The year is more than halfway over, and if you’re finding that you haven’t retained the level of commitment to your financial goals that you had when 2014 began, you’re not alone. It’s hard to stick to a rigid financial plan, especially in the face of unexpected expenses, changing priorities and unanticipated opportunities. The good news is that there are proven strategies for helping you get back on track.
The first step you’ll need to take — and it’s an important one — is to forgive yourself for getting off track. In fact, it may not even be mistakes you made in executing your plan that got you off track in the first place; the problem could be the plan itself.
If you didn’t allow yourself any flexibility in your original plan, or if you underestimated a particular expense, chances are you’re now finding yourself struggling to reach your goals. One small miscalculation, carried forward week in and week out for an entire year, can leave you hundreds or even thousands of dollars away from where you thought you’d be.
Readjust your strategy, update your goals and don’t dwell on the past. Just keep moving forward and trust that you’ll get there.
Assess the Attainability of Your Goals
As part of a comprehensive reevaluation of your goals, you need to ask yourself if your original intention was even realistic in the first place. Many people, filled with optimism, simply set the bar too high when forming their financial goals for the year. While there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, you also have to be realistic.
One strategy that can help you get back on track is to take the focus off the big picture for the time being, and set a series of short-term goals that you can reach. This way, you’ll get the immediate gratification of success and a jolt of renewed self-belief, both of which can help you ease back into your long-term plan with more confidence.
Be Responsible with Your Credit
You should always be aware of your current credit rating, as it affects practically everything about your overall financial health. Every consumer is entitled to one free report per year from each of the three major reporting bureaus, but you might be surprised to learn than only a tiny fraction of people — 4 percent of those eligible — actually request them.
Be one of that 4 percent. Go over your credit report carefully. Dispute inaccurate information. Make sure all information is current.
If your credit rating needs to be improved, then take immediate steps to improve it. Build a more favorable debt-to-credit ratio. Pay all your bills on time, month in and month out. Avoid the temptation to use your credit cards to splurge on unnecessary purchases. Instead, don’t rack up charges you can’t afford to pay in full at the end of the month. Make responsible use of credit a central part of your overall plan.
Once you find yourself back on track and with your original goals in your sights, think ahead a few years. Where do you want to be? Now that you’ve updated your financial skill set, how will you get there? If you need help, consult a licensed and certified financial planner. They can help you identify strategies you may not otherwise have been aware of.
It’s important to be patient. If you’ve been carrying a high level of debt, know that it won’t disappear overnight. Instead, focus on paying it down bit by bit. In most cases, this is still a less risky approach than debt consolidation or other options that seem to offer a quick fix.
Use Tools to Help You Stay on Track
With time, you’ll find that you’ve developed a system that works for you. Now, the goal is to stick to it, and this is one area in which technology has a great deal to offer.
Think beyond spreadsheets. Today, there are automated software products that save you time while offering advanced analytic features that help you attain a deeper level of financial self-understanding. One popular example is eMoney, an automated tool designed for personal and small business finance. There are others like it.
Finally, keep yourself accountable. There’s nothing wrong with rewarding yourself for sustained success, but if you find yourself slipping off the path, get back to your plan as quickly as you can.