Lost?  Check Your GPS.  Need Financial Direction?  Set a Goal and Make a Plan!

By Lila Quintiliani, AFC®
Military Saves Assistant Coordinator

If I need to find a particular place, I look it up on Google maps. Or enter it in the GPS.  Occasionally, because gadgets can get it wrong, I look at an actual paper map. The point is, I wouldn’t think of starting on a journey without at least some idea of where I was going. But that’s what millions of Americans are doing every day when it comes to their money. A new Planning and Progress study released by Northwestern Mutual last week found that a whopping 45 percent of Americans have no financial plan at all. Zip, zilch, nada. If you are one of those hapless folks, then it’s time to dig out your road map and at least figure out where you’re going.

Get Some Goals
Creating a financial plan sounds complicated, but in reality, it all starts with having an idea of what your goals are. Do you want to own a home? Do you want to go on vacation? Are you saving for your child’s education? Do you want to pay down your debt? Everyone should have a list, whether it’s on the back of their hand or in an Excel spreadsheet, of several long and short term goals. It’s much easier to achieve a specific – and realistic -- goal (“I want to save $200 a month so that I can have a down payment for a car”) than a vague goal (“I want to be rich”).

So Now What?

Now that you know where you want to go, and hopefully have a rough idea of how much money you need to get there, it’s time to figure out how exactly you’re going to do it. Do you know how much income you have each month? Do you know what all your expenses are? It’s crucial to have a handle on this so that you know how much you can afford to put toward your goals. For tips on creating a spending plan, you can check out the FINRA foundation’s website.

So Can I Go Buy My 64GB New iPad 4G LTE Already?
Well, maybe. If you’ve written down your goals, tracked your spending, and decided that you have a sufficient surplus to attain your wants, then I would still tell you to hold on a minute and go through the following checklist:

  • Do you have an emergency fund? Ideally it should be $500-1000. Completely liquid (a stash of cash, not your Aunt Irma’s china set) and set aside in a separate account so you’re not tempted to mess with it.
  • Do you have adequate insurance coverage? I have counseled people who decided to cut expenses by not carrying homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. All it takes is one overflowing toilet in a second floor bathroom to give you an appreciation of your insurance policy. Trust me on this one.
  • Is your goal is a short-term one, do you at least have *some* long-term goals (retirement, education, homeownership) on the horizon?

If you can answer all these questions with a “yes”, then congratulations: you are no longer wandering lost in the woods. You have a plan.

Tip of the Day

  • Written by Katie Bryan | November 28, 2013

    Set a goal, make a plan, #save automatically - pledge to save today!  http://ow.ly/ksLWb

Saver Stories View all »

How Smart Financial Decisions Can Create Opportunities 

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Written by Stephen Ross, America Saves Program Coordinator | November 22, 2019

Of the many stories Military Saves shares, most describe how someone was in dire straits financially and worked their way out of it with the help of Military Saves. This time we want to highlight a different kind of story. This is a story about how responsible financial decisions can build on one another to create opportunities you thought only the super-rich enjoy.


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Growing up, Marisa’s dad had always talked about saving first, but she said she didn’t really internalize it until much later. “I was drifting along with no plan, carrying a little bit of revolving debt, saving some money here and there, but without a real plan for it.”


When You Start Small, Saving is Easy

Written by Lila Quintiliani | August 12, 2019

When Attiyya first got married, she and her Marine husband had just graduated from college and were focused on paying off student loan debt. They had both attended private schools and had sizeable loans. Then three months after the wedding, the couple found out they were pregnant with their first child.

The first year of their marriage, says Attiyya, was a balancing act between paying down debt and saving for the future.