Should Your Goals Be Simple? Or Big, Hairy, and Audacious?

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I love goal setting.  Pretty passionately, if I’m honest.  If it weren’t for the fact that there are frequently goals I don’t reach, I might submit that I’m an expert goal-setter.  Some people are not goal-setters, and that’s fine.  But if you would like to become one, here are two ways to go about it.

Once I had a colleague who liked to say, “Aim low, achieve your goals, go through life happy.”  Thinking of this never fails to crack me up, but depending on your personality, he has a good point.  Not everyone wants to tackle BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals). Not everyone is driven to follow a plan each day to achieve such huge goals.  People are wired differently.  Let’s talk about financial goals for both types of people.

Even if the thought of setting BHAGs doesn’t make your heart flutter, you will still improve your financial situation by choosing a goal.  Perhaps that goal is simply to be out of debt, or maybe to retire by age 65, or perhaps to build an emergency fund to a particular level.  Choose one to begin, and write out the steps you need to take.  Then prioritize those steps and get going!

If you prefer a bigger challenge, create a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal for yourself.  To get a sense of what I mean, let’s amp up the goals in the prior paragraph to make them BHAGs.  Now the goals might be to get completely out of debt in five years, or maybe to retire by age 40, or perhaps to build your emergency fund to $10,000 in three months.  The process from there is the same: Choose your goal, write out the steps you need to take to achieve your goal, prioritize the steps, and get going.  See how those simple goals turned into more exciting challenges?

Whichever way you choose to go, (and recognize there are many shades of gray in between those methods), try to make sure your goals have certain characteristics.  You might have heard of “SMART” goals.  The acronym stands for different things depending on the source, but for me they have always meant:

S – Specific:  Vague targets don’t cut it.  Make it laser focused.  Don’t say “I want to be rich,” say “I want to have a net worth of $10 million by the time I retire at 65”

M – Measurable: How will you know if you achieved it?  In the above example, you have a specific dollar amount that can be measured.

A – Achievable:  Don’t be pie in the sky, even with your BHAGs. Don’t say “I will have a million dollars by the end of the month” unless you have a plan to rob a bank (which I don’t recommend)!  Say instead, “I will have a million dollars in five years.”  Pick something that you can actually achieve with focus (or extra hard work in the case of a BHAG).

R – Realistic: Is this goal even possible for YOU to make happen?  Don’t say “I will win the lottery.”  You have no control over that.  Make your goal something over which you have control.

T – Time-bound:  Set a deadline.  Back to my first example, setting a target of age 65 makes the goal of becoming rich time-bound.  To me, establishing a deadline for yourself is one of the most important aspects of goal-setting.

As you go along with your goals, there will be times you need to modify them as circumstances change.  But resolve not to lose faith in those moments.  Focusing on your goals will always bring you closer to them, even if modifications need to be made.  Throwing in the towel at the first roadblock is not the way to go.

Your turn. How do you like to set goals?  Share the story of the time you set a BHAG and achieved it!

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