Jonathan D. Rosen Family Foundation’s board of trustees.
Here’s what Ginger had to say about setting goals for herself and her business.
“The old saying that ‘What Gets Measured Gets Done’ really applies here. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day minutiae and lose sight of the big picture,” Ginger says. “That’s why planning for business, or any goal really, improves the odds of achieving that goal.
“This applies to any type of goal, whether it’s to grow your business, get an education, save money or conquer a challenge. Don’t get myopic, though. Be stubborn about your goals but be flexible about your methods.”
Of course, if you’ve never been one to set goals, this is a good time to start. The pandemic has forced many of us to make decisions that will change the course of our lives.
Learn what history can tell us about “buy low, sell high” as an investment strategy.
Investment language can be off-putting to most of us – ETFs, IRAs and UGMA might as well be alphabet soup for people who want to build their financial literacy.
But “Buy Low, Sell High”? That’s relatively easy to understand. In a nutshell, it’s a long-standing idea that people should purchase shares of stocks when their price is low (a Bear Market) and sell them when their value increases (a Bull Market).
Then why aren’t more people successful at it? Here are a few reasons.
1. We’re an emotional species. When it comes to our finances, decision making is often driven by two fundamental factors: greed and fear. As humans, our emotions often overtake our logic, causing investment behavior that is less than rational.
2. We don’t like being left out. When we find ourselves on the sidelines watching others profit, we reach a point where we must make an investment, buy a piece of real estate, or deploy some cash to “get in on the action”.
As we invest at or near a stock’s peak prices, we find ourselves excited to finally be in the investment game. Our greed takes over and we tell ourselves that the good times won’t end. We take comfort in yesterday’s news but lack a clear vision of what tomorrow may bring.
3. Our memories can be short. Every decade or so brings one or a series of economic upswings: the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s, the housing market boom of the 2000s, the economic expansion of the pre-pandemic period beginning in 2010. Then, there’s the inevitable economic downturn because cycles are just that – cyclical.
4. We let the fear take over. As we ride the market down, we allow our fear of losing money take over. Consider the bursting of the dot-com bubble, the great recession, and the coronavirus pandemic. We shift to a mindset of “it can only get worse” and that overrides our greed. Driven by fear, we sell and hope to have something left at the end.
5. We repeat past mistakes. Just like before, we find ourselves waiting to invest. Sadly, the opportunity passes us by until we just can’t sit on the sidelines anymore and we repeat the cycle. Once again, we find ourselves investing near the peak, having forgotten the last experience.
It’s enough to leave you dizzy. That said, if you can’t stomach the stock market roller coaster, don’t push yourself to ride it.
If you are already invested, take a deep breath or 10 and remind yourself that prices will rise again as the market returns to normal. If there are stocks you would have considered purchasing before the downturn in companies that align with your values AND you have the money to invest, go ahead and purchase some shares. Investing is a wealthy habit and your focus needs to be on the long-term. No one can predict when prices will rise. But know that they will eventually.
At Wealthy Habits, we teach kids financial literacy lessons on investing, savings and more. Parents can find blog articles and other financial education resources on our website. We also offer low-cost day camps, summer camps and teacher training programs in the metro Atlanta area on topics such as saving for college, investing and more.
Every day is financial literacy day at Wealthy Habits, but April is officially National Financial Literacy Month. With many schools and businesses closed and uncertainty over when they’ll reopen, we’ve put together a list of things to review to keep your finances in order.
To make sure you won’t put off the items on the list, we’ve focused on the ones that could potentially help you spend less and save more.
That got your attention, didn’t it?
Of course, we always advise that you have a clear understanding of your financial situation and do what’s best for your personal situation before making any changes to the items on this list.
Your annual personal finance review should include:
1. Home and auto insurance policies. Most insurance companies are willing to show you how you can save money on auto and home insurance, especially if it helps them earn your business. For example,
- Auto Insurance. Some companies will give you a 10 percent discount if you take a safe driving class.
- Homeowners insurance. There are many ways to lower the cost of homeowners’ insurance, from making sure you understand policy terms to improving home security. Even improving your credit history can help. You can find these and other ideas on the website for the Insurance Information Institute.
2. Life Insurance coverage amount. Let’s face it, no one lives forever and life insurance can protect your family if the inevitable happens before you expect it. Life insurance costs less to purchase when you’re young, but you need to reevaluate your policy annually because monthly premiums can decrease over time. Life situations can change too; if you add a child or your lifestyle changes substantially, you may need to reevaluate your benefit amount.
3. Monthly or recurring memberships. At least once a year, revisit all the monthly memberships or other recurring fees you pay. That means reviewing your bank and credit card statements to identify charges for memberships you no longer or rarely use. $100 or $200 a month might not get your attention, but those fees add up quickly when you multiply them by 12.
4. Your company’s benefits plan. Annual enrollment meetings can be dull. But if you take the time to understand what your company is offering, you’re less likely to leave money on the table, which is what happens when you don’t make full use of your benefits. Here are the big ones that should be on your checklist for an annual review.
- Retirement contributions. If you aren’t contributing the amount your employer matches, you are basically not accepting a raise. Although it can feel impossible to maximize your contribution to your employer’s matching limit, find a way to do it. Your pre-tax savings, together with your employer’s match, will add up faster than you think.
- Retirement (tax-deferred), health saving and flexible spending accounts. Contributions to these accounts are tax-free, which makes them great opportunities to save while reducing your tax liability. (Contributions are deducted before federal income tax withholdings are calculated, which reduces your taxable wages. This helps reduce the amount of federal income, payroll and FICA taxes you pay.) It is always a great idea to talk to your accountant about ways you can maximize your options.
5. Services you pay for. The goal here is to look for comparable but less expensive options. Take the time to review services such as:
- Investment accounts. Fees for investment accounts can vary widely. Depending on your number of transactions, the amount you have invested and the degree you want to be involved with investment decisions, you may find that no-fee or low-fee accounts meet your needs.
- Bank accounts. Bank fees can be a drain on your checking account. Review several months of account transactions to find any fees you may have overlooked. Then examine disclosure forms to see if there are things you can do to waive fees – keeping a required minimum balance, signing up for direct deposit, etc.
- Household services. If you pay for ongoing alarm monitoring, yard care or HVAC maintenance, for example, you may be able to find a lower-cost provider. Talk to friends or neighbors for recommendations or ask your current providers if they are willing to match other providers’ prices or advertised specials.
The most important part of this process is to save or invest the savings you uncover. Set aside an equal amount to be automatically deposited in a savings or investment account. This isn’t free money – it’s money you found through hard work and diligence. Put it to better use. Your future self will thank you.
For more information about National Financial Literacy Month, sign up for one of the student and parent workshops we offer at Wealthy Habits.
The teen brain can be a mysterious thing to adults. Luckily, we have scientific research that can help explain why teens do things that may seem illogical, irrational or inconsistent to us.
Here’s an example: Brain research shows that teen brains are wired for instant gratification. So it’s not just social media, the internet and Amazon that have created a “right here, right now” mentality for teens. Their brains are just wired that way, and such outside influences seem to just reinforce an existing mindset.
The good news is that there are ways to help teens resist their impulses, at least when it comes to saving money. Over the years, we’ve taught these tips to thousands of teens, and we’ve seen how a little guidance can work wonders in building good money habits.
The Four Basics of Saving
These four tips to help teens save money are effective for just about anyone, including adults and even middle-school and elementary-school kids.
- Set up a savings goal and figure out how to achieve it. For teens and the rest of us, it can be difficult to save for something that seems far away (retirement) or is poorly defined (a dream vacation). However, a 14-year-old who wants to buy his or her own car in two years has a clear-cut goal and a self-imposed deadline. The next step is to talk to your teen about how to reach that goal – through a part-time job, saving up birthday money, or selling old sports equipment, for example.
- Spend toward your savings goal before spending on other things. This is something adults struggle with too. It’s hard to avoid the temptation to treat yourself or spend on a splurge item when you tell yourself, “I’ve earned it.” Try instead to think about it this way: If you save before you spend, you’re rewarding your future self by attaining a goal that’s more important. Teens, like the rest of us, are more successful if they, “pay themselves first,” by spending toward their savings goal before doing anything else with their money.
- Check in regularly. Online banking makes it easy to check balances for that sense of immediate gratification that teens need. With online and direct deposits, they can stash their money away quickly, then check their account balance to watch it grow.
- Consider how many hours you’ll need to work to purchase the item. This is especially true for teens who have jobs. Whether they work as pet sitters, lifeguards or behind a restaurant counter, their hard-earned money represents hours of their young lives. Teach them to consider anything they want to buy in terms of the hours they’ll need to work to pay for it and remind them to use their NET INCOME. Is that video game console worth 30 hours of their hard work? And if they buy it, how many hours of work will it take to stay on track to reach all of their goals?
How Involved Should Parents Be in Helping Their Teens Save?
Many parents struggle with the balance of teaching or helping but not micromanaging their teens. Here are some ways that parents can help their teens develop a saving habit without taking over.
- Share instead of lecturing. Parents often don’t want to admit their own mistakes, including their financial ones. Honestly, that’s one of the biggest missteps parents make when trying to help their kids with money management. Instead, be honest and open with your teen. If your own financial knowledge is lacking, sign up for a financial literacy class you can take together. Or if you’re not comfortable with investing, try an investing simulation (Investopedia has a free platform) and make it a friendly competition to see who can do the best with their investments. You’ll learn a lot along the way.
- Encourage them to use an app. Most bank apps these days do a good job of showing users where they have spent their money. Using an app for saving, investing or both can encourage teens to follow the “save first and spend what’s left,” advice above. Teens can open investment accounts with their parents as a custodian of the account.
- Talk about their job options. For preteens, volunteering is a great way to learn job skills such as punctuality, task completion and working with teams. Volunteering is also a way for kids to gain experiences that could lead to a future job or round out a college application. Of course, volunteering doesn’t come with a paycheck, so some teens will want to find a paying job. Summertime can be a great time to put volunteer skills to work to score a paying job.
What do each of these three suggests have in common? Communication, or more specifically talking to your teen honestly and openly about what can be a difficult topic. If that sounds scary, we can help. Wealthy Habits has some great resources on our site. We also offer summer camps to help tomorrow’s adults lay the groundwork for healthy financial futures.
The best way to teach something to a teen is to make them think they came up with the idea themselves. The Cs of Credit (capacity, collateral & character) activity used in the Wealthy Habits camp does just that.
Credit is something that few of us understand completely, but we are very aware that it can impact us greatly. The 3 Cs of Credit activity provides students with an opportunity to see credit from the perspective of an underwriter.
The activity has students work in small groups because everything is more fun when you get to debate things with friends. A quick explanation of what information is included in each of the 3 C categories provides a general idea of the actions that can affect a person’s credit. Each group is provided with random characteristics of an individual requesting a loan as well as the amount and item they are intending on purchasing. Groups review all the information given while categorizing the different details into each of the Cs. Finally, the group must determine if the person is a good credit risk and if they will make the loan or not.
As students make judgments about who they aren’t willing to loan money to, the desire not to be like the individual they just denied is planted into their brain.