With New Year's resolutions long abandoned, you're probably thinking you'll just wait until next year to set up another financial goal. But there's an easy trick to reaching your goals now. Here's how to set budget goals you'll actually reach.

Here’s a humbling statistic for you: 20% of New Year’s resolutions are broken within the first week of January and 80% are broken within the first year.

With 2020  just around the corner, how are you doing on your New Year’s Resolutions from last year?

Have you stuck to your goals?

So if chances are you likely haven’t stuck with your goals, don’t feel too bad about it, you’re not the only one. Let’s at least try and figure out how to set budget goals you’ll actually reach.

The main problem is that people set sweeping goals

“I’ll lose weight and have an awesome bikini body this year.”

“I’m going to find the love of my life.”

“I’m going to get my finances under control.”

The thing is that these sweeping goals aren’t very actionable. Broad, general statements don’t make for powerful goals.

“I have $30,000 in debt and I’m going to develop a budget and figure out how much I can set aside and set a clear end date for paying off this debt.”

Now that is an actionable goal. That goal gets even better if you crunch the numbers and can make it even more specific.

“I have $30,000 in debt and I’m going to set aside $800 a month to pay it off. I will pay it off in three years and two months. By 2018, my debt will only be $20,400. I’m going to also try to find a side job to bring in $400 this year so that can be an even $20,000 by 2018.”

Yes, I realize I’m pretty much ignoring interest here, but you get the idea.

Or on a more positive note maybe it’s a goal like:

“I have no debt and I want to save up $20,000 to a down payment on a house in two years. So I need to save $835 a month.”

The more specific the plan, the more achievable the goal

The fact is, when you leave your goal big and vague, it can feel overwhelming. Crunching some actual numbers and coming to terms with your financial goals can help keep you moving in the right direction—even if the numbers are kind of scary.

There’s a reason that gym memberships spike in January. When you’re excited about a new goal, you’re more likely to put in the effort to achieve it. As time wears on, maintaining the motivation to keep going wears thinner, especially when you don’t see immediate results.

The same goes for your budget. Jumping the first hurdle and making it a goal to get your finances in order can be a tough one, but running the marathon after that first hurdle is just as difficult, if not more.

This is where your clear set goal becomes important. Trying to tackle a giant goal like paying off $30,000 can seem like a never ending marathon, but breaking it down into an $800 goal each month can be a lot more attainable.

It also makes it easier to start over when life derails you. Despite your best efforts, the car might break down or your kid might get sick and it will eat into your debt repayment money. When you’re vaguely throwing money at $30,000, that speed bump can make it feel like it’s easier to give up.

Related: How To Set (And Keep!) Quarterly Financial Goals

Breaking down the goal can also help you visualize it differently

Earning an extra $800 a month is hard. It can seem nearly impossible when you’re balancing a full-time job and family commitments, but as you work on your marathon towards paying off $30,000 in $800 increments or raising $20,000, you can also develop extra tools to help you reach your finish line.

You can look into the foreseeable future and decide if cutting cable for a short amount of time might be worth it. Now you only have to come up with $700 or $650.

Maybe you decide that iPhones are out for the next three years and something like Republic Wireless will get you through. That’s another $100 off the family phone bill.

During your marathon, you can build your personal finances muscles by picking up books at the library, listening to great podcasts, and reading personal finance blogs.

The magic of breaking down your payments into a set plan is that you start to see how small things can really make a difference. Maybe the latte factor really is a thing and now that you’ve cut cable and reduced your phone bill, you can see how skipping a weekly Starbucks run and adding $20 to that debt repayment every month does actually make a little dent.

There are a lot of opportunities to make extra money

Let’s be real though, some people are already incredibly frugal and not getting ahead. Try finding odd jobs and side hustles that can start cutting down your debt repayment number. Maybe it’s one-time things like medical studies or consumer panels. Maybe you can squeeze in a little freelance writing during lunch. Maybe you can babysit the neighbor’s kids two evenings a week.

You just have to find the right one for you. And with a set time frame, you know exactly how long you’ll have to hustle harder, so saving will seem less impossible.


The trick to achieving your goals is to make them as specific and realistic as possible. Once you’ve done that, you just have to get yourself to keep on moving towards your goal.

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About the author

Total Articles: 14
Mel Bondar is a personal finance blogger and stage manager from New Jersey. Her favorite topics include how to not totally panic over adulthood, working in the arts, and retirement strategies that don’t involve living in a cardboard box under an overpass.

Article comments

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. Comments have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser, nor are they reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our partners. It is not our partner’s responsibility to ensure all posts or questions are answered.

Once we dedicated ourselves to throwing everything we could at debt, it was amazing how many things we could do without! Focus is so important. And I agree that side hustles are doable with an end date.

I haven’t set too many budget goals this year, but I did set out to pay an extra amount on my mortgage principal each month and so far that’s going well. Breaking it down to a specific monthly goal has helped me keep it going.

Jen Pattison says:

Great advice – I wish I had figured out specific goals many years ago, instead of vague ones such as “I must get rid of my huge mountain of debt”, something I never achieved until it all came crashing down!