In late 2006, a man we’ll call Patrick faced more than $66,000 of debt in credit cards, student loans and more. He resolved to shrink his debt by $10,000 in one year. And at the end of November 2007, he had achieved nearly double his goal, paying $18,706 toward his debt.
Patrick's strategy? Blogging. In declaring his goal to the world, Patrick was able to keep his word—and exceed his intentions.
"By posting my finances on my blog, it keeps me accountable for my actions," says Patrick, a 30-year-old insurance-claims adjuster from Atlanta, who asked to remain anonymous. He logs his money goals at SingleGuyMoney.com and regularly shares his progress (and challenges) with readers. "I don't want to make bad financial decisions because I know I will get negative comments from the regular readers of my blog."
Three Steps to Achieve Financial Goals
You don't have to bare your financial soul on the Internet to reach your financial resolutions. Patrick simply employed three tenets of successful goal setting that everyone can do:
How many times have you made a New Year’s resolution, started out with gusto on Jan. 1 and lost steam by Jan. 31? Making your goal public could provide just the push you need to stay motivated and accountable all year long.
"No goal is achieved in a vacuum," says Gary Ryan Blair, author of The Ten Commandments of Goal Setting. "We all need the guidance and support that comes only from involving others."
Friends, family members or spouses make great money buddies because they want you to succeed. You might find it helpful to team up with someone who shares a similar goal—say, your best friend and you working together to conquer credit card addiction this year. The key is to find someone you're comfortable talking openly with about your finances—the successes and the failures.
If you're not comfortable baring your financial soul to those closest to you, you might find it easier to open up to strangers. You can seek out like-minded individuals in your area through Meetup.com and similar sites, or form your own financial support group.
With whomever you choose, start out by articulating your goals. Simply stating that you want to learn more about investing is too nebulous. Nail down your goal into an actionable item and commit to a deadline. For example, resolve to invest in a top-quality mutual fund by February 1. See How to Set Financial Goals to learn more.
In order to get the most out of your money buddy, you need regular checkups. This way, you’ll be held accountable for your actions—or lack thereof.
The checkup itself does not need to be stiff or formal. But you should establish a schedule and stick with it. You might choose to blog at least twice a week, check in with your buddy via email every Monday, or meet for coffee on the first Thursday of each month. Make it a date and write it on your calendar.
A smart way to use your checkup time is to consult an expert. After all, says Blair, "you can learn good judgment and knowledge the old-fashioned way—through the school of hard knocks—or you can tap into experience." For example, invite a retirement planning specialist to meet you and your friends for happy hour at a local bar; or ask your successful businessman uncle for advice on advancing your career.
On his blog, Patrick prominently displays his goal, deadline and current balance in his "debt tracker" section.. Knowing where you stand and seeing how far you've come can give you a motivational boost.
When faced with an overwhelming task, it helps to break it down into small goals along the way. And make sure you celebrate with your money buddy as you reach each milestone. "The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior," says Blair, "and when you reward the right behavior and results, you almost guarantee a repeat performance." (Not to mention that rewarding yourself makes goal-setting a heck of a lot more fun.)
Baring his financial soul certainly paid off for Patrick. His readers encouraged him to focus on eliminating his credit card debt. He followed their advice and no longer faces credit card bills, freeing up $400 in his budget each month. Now that’s a reward.