Use This ‘S.M.A.R.T.’ Strategy to Reach Your Biggest Money Goals

SMART goals template

It’s already February.

How many New Year’s resolutions and goals have you kept up with so far?

It can be hard to stay committed to your goals, but you need help you stay the course. This is where the SMART goals template comes in. It can transform your mindset and help you make lasting change — especially when it comes to money.

Whether you want to save more money, get out of debt, or get a handle on your student loan payments, SMART goals can help you succeed.

What are SMART goals?

SMART goals refer to a framework, often used in the business or education world, to guide people in setting and achieving goals. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-based.

Too often, we set vague goals with no clear path to fulfilling them. It’s easy to say you want to save more money, but how much do you actually want to save? By reframing your goal as a SMART goal, you force yourself to get specific and set clear time limits.

Here’s how you can apply the SMART goal template to your financial resolutions, one letter at a time.

1. Get specific

Every SMART goal is highly specific. Let’s say you want to spend less and save more. To reframe your goal as a SMART goal, you should take a hard look at your spending habits.

Figure out how much you’re spending in each major category — food, housing, transportation, and entertainment. Consider other monthly expenses, too, like student loan payments or car insurance.

Compare all of your expenses with your earnings to see the difference. That way, you can put a specific number on how much you want to save each month and more easily figure out how to do so.

As another example, let’s say you want to simplify your student loan payments. To get specific, you could say, “I’m going to apply for student loan refinancing to simplify my loans.” With this specificity, you’re already illuminating the path toward your goal.

2. Make your goal measurable

Next, make sure you can measure your goals with clear, definitive metrics. Again, saying you want to save money could mean anything. But how much do you want to save? What are you saving toward? Without answering these questions, you may end up with a vague anxiety about saving money for the rest of time.

To make your goal measurable, come up with a detailed amount. Perhaps you can say, “I want to save $50 a week for 24 weeks.” At the end of six months, you intend to have $1,200. Or, maybe you want to max out your retirement savings account to the $5,500 limit every year. That way, you’ll maximize savings for the future.

If your goal is to refinance your student loans, then figure out exactly what you want your new monthly payment and interest rate to be. For example, let’s say you currently pay $350 a month with interest rates ranging between 6 percent and 8.5 percent.

You’d like your refinanced loan to lower your payments between $300 and $320 a month with a 6.5 to 7 percent interest rate. By going into the process with quantified expectations, you’ll know right away whether to accept or reject a refinancing offer.

3. Make sure your goal is action-oriented

The “A” in the SMART goals template stands for action-oriented. In this stage, you set clear, actionable steps for achieving your goal.

To save money, maybe you need to reduce your restaurant spending from $100 a week to $50 a week. Perhaps you’re overspending on rent and need to move to an apartment that better fits your budget.

To refinance your loans, you must collect certain information. You need your outstanding balances, interest rates, and proof of income. You’ll also submit applications to banks or lending companies.

When setting financial goals, you must identify the actions you can take to achieve them. This step can reduce stress or anxiety you have around your finances. With a clear route forward, you’ll have a plan for getting out of the murky waters of financial instability.

4. Be realistic

When it comes time to set goals, it’s easy to overshoot. We think we’re going to make major transformations in a short amount of time.

While it’s great to aim high, you also don’t want to set yourself up for failure. You’re probably not going to go from making a $50k salary to being a millionaire in one year. If your credit score is scraping the bottom of the barrel, then you can’t expect to get the lowest interest rate on a refinanced loan.

The SMART goals template says to keep your goals realistic. That way, you have a better chance of achieving them. Plus, once you start to see success, you’ll feel empowered to keep improving.

5. Set time limits

Finally, SMART goals have clear time limits. They aren’t lifelong endeavors that are always just a little out of reach. Instead, they have an endpoint in sight.

Perhaps you want to save money to put a down payment on a house. Maybe you need to refinance your student loans before the prime rate goes up, making interest rates rise with it.

After setting a time limit, write out the actions you can take on a daily or monthly basis to reach your destination. You won’t have to rely on internal willpower but instead, will shift your focus to external behaviors.

Use the SMART goals template to achieve financial success

In the end, the SMART goals template helps you be proactive and accountable. If you want to manage your finances better, SMART goals should be your new best friend.

Whether you want to save for the future, get out of credit card debt, or repay your student loans faster, you need to set goals. But don’t forget to make them specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-based.

This framework helps you stay focused on actionable solutions. Even if you encounter setbacks, you won’t be undone by them. Instead, you’ll have a clear road map toward your destination.

Interested in a personal loan?

Here are the top personal loan lenders of 2018!
LenderRates (APR)Loan Amount 
1 Includes AutoPay discount. Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Terms and Conditions Apply: SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Finance Lender Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)
  2. Personal Loans: Fixed rates from 5.49% APR to 14.24% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 5.29% APR to 11.44% APR (with AutoPay). SoFi rate ranges are current as of December 1, 2017 and are subject to change without notice. Not all rates and amounts available in all states. See Personal Loan eligibility details. Not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, to qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including evaluation of your credit worthiness, years of professional experience, income and other factors. Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at 14.95%. Lowest variable rate of 5.29% APR assumes current 1-month LIBOR rate of 1.34% plus 4.20% margin minus 0.25% AutoPay discount. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account.

2 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Personal Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of August 1, 2017, the one-month LIBOR rate is 1.23%. Variable interest rates range from 6.02% – 15.97% (6.02% – 15.97% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of your loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms and presence of a co-applicant. Fixed interest rates range from 5.99% – 16.24% (5.99% – 16.24% APR) based on applicable terms and presence of a co-applicant. Lowest rates shown are for eligible applicants, require a 3-year repayment term, and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
  2. Loyalty Discount: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower has a qualifying account in existence with Citizens Bank at the time the borrower has submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, student loans or other personal loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, Citizens Bank checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI and VT. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) disclosed in the Truth-In-Lending Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan, and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  3. Automatic Payment Benefit: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
7.39% - 29.99%$1,000 - $50,000Visit Upstart
5.29% - 14.24%1$5,000 - $100,000Visit SoFi
8.00% - 25.00%$5,000 - $35,000Visit Payoff
5.99% - 16.24%2$5,000 - $50,000Visit Citizens
5.99% - 35.89%$1,000 - $40,000Visit LendingClub
5.25% - 14.24%$2,000 - $50,000Visit Earnest
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