If you want to take control of your finances then setting savings goals is a great way to start. You may have come across SMART in a business environment, but it’s also a good way to set achievable savings targets.
If you don’t know what SMART goals are then read on to find out how they can help you save.
What is a Smart Goal?
Setting realistic financial goals can help you budget and stay on track with your spending and saving. Whether you’re saving for a deposit for your first home or getting ready for retirement, setting out goals makes you much more likely to succeed.
SMART goals are a way of thinking about your finances in a framework that’s easy to follow. If you’re struggling to get on top of your budget or savings, it’s a way to break things down so you don’t get overwhelmed. You might find you start setting SMART goals for all life's big decisions!
So how do SMART goals work? And what does SMART stand for anyway?
The S is SMART stands for specific. The easiest way to nail down your goals is to ask the W questions:
- What do you want to achieve? Try and get it down to 5 words or less
- Why do you want to achieve it? That could be the peace of mind of being debt free or having a more comfortable retirement
- Who else is involved in your goals? That could be buying a house with friends or saving for a home for your family
You can get even more specific when it comes to your saving goals - for example “I’m going to save £20 a week by taking my own lunch to work” instead of “I’m going to try and save £20 a week.”
Next you need a way to measure your progress towards your goals. Thankfully, this is fairly easy to do with money! For example, you might know how much money you want to save for your retirement. Now, all you need to do is to divide that by the amount of time you have to ensure you’re hitting your savings target each month.
If you want to save £50 a month, why not set up a direct debit to your savings account? Then you won’t have to worry about forgetting to save.
For your goals to be achievable, they need to be action oriented. So do your research. How much is it achievable for you to save each month? £250 might be unrealistic, but how about £100, or £150?
Now you can focus on how you’re going to achieve that goal and the actions you need to take to make it happen. Maybe you could stop spending on your credit cards. Now think about how you intend to do that. So an action oriented goal would be “take my credit cards out of my wallet so I’m not tempted to use them.”
You’ve already looked at what’s achievable and how you can take action to realise your saving goals. But are they realistic?
Saving £100 might seem doable on paper. But if you drive an old car or you have a baby on the way, what seems achievable could quickly turn into a target that’s totally unrealistic. It’s all about being clear about your budget and making good financial decisions over the short and long term.
Paying off your credit card within two years is a realistic goal if you're highly disciplined and make some personal sacrifices. But if those sacrifices affect other members of your family, is your goal realistic?
Having a time frame for your saving goals is absolutely crucial if you’re going to succeed. Ask yourself another W question - “when will I achieve my goal?” What is the deadline for you to have saved enough for a big purchase or to have paid off your debt?
Once you know ‘when’ then you can start planning daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. Breaking your goal down into smaller steps lets you start taking action now. Then you’ll know how to achieve your goal in the next six months, two years or whatever your realistic time frame is.
What are some good savings goals?
Apart from being a SMART goal, a good savings goal will be purely personal. But whether it's travel or retirement, buying a house or paying off your debts, creating a budget and making savings means managing your finances is much easier.
Here are four of the most common savings goals that can be specific, measurable, action oriented, realistic and time limited.
Saving for retirement is a long term goal that is perfect for the SMART treatment. After all, you know when and what you’re saving for. You can use a pension calculator to measure your likely retirement income then start making plans to cover any shortfall.
Be specific about when you want to retire and where you want to retire to. Measure how much you’ll need a month to live and take actions to save in ISAs and personal pensions. Ask yourself whether your retirement budget is realistic and then work towards making it happen.
For many people a happy and comfortable retirement is their ultimate savings goal. If that’s you then you may need to prioritise your retirement fund over any other big purchases.
Saving for an emergency fund is a smart thing to do in itself. With unexpected bills and crippling debts ready to derail your financial resilience, it makes sense to save for that rainy day.
This is all about setting reasonable goals that are achievable but give you a sense of accomplishment. Gamify the process so you set yourself progressive challenges - first save £25 a week for a month, then £50. Or set a three-monthly goal that you gradually reduce to a monthly goal. In no time you’ll have an emergency fund that gives you some breathing space.
Student debt, including your nurse’s bursary, can be a real millstone. Try tackling it using SMART goals:
- Specific: The goal is to pay off student debt
- Measurable: I’ll pay off £X every month
- Achievable Actions: Set up a series of achievable actions that let you pay off a set amount of your loan every month
- Realistic: make sure your goals are achievable so you don’t fall at the first hurdle and stop trying
- Time related: Put a timestamp on what you want to achieve, for example repaying half the debt within 10 years
It’s pretty obvious by now that planning for those big purchases like a house or a new car are much more achievable if you stick to SMART goals. In fact, they’re a great way to focus your time and energy on achieving realistic savings targets that can help you build financial resilience. Whatever you want to achieve, a SMART roadmap can be a great way to get to your destination.
Get SMART with Salad Money
We all want to be debt free, and taking out an affordable loan can be a great way to clear smaller debts and start getting smart about your saving.
At Salad Money we offer fair and affordable loans to NHS and public sector workers to help you take back control. You can apply online at any time and we’ll normally make a decision within 15 minutes via Open Banking so you can start getting your debts under control.