SMART Goals for Your Financial Plan

November 11, 2022
Building financial goals that follow the SMART goal methodology (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely) can help you focus your financial objectives.

Do you have clear retirement goals, and are they achievable? Unfortunately, many people don't, and it's understandable. Sometimes, we're overwhelmed dealing with short-term needs and can't focus on long-term goals. 

Nearly one-third of all Americans have saved very little for retirement. According to a recent Retirement Confidence Survey conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 27% of Americans said they have under $25,000 in savings and investments, and 13% don't even have as much as $1,000 saved for retirement. 

Focusing on the short term instead of the long term certainly can help you deal with many day-to-day challenges, but it won't leave you very comfortable in retirement. But there is a way to address both short- and long-term needs, whether you're just starting out in your adult life or you're already well into your career and family-raising years. 

One easy way to help identify your financial goals is to use the acronym "SMART" (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely) to help you create and pursue actionable, realistic goals.  

Make your goals specific

What do you want to achieve? Start with outlining detailed goals and be clear about what you want. Being precise about each goal you want to accomplish, and how you want to get there, can help motivate you to stay the course.

How to: If, for example, retiring by age 65 is your long-term goal, answer these questions:

  • How do I want my ideal retirement to look?
  • How much will I need to make this happen?
  • How am I going to get the money I need to create this?

By the time you've answered these questions, you should have a specific goal that reads as simple as this: "I want to retire at age 65 with $1.5 million saved." 

Build measurable goals

If you can see it, you can do it. Use a financial calculator, such as the Schwab Retirement Calculator, to gauge your progress and calculate what you still need in order to achieve your goal. Seeing your progress will help keep you motivated and committed to achieving your goal. 

How to: When assessing your long-term goals, such as retiring by age 65, outline precise, yearly steps for the funds you need to save. Each year, check on your progress, compare it to your goal, and adjust as needed.

Create attainable goals

Your goals can be challenging, but they shouldn't be impossible. Be realistic about what you want to accomplish and do enough research to decide if your goal is achievable under your timeline. If it seems like it's out of reach, adjust some variables to make it attainable.

How to: Maybe retiring at age 65 with $1.5 million is a bit out of reach for you right now. Consider adjusting your plan:

  • Can you change your retirement age to 67?
  • Can you save $900,000 instead?
  • Can you cut back on some expenses?
  • Work to balance out the variables to make your goal realistic and achievable. 

Make your financial goals relevant to you

Your financial goals should be personal to you. The road can get pretty rocky if you don't enjoy the journey, so don't choose arbitrary goals. Furthermore, you'll need to decide what resources will be put toward your goal. How will this affect other areas of your life? 

How to: When setting your retirement goal at $1.5 million by age 65, consider other financial aspects of your life this goal could impact. Ask yourself:

  • If you have a family with expenses, will this impact their financial needs?
  • Do you have a hobby or a membership with costs that will impact achieving your goal?
  • Will you have to rebalance your goal or give up some other projects or bucket list items?

Give your goals a timely deadline

Any goal should have a time stamp. A deadline helps create a sense of urgency and priority. It also gives you something to look forward to—a realistic end date.

How to: Creating an overall deadline for your goal can help you break down the timeline into smaller, more manageable steps, such as: 

  • What can I do this week to achieve my goal?
  • This month?
  • Within the next quarter?

If you can approach your financial planning honestly and objectively, using something like the SMART criteria, you can be more confident that you're on track with your overall financial plans and on your way to that ideal retirement.

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This material is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered a personalized recommendation or investment advice. Investors should review investment strategies for their own particular situations before making any investment decisions.

Examples provided are for illustrative purposes only and not intended to be reflective of results you can expect to achieve.

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