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Richer By The Week: What’s Your #1 Financial Goal?

Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves. —Albert Einstein.

Einstein was a smart guy, and he knew the importance of something that we are terrible at today: How to focus on one thing at a time.

Today, let me know in comment: Right now, what’s your #1 financial goal?

If you’re not sure, I’ve created a new workbook to help you figure this out. It’s totally free to email subscribers. You can learn more below or sign up now.

We are the “do-it-all” generation. And unfortunately, all this multi-tasking does us a disservice.

For one, it’s difficult to do any one thing well when doing many things at once. (Be a good kisser or drive off the road—your choice).

Even worse, focusing on too many goals at once can mean we don’t get any of them done. This problem is made worse if any of these goals conflict with one another.

The book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength points to research by psychologists Robert Emmons and Laura King that identified three main consequences of conflicting goals:

First, you worry a lot. The more competing demands you face, the more time you spend contemplating those demands. You’re best by rumination: repetitive thoughts that are largely involuntary and not especially pleasant.

Second, you get less done. It might seem that people who think more about their goals would also take more steps to reach them, but instead they replace action with rumination. The researchers found that people with clear, unconflicting goals tended to forge ahead and make progress, but the rest were so busy worrying that they got stuck.

Third, your health suffers, physically as well as mentally. In the studies, people with conflicting goals reported fewer positive emotions, more negative emotions, and more depression and anxiety. They had more psychosomatic complains and symptoms. Even just plain physical sickness, measured by both by the number of visits to the doctor and the number of self-reported illnesses over the course of the year, was higher among the people with conflicting goals.

The first takeaway from this research is that your goals should be in harmony. But a subtext is that it doesn’t hurt to focus on one thing at a time.

Over the years I’ve given some advice about how to set and prioritize financial goals that advocates targeting multiple things at once. For example, I commonly suggest that you should contribute a small amount to a 401(k) if your employer matches those contributions even as you try to get out of credit card debt.

After recent conversations with readers and some books I’ve read, I am starting to recommend people focus on one financial goal at a time.

To help you determine just what that goal should be, I’ve created a 5-day program designed to help you reflect on your beliefs and values, identify financial problem areas, transform dreams into financial action items, and prioritize your goals so you can attack one at a time.


Richer By The Week is a 5-day program to take control of your financial life.Richer by the Week: A Simple 5-Day Plan to Take Control of Your Money and Your Life is a 5-day program I’ve designed to help you do two things:

  • Stop wasting time on the wrong goals and focus your energy on the one thing that’s important now.
  • Stop dreaming and start doing. (Get off your ass.)

Richer By The Week is a workbook that you’ll use for about twenty minutes a day for five days.

  • The first two days you will spend aligning your financial goals with your values (not somebody else’s).
  • On day three, you’ll take concrete steps to simplify and automate your finances.
  • On days four and five you’ll work on choosing the one goal to focus on. Then you’ll get to work on it.

Anybody can write a bunch of goals. But you have to be sure they are the right goals. And then you have to get things done. In this workbook, I’ll help you do both.

Get my five-day course on crushing your goals here:

(Cant’ see this form? Go here.)

PS: After you go through the workbook, let me know your #1 financial goal in a comment.


Published or updated on November 8, 2011

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.


We invite readers to respond with questions or comments. Comments may be held for moderation and will be published according to our comment policy. Comments are the opinions of their authors; they do not represent the views or opinions of Money Under 30.

  1. Courtney says:

    My #1 goal at the moment is to build up a 12 month emergency fund. That will be $9K by April 2013 according to the Mint.com goal thingy. Could be sooner if I throw extra cash in. I know it may be obessive but once I take my nurse’s exam, I MUST leave my current job. I am hoping they will hire me on as a nurse but I don’t want to take anything for granted. Worst case senario, I’ll have a ton of saved money for the next goal…

    Pay off student loans. I’m looking at just under $30K from the FIRST time I was in school. Luckily, my job reimburses me for this degree so no added debt. I am nervous about not making payments to save. I have about $8K that still accrues interest while I’m in school at 6.8%. I know it’s under the benchmark I’ve been reading here but I get nervous…. I KNOW the about $600 in interest it gathers this year is worth the financial securty if I need it but people always drill in your head about interest rates and how you’re just losing money. I did just find a bank with a 1.5% on savings but that’s still much lower than 6.8%.

    I also don’t know where I should go after that. I haven’t saved a penny for retirement because I was paying off my private student loans with REALLY high interest. I’m so confused by this IRA stuff. I will do the employer match thing after I finsih school (I don’t get it now in my current position)

  2. Mike says:

    My Number 1 Focus is to Control What I Can Control.

    I work in a 100% commission job, and my paycheck is never consistant. So to remove the roller coaster of knowing how much I make, I developed a plan of a “savings salary.”. I do get benefits at work (401K, Matching) and contribute 10% of each paycheck to it. Aside from that, I have $200 each paycheck that is a direct transfer from my checking into my hidden from view savings account, preventing me from taking from the emergency fund.

    With this plan in the works I will have a combined savings equal to my 2011 earnings in the next 2.5 years (30th Birthday). This gives me peace of mind, financial security, and forces me to have a discipline to live below my means.

    Control What You Can Control. I Can Control How Much I Save.

  3. Sam says:

    I want to get rid of my credit card debt – currently about $5k before Sept, which will be my 26th birthday. I bought a house at 23, but would love to pay that down too. But my #1 goal right now is to pay off my credit card debt so I can work on building a $10k savings.

  4. Faye W. says:

    My #1 goal: To pay for my upcoming May 2013 wedding in complete cash.

    Immediate goal after that: Purchase first House.

  5. Hannah says:

    Get out of debt! Started pushing forward in March 2011 with $25k in debt ($11k in student loans, $8k car loan and $6k).

    I’m now down to my car at 6k and last student loan $6k, $12k left hopefully I’ll be debt free before the end of next year at the age of 26!

  6. Mom Equity says:

    #1 Financial Goal – Buy my next rental property.

    I agree, this is tough but it does seem to work to dedicate all extra $$$ to one issue at a time rather than spread them out over multiple goals.

  7. My Financial Goals:

    1. Get emergency fund to $6000
    2. Continue contributing to my ROTH IRA
    3. Pay down college loans to half of what they are now
    4. Donate more to charity
    5. Start a savings account exclusively for buying plane tickets to see my parents in New Jersey and General travel.

  8. Lauren says:

    I’m realizing now that trying to tackle multiple debt and multiple savings goals all at once was actually driving me crazy!

    #1 Goal – pay off credit card within 6 months

    Since we get paid every week, I determined how much I’d have to pay per week to accomplish this goal and set up a weekly auto payment from my bank to go through the day after each payday. Coming up with a large monthly payment was not working out…I’d wait and try to save up enough of a payment to hit my goal, but the money would always get spent on other things before I would actually get a chance to apply it to the credit card debt. I think weekly (automatic!) payments will work out better.

    We have a decent e-fund (not quite 6 months, but that will come later) so I am suspending all non-retirement savings until we meet goal #1. I had been trying to throw a small amount of money at a ton of different goals monthly. It just wasn’t happening. I think this will work much better. Once the credit card debt is gone, we will move on to the car, then to the student loans, then to the e-fund, then to retirement savings.

  9. Yvette says:

    1. Pay off credit card by November 2011
    2. Save $700 to buy books/parking pass for Spring semester by January 2012
    3. Save $2000 to pay for summer school term by April 2012
    4. Save $1400 to buy a new computer by August 2012
    5. Up emergency fund balance to $10,000 currently at $8,000
    in that order!

  10. I struggle with this issue a lot — too many goals — because I’m a freelancer, so I’m constantly juggling a zillion projects for a zillion clients. Add in my “real estate side hustle” and that’s a lot of juggling balls in the air!

  11. fruplicity says:

    SAVE. At least $1300/mo = 21% of our net monthly income, pushing myself to do even more. (This is separate from retirement, of which about 7% of our gross income is automatically deducted on a monthly basis).

    I’m really struggling right now with the issue described – too many reasons and goals to save that are all coming at once (which we’ve been trying to plan for a while). Moving, replacing car, starting family, all within the next 1.5 years, and all while continuing to accelerate student loan payments (our only debt, which we’re throwing about 9% of our net monthly income at). The one at the forefront of my mind right now is feeling comfortable starting a family (which all of the others are wrapped into).

    I guess it’s nice to see that 37% of our total income is going toward debt repayment and savings. Would love to bump this up to 50%.

  12. sarah says:

    Have 18K saved up by Dec 31st, 2011 for my 6month emergency fund.
    Right now i am at 11K.

  13. Shyla says:

    My number 1 financial goal is to be financially independent. I graduated from college in May and have been doing contract work since then. I moved back home to pay off my student loans and will be done by the end of this year.

    I would like to get a full-time job in my field with a salary around $40k by end of year and by June 2012 move out on my own. To do that I need to determine what my monthly expenses would be once I move out and save up 6 months worth of living expenses.

    My conflicting goals are to max out my TFSA (I’m from Canada so we have a tax free savings account that we can put $5000 into each year) and currently I have no retirement savings. My emergency fund is at $1000.

  14. Teena says:

    My #1 financial goal is to pay off my student loans in the next 2 years. I owe $25k and I believe I can knock it out in the next 2 years by paying a little extra each month. In addition I need to build my emergency fund and I’m going to start w/$1k and work my way up. Thank you so much for the insightful information, I found myself getting stressed trying to accomplish multiple things at once and this information has encouraged me that it can be done one step at a time!

  15. Monica says:

    #1: Starting a business without being stupid about personal finance.

    It’s had to know when to take the risk and go into debt. And how to be smart about protecting myself and my future…

  16. Helena M says:

    My goal is simply to get out of debt and live within my means – I want to have enough to do the things that are important to me and not have to worry about money, making mortgage replayments or not being able to deal with unexpected situations. Right now it seems to be an impossible dream :-(

  17. Shelly says:

    The main goal right now is replenishing our emergency fund that we tapped to pay down our mortgage so that we could refinance our 30 yr, 5.8% mortgage into a 15 yr, 3.4% mortgage. Unfortunately despite putting down 20% in 2007, we were slightly underwater and didn’t know it until the appraisal! We should have our 6 months of expenses back in the EF account by March, thankfully!

  18. DK says:

    My top goal is simply to pay off my credit card debt.

  19. Jen says:

    My #1 goal is to pay off my student loans before I have kids. If all goes to plan, that gives me 5ish years to pay 26k.

  20. Sgt A says:

    To buy my first home in cash (or if I can get a better interest rate – get a mortgage and have a savings account with the exact amount required to pay for the house). This has been a challenge, especially while paying for medical school.
    The intention is to never be in significant debt if it can be helped, or at least only purchase a house that requires incurring debt voluntarily.

    All else is secondary – I’ve saved short term to buy a pair of new vehicles in cash, or buy luxury items like a new gaming computer or some expensive hobby items, but having a singular goal helps me actually decide how much I’m willing to spend on the secondary items.
    Also, this allows greater flexibility for me on the primary short term goal, or at least realization that spending a bit more on short term items that will last longer might actually help by the time I’m done saving for my main goal.

  21. Adam says:

    MY short and long term goal is simple:

    Every Year:

    Contribute the Max to my 401 K – $16,500
    Contribute the Max to my Roth IRA – $5000

    If I can do that every year….I will be in great shape. I am 27 now and I know things will come up, expenses, kids, houses…but this is MY GOAL and I will do my best

  22. Nancy says:

    My number one financial goal is to pay off my student loan. I am putting all of my exposable income into this goal, and I should be done in 20 months. I am still contributing to my 401(K), but I don’t see this as conflicting because my contributions are automatically taken out of my paycheck, so I don’t ever think about them; contributing also lowers my income tax, and it gets me free money (match). I don’t think it’s conflicting to pay into a 401(K). It’s essentially the same as putting pretax money toward health insurance, which I’ve never heard a personal finance advisor say to stop doing. It’s in your best interest and for your security. When it comes to my post-tax money, there is no conflict. The only thing standing in my way of being 100% debt free is my student loan.

  23. Amber says:

    1. Rebuffer emergency fund back to $15K after unexpected $5K vet bill this week. Bad dog!
    2. Then contribute the final $3K to my 2011 Roth IRA before the March deadline.
    3. Then accelerate mortgage payments to get back on my 9 year payoff plan (currently at 15 years).

  24. I’ve already taken care of my $23,000 in student loan debt and saved up several thousand in savings, and I’m not interested in buying a house in the near future….so my current goal is to save up for a new car. Either a Mustang or a 2007-ish Corvette; this is my #1 short-term goal.

    My #1 long-term is to have >$100,000 in savings by the time I turn 30.

    • Amber says:

      Sorry Chris, but I think your current goal is in direct conflict with your long term goal. After you save the $100K, then get the mustang (if you still want it.) You’ll never get 100K in the bank if you let it get eaten by short term thinking.

  25. Elizabeth Crawford says:

    My number one goal is to save up for a down payment to buy a house. However, circumstances being what they are, I’m going to need to buy a car first. It’s not the #1 goal but it’s next on the list.

  26. Drew says:

    Pay off my $15,000 @ 3% car note by next summer. It is the only thing standing between me and being debt-free

  27. NICOLE says:

    I have delayed retirement savings to pay off credit card debt and student loan, also to replace my 11 years old car, paid in cash. Now, I should get back on track to secure my golden year. Saved $6700 (thanks to 2% payroll cut) this year, but I need to fund additional $8700 in two years to meet my target: 0.6x income at age 30.

  28. Itchy says:

    I am graduating from law school next May with about $140k in debt from law and undergrad. That should be about $155k after accrued interest kicks in. I will be starting a job making $125k at 25 y/o.

    My number 1 goal is to pay down $36-40k in debt with an eye on my $60k of debt above a 7% rate. Secondary goals are to build up a savings account.

  29. BabyDaddy says:

    I get exactly what David is talking about and I sometimes find myself “frozen” or scrambling between too many tasks. My one overarching goal now is to increase my earnings. This is a feasible goal as I’m in a commissioned sales position. Literally, the more I sell this month, the more I make next month. I’ll be focusing on my earning power and, conveniently, the rest of my financial worries will be improved.

  30. Margot says:

    Current short term goal is to get the money I need to accomplish my upcoming move set aside so I can get moved. Moving is part of a larger goal of cutting my expenses. The move will cut my monthly living expenses by $200 and my commute from 25 miles each way to 10 miles. Currently I only have about one month worth of emergency fund I’d like to build this up to at least three before working on other financial goals.

  31. Whitney says:

    My immediate goal is to finish paying off our last medical bill this month. After that, recover from a few cash flow mistakes for a couple of months. Then, continue paying off the last debt. One step at a time, but towards one goal.

  32. Miriam says:

    My short term goal (after paying down my student loan and credit card debt) is saving. I have many plans (traveling, wedding, having a decent emergency cushion) but they all come down to one thing: I need money I don’t have to make them come true.

    Hopefully this workbook will help me get those done more efficiently! :)

  33. Chickira says:

    Short term, build up a little more cushion. Overall, main, long-term goal is RETIREMENT. I don’t have specific percentages or numbers I just give and give. Then when I learn to manage my money at that level, I give MORE.

  34. David Weliver says:

    I’m not picking on you, but so far several of you listed more than one goal.

    This is why I wrote this post.

    From a financial point of view, it’s easy enough to put a few bucks over here and a few over there. Mentally, however, that can be confusing and even disconcerting (see the block quote above).

    You don’t’ have to ask yourself “which one’s most important?” They’re all important. But you should ask yourself “which one comes first?”

    The workbook also talks about the ideal time frame for goal-setting. Hint: If your goals include “retire with $X in the bank, that’s fine, but you need to chunk that down. The time frame is way too long to be motivating.

  35. Mari says:

    My #1 financial goal is to build my emergency fund. I only have a couple hundred and no job, so its going slowly.

  36. Sarah says:

    Thanks for the tips! My Short-term Financial Goals:

    1) Build emergency savings equivalent to 6 months expenses by May 2012
    Progress: Approx. 2 months behind schedule

    2) Build $50,000 retirement nest egg by age 30
    Progress: Should reach goal by age 29 – 29.5, currently 28.

  37. Kim says:

    Short term goals over the next year: Pay for my 11/12 wedding in cash (along with contributions from our respective parents), pay off my credit card (currently sitting on a 0% card – only 1K), pay for a trip to Europe next April in cash, increase my emergency savings to 2K

    Long term goals: Save 20K for a downpayment on a house with my fiance and build our emergency savings to 10K; pay off my student loans in the next 6-7 years

  38. SeeJay says:

    My #1 financial goal is to pay off my debt and increase my credit score. I’m new to your site, and I hope to learn tips to make my goal a reality.

    • David Weliver says:

      These are really two goals, but a good example of goals that are complimentary rather than conflicting. Reduce debt, and your credit score will improve. Good luck.

  39. Steven Q says:

    Long-Term my #1 financial goal it to have enough money when I retire, about $7.5 million dollars to be exact, to “feel rich.”

    I only have two loans totaling about 5k; one is @ 0% and the other is less than 5%. I also contribute aggressively to a 401k and Roth IRA. So, short-term I want to do something awesome for myself — my #1 goal is buy a 2010 Convertible Corvette by the time I turn 26.

  40. Robin says:

    Create a cushion. Currently, I have none, and it scares me. It is the first step you suggest in Where to Put Your Money (8/30/11 blog). I’ve got to start somewhere if I want to get further into establishing financial security. Thanks for all the down-to-earth advice!!

  41. Elizabeth Gooch says:

    Right now my #1 financial goal is to build an emergency savings of $5000. However, I’m really excited about this workbook and hope it can definitely shed some light. Thanks!

  42. Kat Skull says:

    My number one financial goal is to pay off my credit cards (just about $5K) in the next year. My APR’s are higher than my student loans (8%) and I already pay $200/mo on those. So I need to get rid of those pesky cards first!

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