Good and Bad Goals

Jan 2, 2013 by

bullseyeI’m not much on setting goals for myself. I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to convince everyone I’m actually accomplishing something if I don’t set goals. Why give even more ammo to those inclined to point out my shortcomings? 🙂

But I’ve noticed a lot of people like to set goals, and the post-holiday time of reflection on the prior year seems to be the most popular time for goal-setting. Though I don’t set goals myself, somehow I don’t feel that should keep me from running on at the mouth about how to do it. Remember: Those who can’t, run their mouths (or something like that).

How to Set Goals

First, here’s Money Counselor Rule #1 for goal-setting: Make your goal very easy to reach.

Okay, joking aside now, I think how you define your goals will affect how much progress you make toward them. I’ll use some examples to illustrate:

  • Bad Goal: “I’m going to save more money this year.”
  • Good Goal: “I’m going to save $7,500 this year by putting away $625 every month.”

You see the difference. The Bad Goal is vague. How would you know if you met the goal or judge how much progress you made? If you saved $100 more in 2013 than you did in 2012, would you claim you fulfilled the goal? If you answer yes, well, you’re a goal con man or woman, but you’re only conning yourself.

The Good Goal is specific and includes the outlines of a plan. If you save $6,000 in 2013, you didn’t quite meet your goal, but you did make good progress, saving 80% of your goal. I’d choose to focus on the positive—I saved $6,000 more than I did in 2012!—and I wouldn’t beat myself up about not reaching my goal. Without the goal, I might not have saved anything more in 2013, so setting the goal helped me a lot, even if I came up a bit short.

Here’s another example:

  • Bad Goal: “I’m going to lose 20 pounds.”
  • Good Goal: “I’m going to walk at least 30 miles per month, bike at least 25 miles every weekend, and stop drinking 2,000 calorie per serving coffee-like substances.”

I’m fortunate never to have been overweight, but as we’ve already established, I don’t let lack of experience disqualify me from making recommendations about something. The most common weight loss technique I’ve observed among those in the plumper class is to say this sentence: “I want to lose some weight.”  Some seem to think—since they do little that would cause them to lose weight—that these six words comprise an incantation with the effect of zapping pounds from their hips or gut. C’mon, you know what it takes to lose weight, if that’s what you really want to do. I think a weight-loss goal should focus on lifestyle changes that likely will result in weight loss. And again, specificity—that means numbers—makes a goal concrete so progress can readily be measured. Yes, 20 in the Bad Goal is a number, but how you’re going to lose those 20 pounds is the big question, no? The Good Goal includes numbers, specifics, and the essence of a plan.

One more example:

  • Bad Goal: “I’m going to pay down the credit cards in 2013.”
  • Good Goal: “I’m going to make an appointment today with a credit counselor and come up with budget and plan to pay off all these credit cards and get out of debt.”

Again, the Bad Goal is short on specifics—no numbers, no real timetable, no plan. The Good Goal has an implied number—total credit card debt that’s eventually going to be paid off—and is strong on plan. Also the ultimate aim (which may not be reached in 2013) of paying off credit card debt is far more constructive than the squishy “paying down” credit card debt.

Are You a Goal-Setter?

Do you set goals for yourself, annually or otherwise? How’s your track record? What’s your best tip for setting and then meeting an effective goal?

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  1. John S @ Frugal Rules

    I am somewhat of a goal setter, but I take the vantage point you suggest. I love using SMART goals as they give me something specific and something to hang my hat on to gauge my success. I find that I am much more likely to have success if I set them specifically as opposed to some nebulous and wishful goal.

  2. Shilpan

    I love this article, Kurt! The goal has to be measurable and precise.
    On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy said:
    “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving
    the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and
    returning him safely to the earth.”

    Happy new year!!

  3. Goldeneer

    This is a great post as goals should be specific to be achievable.

    My main 2013 goal is to repay one fifth of my mortgage this year in order to pay it off in 5 years. This means that I need to contribute an additional $3000 each month in lump sum payments. My budget has been adjusted in order to achieve this goal.

  4. FrugalPortland

    you know I’m a big goal setter! I like these SMART goals, but sometimes it’s fun to be loftier too, right? There’s a whole argument against setting goals, but as you can tell, I’m all for them.

  5. AverageJoe

    I do better with goals if I continually update them. Don’t get me wrong…I don’t want to constantly lower my goals, but if I start off with a lofty goal and then move down the path, I often find variances that I need to take into account. Sometimes my old vision of a lofty goal wasn’t nearly high enough!

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