Finances & Money

Personal Finance Basics: The Importance of Goals

So we’ve covered self-assessments and career planning in this Personal Finance Basics Series, so now it’s time to talk about Goals.

What is a goal?

It’s what you strive for and work towards. It’s the endpoint to all the effort you’ve put in on something. It’s the Super Bowl, World Series or World Cup of your life.

Types of Goals?

Goals are not things you can just make up on the fly. From experience, it’s something you need to know is achievable and meaningful. Knowing that, there are three main types of goals:

  1. Short-term goals – These goals can be one day, a few days or a few weeks. Perhaps you have a to-do list for today. Those to-dos are your goals. Maybe you want to lose 2 lbs this week. That’s your goal for the week. Short-term goals are accomplished in little time and you see the rewards and benefits almost immediately.
  2. Intermediate goals – Next up are things you want to accomplish over the next few months or even years. Some examples are a trip to the Caribbean, your wedding next year, graduating from college or starting a personal finance blog. It’s something you work at every day, but you must wait to see the rewards for a longer period.
  3. Long-term goals – Last up are the big goals. Perhaps you want to go back to school, but you’re short on funds and time. Or you want to start your own business from scratch. Or you want to pay off your mortgage in full. Long-term goals require immense patience and perseverance if you want to enjoy the fruits of your labor.


Making a Plan

Everyone and their mother has written a “How to Set Goals” book, so I don’t think I could add much except the basics to get you started. Honestly, it’s not that difficult to set goals. It requires the following:

  1. Think: First you need to think hard about what you want to do. You usually don’t need to take as much time to ponder what you want to do today versus 5 years from now, but all types of goals still require you to think.
  2. Write: After you’ve considered your goals, write them down. You choose whether to use a paper tablet, PDA, whiteboard or even a website. The important thing here is to put your thoughts onto a 3-dimensional object to “make them real”. Have you noticed that goals and ideas sound much different in your head than when they’re spoken or written?
  3. Act: I don’t know which is harder: thinking about what I want done or forcing myself to do it. Either way, I need to act on my written goals. Goals are meaningless unless you strive towards achieving them. How can I attain 6 billion RSS subscribers on this site without making an attempt at ensuring everyone in the world knows about Clever Dude?
  4. Revise: As things happen to you (you get married, a family member passes away, you realize you don’t like your career path), you’ll need to take time to rethink and revise your goals. For instance, I wanted to be a rock star, but then I began to go bald. No one wants to see a balding rocker. I had to go back to the drawing board and rethink my career options. Take time yourself to go through your list of short-, intermediate and long-term goals on a regular basis to ensure you’re both on-track and you still have the right goal.

As a note about intermediate and long-term goals, you don’t just set that goal and think you’ll achieve it without setting daily short-term goals. It’s much easier to accomplish a big task when you create “inchstones” (like milestones, but smaller) along the way. Back to my RSS subscriber example, I have to think of daily, weekly and monthly activities that will get me to my long-term goal of the entire world’s population subscribing to I can’t just plop down a huge goal and have no idea where to start. I need stepping stones to work my way to the endpoint.


In the game of life, you need to know how to keep score. By setting goals, you are creating the scoring mechanism. And by creating short-term goals to reach long-term milestones, you are both laying out a strategy to win the game and providing yourself a tracking mechanism to know where you stand.

So get cracking on that goal sheet!

About the author

Clever Dude


  • My goals……
    Short term goal: Start cleaning, and start packing for my move. Spend quality time with my husband before he deploys on Monday.

    Intermediate goals: Save at least $35,000 by June 2009. Lose 20 pounds by then also.

    Long term goals: When my husband retires at 40 (army) look into opening our own business.

  • Well put Clever Dude! It’s so important to set your goals properly. After starting out strong, I find the problem is often that people get distracted by daily life and lose track of their goals over time. For years I’ve been working out a solution to that and I’m proud to announce we’ve just launched the beta of where people hold each other accountable to KEEP taking action on their goals until they succeed. We’re also working out a process to walk people through the process you outlined in your post.

    Keep up the good work!
    CEO, GoalTribe, Inc.

  • I totally agree that setting goals is key. I have my main goal – which is to pay off my mortgage, stuck on the bedroom wall with room to brainstorm ideas on how to achieve this as well as goals for each month to help reach my long term goal.

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  • I maybe came to this post a little late,but I see it speaks about goals and I’d like to share my thoughts about it.First ,I’d ask anyone to read the Science of getting Rich by T.D Wallas it’s available as a pdf format,then I’ll state that goals go hand in hand with vision,so if you don’t have a vision of your goal ,then it’s almost unachievable,what I mean by vision is that the person should really visualize what they want to achieve either lon-intermediate or short terms,and also that vision should be with you day and night untill it becomes reality ,and this is how goals get achieved

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