The Ultimate Goal-Setting Checklist (Free Printable)

You can’t get anywhere without clear, specific goals. Here’s the ultimate guide to writing crystal-clear goals that will help you improve any area of your life: career, financial, physical.

 

13 Tips to Making Awesome, S.M.A.R.T.-er Goals

Get crystal-clear and start crushing your goals with this checklist.

 
 
 
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  1. Is it your goal—not someone else’s goal or expectation?
  2. Does it have a strong, emotional “why”? In Think And Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill says all thoughts which have been emotionalized (given feeling) and mixed with faith, begin immediately to translate themselves into their physical equivalent or counterpart.
  3. Is it specific?
  4. Is it measurable? For example, $100 each month for 12 months or 3 workouts a week. Anything that’s tracked usually grows.
  5. Is it attainable? Reach and dream, but understand what you really need to do or have to achieve your goals.
  6. Is it relevant to your values or a bigger vision? This goes back to your “why”.
  7. Does it have a deadline? Giving yourself a deadline helps you reverse engineer your goal into smaller, easier-to-comprehend pieces. For example, if you want to save $1,000 in 6 months in a vacation sinking fund, then you need to save $167 at a minimum each month. Also, Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. Time management is largely psychological. We naturally pace ourselves to finish a project in the nick of time, for example, clean the whole apartment in 90 minutes. So giving yourself a deadline could subconsciously make you complete your goal on time.
  8. Is it written on paper or typed? You become 42% more likely to achieve goals just by writing them down on a regular basis, according to a psychology study from Dominican University.
  9. Is it somewhere you can see it every day?
  10. Did you share it with another person? An American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) study found you have a 65% chance of completing a goal of you committing to someone.
  11. Did you list specific tasks you must complete to achieve the goal?
  12. BONUS: Is it written in the present tense? In No Excuses, Brian Tracy writes: “Write them down in the present tense, as if you have already achieved them.” For example, replace “I will earn $100,000 a year by 2021.” with “I earn $100,000 a year by December 31, 2020.” These goals activate the law of expectation and law of attraction, Tracy states. He believes your subconscious mind is only activated by goals that are stated in the personal, positive and pretense tense—the “3 P’s.”
  13. BONUS: Did you list potential obstacles and how you plan to overcome them? In Exponential Living, Sheri Riley writes “Preparation is the key to getting through the NOs, and getting through the NOs is the key to victory. Preparation equals expectation. To prepare is to have a plan. That means thinking about the obstacles you might face ahead of time, and having contingency steps ready to implement when those obstacles arise. You will face obstacles; the key is to not let those obstacles come as a shock to you. … if you mentally prepare for obstacles and have a plan in place for dealing with them, you’ll be able to remain engaged.”

Here’s an example of a clear goal:

Goal: As of Dec. 31, 2020, I have $12,000 in savings because I set up a savings account at a bank that doesn’t house my checking account, set up automatic deposits each paycheck of $500, went without some wants and prioritized savings in my budget.
Why? I want to be able to cover 4 months of my family’s expenses in case we lose our income. I want to have peace of mind and a greater sense of security by planning ahead. I don’t want my family to be a burden on others.
Written or typed? Both.
Shared with: Bae and Instagram friends.
Daily reminder: On phone and nightstand.
Obstacles: Dipping into the savings account for wants or other goals.
Solutions: Save in an account with withdrawal limits and rename the account “Family Freedom Fund” to remember my “why.”

This is all backed up by science.

Dr. Gail Matthews of Dominican University found more than 70 percent of the participants who sent weekly updates to a friend reported successful goal achievement (completely accomplished their goal or were more than halfway there) compared to 35 percent of those who kept their goals to themselves, without writing them down.

Goal Achievement Study

Participants in Matthews’ study were randomly assigned to one of five groups.

Group 1 was asked to simply think about business-related goals they hoped to accomplish within a four-week block and to rate each goal according to difficulty, importance, the extent to which they had the skills and resources to accomplish the goal, their commitment and motivation, and whether they had pursued the goal before (and, if so, their prior success).

Groups 2-5 were asked to write their goals and then rate them on the same dimensions as given to Group 1.

Group 3 was also asked to write action commitments for each goal. Group 4 had to both write goals and action commitments and also share these commitments with a friend.

Group 5 went the furthest by doing all of the above plus sending a weekly progress report to a friend.

There you have it! Use this checklist to get started on your goals today. Happy goal-setting!

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6 Things I’m Glad I Unlearned About Money

Thank heavens for enlightenment! When I think about how ignorant I once was about money, I cringe. My face scrunches up like something stinks. 

Here are 6 things I’m so glad I unlearned about money. Can you relate?

1. Budgets are the devil.

Dang! I can’t believe I was really in these streets without a budget. 

Budgets are liberating! Budgets are bae!

They’ve been the foundation for everything good in my life—saving thousands of dollars, paying off over $25,000 in debt, funding my $6,000 teaching certification and paying cash for international trips. 

Once I got a budget, I stopped living just to pay bills and started achieving my goals. My “anti-budget” helps me reach short- and long-term goals while still having some fun. Get a free printable to start planning your next paycheck and your life. 

2. YOU Must be rich to save, invest or crush debt.

After reading how regular folks with regular jobs became wealthy in The Millionaire Next Door, I understood that saving, investing and debt elimination stems from the habit of managing money you earn, not just the amount of money you earn.

An annual salary of $100,000 is “rich” to me. Someone banking $100,000 a year could be spending $150,000 a year. Little ol’ me, making less than half of that could have 10 times the net worth of the other girl because of careful planning, taking action, persistence and discipline. 

Click to read the 4 other money myths

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9 Reasons Why Your Budget Sucks + How to Fix It

*This post contains affiliate links. That means I receive a small commission that could help me on my debt-free journey —at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase using the links.

Budgets are bae! There is no way I could crush debt or save thousands without them. Once I tossed out the negative connotation of a budget, figured out my budgeting style and actually put one in place, my debt payoff kicked into high gear.

Through practice, I’ve learned that you can’t just slap numbers on a spreadsheet and go on about your day. You have to craft each month’s budget with care. If you can’t stick to your budget, see if any of these pain points hit home and try out the solutions to relieve the stress.

1. It’s not tailor-made for you.

Ladies, think of how you feel wearing that dress that fits every curve the right way. That dress that makes your ass look fabulous. Yeah, that one! You never get tired of it.

Well, that’s how your budget should feel. It should fit just right for you—not Suze Orman, not your mama, not that boss lady you follow on Instagram. These folks may offer you great tips and tools, but you have to use this budget, so make sure it’s your own.

Solution: Find a style that fits you and include budget lines you’d actually track.

There’s a variety of budgeting methods:

  • the 50-30-20 budget (50% needs, 30% wants, 20% savings)
  • the 80-20 budget (20% savings, 80% everything else)
  • the anti-budget (My favorite. No percentages. Income – Core Expenses = Everything Else is left for guilt-free spending. Click here for details and a free printable.)
  • the zero-sum budget (Accounted Income – Accounted Expenses = $0. It doesn’t mean you spend every dime and have $0 before your next pay period. It just means every dollar has a job in your budget. You can have money left over. All budgets could be a zero-sum budget.)

The budgets that look like spreadsheets on steroids give me the hives. I’m not gonna use a line item for “hair accessories.” That’s too granular, and I hate being micro-managed.

I like the anti-budget because you simply subtract savings, giving and essential expenses from your take-home pay. What’s leftover, a.k.a. the monthly nut, is yours to spend on whatever you want (hair accessories). And you don’t have to track every penny because you know bills, savings and giving are already taking care of. When that leftover money runs out, it just runs out. But that’s too loosey-goosy for me. I need a few more categories to track my spending.

I use a hybrid that allows me to track the details I want to track and nothing more. A line-item like “hair accessories” just goes into a bucket called “Entertainment and Everything Else.” It works for me. Find what works for you.

2. Your budget isn’t aligned with your values and goals.

Heck! You may not even have values and goals. We probably all have budgets we created a few years ago that never quite stuck. Why didn’t it work out? Maybe it’s because you didn’t have a strong enough reason or vision to stick to the plan. Start with your values and the rest will fall into place.

Find 8 more ways to fix your budget.

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How to Use Trackers to Get Out of Debt and Save

Paying off tens of thousands of dollars in debt is no walk in the park. Thankfully, I’ve found a surprising, yet sure-fire way to keep me motivated—coloring.

I’ve used coloring pages and charts for saving, paying off credit cards and eliminating college loans. There’s no way I could reach my goals without visual trackers. Here’s why I love them so much.

Visuals make the impossible possible.

For my daunting savings goal of $10,000, I made a chart with 10 gray money bags. Every time I saved $1,000, I colored a money bag gold. 

The chart helped me clearly see how my small efforts were feeding into the bigger picture. It was exhilarating to save 20 percent, then 50 percent and then 80 percent. Every time I was feeling low, the chart allowed me to see how far I’d come and helped me stay motivated.

in 2008, Heidi Ifland Nash, creator of Debt Free Charts, made basic charts with several lines to help her pay off credit cards and a HELOC. The rows represented a portion of the debt balance. Nash and her husband would color each row as they got closer to debt freedom. 

“I needed something to see—not just in numbers—how far we had come and how far we had to go,” Nash writes in an email. “Before I made that first chart, it felt like attacking a mountain with a toothpick. But with the chart, I could actually see the progress. It didn’t feel like throwing money into a black hole anymore. It felt like winning a game.”

The couple paid off nearly $65,000 in three years, Nash says.

Find out more reasons why visual matter.

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7 Reasons to Pause Your Debt Snowball

The debt snowball method is an effective way to pay DOwn debt until you’re finally debt-free. But do you think there are reasons to Pause Your Debt SNOWBALL?

The well-known debt snowball method suggests listing your debts in order from the smallest balance to largest balance. Then you throw extra money—”the snowball”—at the smallest balance while making minimum payments on the other debts.

After crushing that first debt, you roll over that payment into the next one on the list. The snowball gets bigger and bigger with each debt you eliminate.

By the time you reach the final debt with the largest balance, you will have amassed a giant snowball that will help you crush that debt faster than you initially imagined.

That good ol’ debt snowball is hard to stop when it gets rolling. But there are times when it’s perfectly fine to press pause. Really, it is.

We can get tunnel vision when focusing on a goal, but life happens and we must reconsider where to put our energy and our money.

7 reasons to pause your debt snowball

To pause your debt snowball means to continue making minimum payments on your debts, but putting any extra money toward other goals instead of making extra debt payments.

For example, you’ve been putting a combined $500 towards debt payoff each month: $300 to cover minimum payments and $200 toward your Visa credit card (the debt with the smallest balance). When you pause the debt snowball, you continue paying $300 to cover minimum payments and put that $200 towards another goal, which will be explained below. After you reach that short-term goal, you start paying $200 extra each month to Visa again.

The main reason to pause your debt snowball is to avoid going deeper into debt. Here are specific scenarios that fall under that umbrella.

1. you can’t cover your basic needs.

Stop everything! The debt snowball should not be a priority at the moment. Your mission is survival. This should go without saying, right?

Please just pay the minimum on your debts until you can cover your basic living expenses— rent/mortgage, utilities, groceries, gas for the car, etc.—with ease. Then you can reintroduce a little fun to your budget, e.g. occasionally dining out and a Netflix subscription. Having a little fun is crucial for your happiness.

After that, you can restart the debt snowball. I know it sucks to not be able to crush debt like you want, but it’s better than not having a roof over your head or food in your belly.

If you can’t make minimum payments on your debts, then please pick up the phone. Call your creditors and try to work out something. Who knows? They might put you on a lower payment plan, move your payment date back, eliminate fees or let you pause payments due to hardship. They can’t help you if you don’t alert them to your situation.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: The 5 Most Important Things I Did To Organize My Finances as a Newbie

Click here to read more.

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How to Make Extra Principal Payments on Individual Student Loans

Lately, I’ve felt so free discussing my debt-free goals with close friends in China. When I shared how I finally paid off my undergraduate student loans 9 years and 1 month after walking across the stage, my friend, Ti, told me about a former co-worker who was taking longer than that.

This single father is approaching 40. One day, he looked at his statement and grew frustrated. The balances weren’t going down. He had been paying extra for a few years.

He called the company to complain. Little did he know that his extra payments weren’t being applied to his principal.

“Oh, no!” I groaned. “You gotta tell your money where to go.” I’m sure many of us have played the leading role in this cautionary tale. But a few years ago, I wised up (pun intended). I learned how to make sure extra payments applied to my principal—not just my interest. Find out more!

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10 Steps to Paying Off Balance Transfer Cards Early

It seems simple, right? To pay off balance transfer cards—or any debt— you spend less than you earn and send the leftover money to the lender. That’s true, but there’s a lot more to it. You have to get your mind right and set up systems that support your debt-payoff goals.

I’ve successfully and unsuccessfully used balance transfer cards to pay off debt quicker. I don’t recommend them unless you’re disciplined and follow these tips. I nearly maxed out the latest balance transfer card and was determined to pay it off before the 0% interest rate expired in December 2018. In this post, I’ll break down each step I took to pay off a balance transfer card 5 months early.

Balance Transfer Card Debt Breakdown
Here’s the timeline:
  • August 2017: I got approved for the Barclaycard Ring Mastercard, a 0% interest balance transfer card with a $0 balance transfer fee. Yep! I transferred my debts for free! I transferred two credit card balances and a grad school loan onto the balance transfer card (Bank of America Visa $2,194 + Old Navy Visa $1,943.87 + Grad School Loan $2,809.87 = Total $6,947.74).
  • December 2017:  I paid off the two credit card balances. Those interest rates were 19.40% and 25.24%, respectively.
  • July 2018: I paid off the balance transfer card in full.
  • December 2018: The date in which interest would have started accruing on the remaining balance if it were not paid in full.

10 Steps to Paying Off Balance Transfer Cards 2 Early 1

Click here get the 10 steps to paying off a balance transfer card early.

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Which Debt Do I Pay Off First? Here are 4 Methods (Free Worksheet)

*This post contains affiliate links. That means I receive a small commission that could help me on my debt-free journey —at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase using the links.

If you’re new to the debt-free journey, you might be lost in the sauce. You don’t know where to start in this debt-payoff process. “Which debt do I pay off first?!,” you shout. I feel you.

When I started to become financially literate, I didn’t know anyone personally who was paying off debt. I had to educate myself.

The first things I learned were YOU MUST PAY MORE THAN THE MINIMUM and ATTACK ONE DEBT AT A TIME. Don’t spread out your extra cash across two or three bills. 

Why? Studies show that when you focus on one debt at a time, you knock out debt considerably faster than those who spread the wealth over multiple accounts. Your brain likes to focus on one thing at a time. Go with it. 

  • Put extra money (“the debt eliminator” according to Patrice C. Washington) toward one debt.
  • Make minimum payments on the rest of your accounts until you pay off the first debt. 
  • Then roll over the extra money into the next debts until you’re DEBT-FREE! YAY!

Mathematically, the rollover method makes sense too. Look at the simplified example below.
Rollover versus Even Spread Payments

Rolling over shaves off 2 months! Putting all of your extra money toward one debt leads to a closer debt-free date. That’s what you want. Attack one debt at a time.

So which debt do you pay off first?

There are a few ways to prioritize debts. One of the first personal finance books I read was The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. He introduced me to the Debt Snowball. I read more and discovered the Debt Avalanche. Then I started making my own methods up. Let’s go through these four methods to prioritize which debt to pay off first. Then download the free worksheet or Excel spreadsheet to pick your favorite repayment strategy.

Click here to see the four debt repayment strategies.

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How to Form Rich Habits in 30 Days or Less

*This post contains affiliate links. That means I receive a small commission that could help me on my debt-free journey —at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase using the links.

“Most people don’t struggle with money. They struggle with habits.”— Anthony Coleman, Financial Lituation

Let that marinate. “Most people don’t struggle with money. They struggle with habits.” What we do day in and day out weighs heavily on our lives a year from now, five years from now and so on. If we want to be financially independent, then we have to create good, daily habits that support that goal.

Tom Corley studied the habits of the rich and poor for five years. That’s when he realized that the majority of the rich share certain habits. The poor have their own mindset and habits, too. Corley’s book, Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals, outlines 21 wealthy habits anyone could follow to help them attract money.

“Our habits, good or bad, determine the financial circumstances of our lives.” — Tom Corley

Here’s the thing. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If you want to be rich, then do what the rich do.

6 Rich Habits You Could Form in 30 Days or Less

Here are a few Rich Habits you could form in under three weeks, Corley says.

  1. Do aerobic exercise 15-20 minutes a day for at least 18 days. This promotes brain and body health. 76% of the wealthy exercise aerobically 4 days a week, according to Corley’s research. 23% of the poor do this.
  2. Eat healthy every day for at least 18 days. This promotes brain and body health. 70% of the wealthy eat less than 300 junk food calories per day. 97% of poor people eat more than 300 junk food calories per day.
  3. Read to learn 15-20 minutes a day for at least 18 days. This a personal and professional growth activity. 88% of wealthy people read 30 minutes or more each day for education or career reasons vs. 2% of poor people.
  4. Listen to audiobooks or podcasts during your commute or some other time during the day for self- or career development. 63% of wealthy do this. 55 of the poor.
  5. Write a to-do list every day to keep you focused on accomplishing your goals—big or small. 81% of wealthy maintain a to-do list vs. 19% of the poor.
  6. Limit television time to less than 1 hour per day. Yep! A whole hour! 67% of wealthy maintain skip TV vs. 23% of the poor. Guess who watches the most reality TV! 6% of wealthy watch reality TV vs. 78% of the poor. Wow!

Forming these habits could take 18 days or fewer! Not bad, right?! Brian Tracy considers these habits to be of medium complexity (can be formed in 14-21 days). If you get these habits down, then you could build discipline and form more habits based on the ones you’ve already mastered.

Click here read more and get your free worksheets.

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How to Get Out of Debt with Sheri Riley’s P.O.W.E.R. Process

*This post contains affiliate links. That means I receive a small commission that could help me on my debt-free journey —at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase using the links.

Getting out of debt is quite simple. There are three steps:

  1. Spend less.
  2. Earn more.
  3. Pay off debt with the difference.

Simple, but not easy. Debt slayers are acutely aware of this. If it were all about the  numbers, then everyone would be debt-free in a heartbeat. But the debt-free journey also calls on you to fix your mindset and find strength, courage and creativity you probably didn’t think you had.

Sheri Riley’s awesome book Exponential Living: Stop Spending 100% of Your Time on 10% of Who You Are lays out a solid process for setting yourself up to achieve any monumental task. She calls on you to live in your P.O.W.E.R.

  1. P – PerspectiveAdopt a point of view that empowers you.
  2. O – OwnershipOwn what is important to you.
  3. W – WisdomIdentify your one or two next basic steps.
  4. E – EngagementCommit to the implementation of those steps.
  5. R – RewardStay consistently engaged with the process in order to experience the positive outcomes.

Let me explain how to use your P.O.W.E.R. to slay debt.

P – Perspective – Adopt a point of view that empowers you.

If you want to make a change in your life or respond effectively to a challenge, the way you look at the situation—your perspective—is critical.

Sheri writes that if you see the situation as an opportunity or chance to elevate your game instead of a crushing blow or bad luck, then you’re halfway to a positive resolution. I believe her.

On a podcast, a journalist who eliminated over $100,000 of debt in two years said he stopped thinking of his debts as burdens. Instead, they became targets. Then he set his sights on getting rid of the first one on his list. And then the next one. And then the next one. I had started using that tactic, too. Each line in my debt snowball has a name, for example, Operation: I’m So Over Undergrad Loans and Operation: Old Navy is Old News (a credit card). Those names make me feel empowered. It’s like I’m a soldier on a mission, no longer the prey.

How do you view your debt and your current circumstances? It’s easy to feel down on yourself. Being $40,00, $50,000 or $100,000 in debt is no fun at all. But if your perspective is “I’ll always have debt,” well, chances are you’ll always have debt.

Forgive yourself for your past money mistakes. Shed limiting beliefs—yours and those you’ve adopted from family, friends and society. And instead of spewing negativity into the universe, speak positively about where you want to be and how you’ll get there. Say “I’m going to be debt-free. Wealth is mine!” That’s the self-fulfilling prophecy you want to manifest.

Get Out of Debt with the POWER Process

Click to read more about the P.O.W.E.R. process.

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