The best way to avoid financial problems is to establish financial goals and a household budget to help achieve them. Your financial goals should be specific, realistic, time based, and flexible. As you put together your financial plan, place each goal into one of three categories:
Short-term goals: These are goals that you believe you can accomplish within the next six months to one year, such as putting a certain amount of money in your savings, paying off a loan, outfitting your kids for the start of school, or having enough money to join a health club.
Medium-term goals: These are goals that you feel you can achieve within the next five years, such as having enough money for a down payment on a home, paying off a car loan, or putting a certain amount of money in your retirement account.
Long-term goals: These are goals that you project will take you longer than five years to achieve. They may include sending your kids to college, having enough money to retire, taking your dream vacation, and so on.
Be realistic about your goals and about how long it will take you to achieve each one. If you are not, you’ll be setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment.
Unless you are lucky enough to come into a financial windfall, you probably can’t afford to work toward all your goals at the same time. If you try to do so, you may spread yourself so thin financially that you don’t achieve any of them. Instead, prioritize your goals so you know which goals to focus on first.
Most likely you will begin working toward short-term goals first because they are probably the most pressing, but you may be able to work on some of your medium- and long-term goals at the same time. For example, maybe you want to pay off your car loan over the next six months, and you also want to start stashing money away for a down payment on a home with the goal of having the money you need in two years.
After you decide which goals to work toward first, decide how you’ll achieve each goal and set a realistic time frame for doing what you’ve set out to do. For example, you may decide to get a second job and put all the money you earn from it toward a certain goal. You may decide to finance another goal through a combination of cash and credit. Revise your budget as necessary.