Most of us have financial dreams – especially the intelligent, talented individuals who read personal finance blogs like this one (that means you, buddy!). But as many of us have discovered over the years, the reality is often very different from the plan.
Take me, for example. Back when I was in my early twenties I had a successful online business spitting out cash around the clock and a raft of business ideas I wanted to explore. I was certain that the way I was going I’d be comfortably retired well before the age of 40.
Fast forward to today – at the age of 37 – and I’m a lot further away than I’d hoped.
But that’s not necessarily any reason to give up.
If you find yourself frustrated by your lack of progress, and the immensity of the challenge that lies before you, consider the following points before you give up and become “normal”…
Are My Goals Realistic?
There aren’t many of us who haven’t at least imagined what we’d do with a big lottery win. Just a few hundred million would make all the difference. The helicopter, the mansion in the Caribbean, maybe even a yacht to sail around on.
Of course, the odds of this happening are pretty slim. That might be an extreme example, but we need to ask, based on what you know now, whether your financial goals are realistic?
If you’re living on minimum wage yet want to retire in five years time then maybe that’s not realistic. This lack of reality can be a constant source of frustration in life, causing you to draw your attention away from all the good you experience every day.
Certainly financial goals can be most satisfying when they challenge you as an individual, but there are limits. If you’re a long way off your goals, therefore, it can be smart to re-consider them to make them more realistic. In doing so, you may well find yourself getting motivated again to push harder than ever.
What Is The Primary Issue?
If the plan and the reality are wildly different, a serious question to ask yourself is the reason for this disparity.
For example, one of the issues I’ve encountered time and again is simply not having the necessary investment capital to get started on some of my bigger business ventures. The idea lives on, in my mind, while I diligently save the necessary money to get started.
For other people it’s a lack of time; they’re so busy with a job and their family that having the time to make big changes is tough to find.
In asking this question you squarely define the biggest issue holding you back – in the hope that a solution can be found.
Can you move to smaller property to save more money? Can you give up an expensive hobby, or find a way to enjoy it for less? Can you give up your expensive car payments and downgrade to something cheaper and more modest?
Whatever the primary issues, consider what you can do to improve them, to get you moving towards your goals at a much faster pace.
Have My Goals Still Been Effective?
An interesting question to ask is whether your financial goals and truly helped or hindered you over the years?
On the one hand you might be working 60 hours a week, never seeing your family while working yourself into an early grave. For a few years such a lifestyle isn’t necessarily the end of the world, but planning to do that for the next 40 years just might be.
On the other hand your frugality, your fire to push further at work, rising to the top might have had a positive impact, even if you’re behind on your goals.
Let’s take an example. I have set myself a goal of increasing my savings by £10,000 this year. That’s a massive, massive stretch and I’m some way behind on my goal. I’m doubtful I’ll hit it by the end of 2016, so why don’t I just give up?
Well imagine if I manage to save £8000. That’s still a lot more positive than saving nothing. When you choose the right goals you’ll benefit anyway, even if you don’t quite meet the ultimate target.
And if your goals are effective – even if they’re taking longer than planned – then they’re probably well worth sticking with.
What Changes Can I Make To My Goals?
OK so you’ve decided that your goals are still worth pursuing; they’re generally having a positive impact on your life. You’ve also considered the primary hurdles that need to be addressed, and how realistic these goals are. Now we’re moving in the right direction.
Another smart idea to ask yourself is whether you’re willing to modify your goals at all? If you planned to retire by 40, would you be willing to call it 45 or 50? That’s still a whole lot easier than the general population, and should give give you decades of quality retirement.
If you want to buy a $2 million home, would you compromise on a $1 million property?
If you have three different businesses in mind, could you plan for just one or two of them?
Depending on how far you are from the goals you’ve set yourself – and the amount of frustration you feel over this gap – there’s no shame in “re-aligning” your goals in the light of current events. This is especially so if, once again, your modified goals will be more realistic, more achievable and, as a result, more likely to inspire you into action.
What Changes Can I Make To My Process?
Achieving our financial goals isn’t about wishing for them to come true. It’s about going out and making them happen.
This action requires some kind of process – planned out carefully in advance.
That pay raise at work. The mortgage being paid off. Selling your car to fund a new business. These are all parts of the process.
So ask yourself what changes you could make to your planned process to speed up the results.
I’ve told the story before about how I landed a job I hated, but did so because it paid far more than anyone else was offering me. I accepted it purely as a “means to an end” to pay off my debt as quickly as possible. Now I’ve achieved that, I’ve moved to another more enjoyable role.
But the point is I changed the process. In order to kick-start my own personal journey to financial freedom I segweyed into a different company just to increase my income. I changed the process – and so changed my results.
Lastly, then, before you give up on your financial goals ask yourself if you could be doing anything differently.
Could you move jobs for more money?
Start a side business at home?
Could you give up on that big trip you’ve been dreaming about, and instead invest your money for the future?
Could you move to a different area, with cheaper properties, and save a bundle in living expenses along the way?
The real message is this. Most people drift along in life, like a boat without an engine on choppy waters. They end up where fate takes them. However people who read personal finance blogs are different. We want the engine – and not just any old thing but a really powerful one.
All too often, we discover that while we’ve been moving forward, we’re actually slightly off course. But tearing the engine out and throwing it overboard probably isn’t the best bet.
Instead, consider how much better off you are than right now the other ships, still out in the storm, and put realistic plans in place that will help you reach your destination, even if it does take you a little longer than anticipated.
Remember: progress not perfection.