- Define your goal. Broad, ambiguous goals are difficult to measure. And if you can’t measure your goal, you won’t know when (or if) you meet it. If you resolve to save more, express what you want to save more for: retirement, college, emergencies, or something else.
- Be realistic and specific. You’ll be more likely to achieve a goal that’s challenging and attainable. If your goal is to save more for retirement, start by looking at the percentage of your income you’re saving right now, and build on it. If you saved 6% of your total income in 2019, aim to save 8% or 9% in 2020.
- Commit. You’re more likely to achieve a goal you’re committed to—and you’re more likely to commit to a goal you think is important. So ask yourself, why do I need to save 8% for retirement right now?
Before you answer, think about what drives you in other areas of your life. Do you brush your teeth to avoid cavities … or because you want healthy gums and teeth? If you’re motivated by fear (as most people are), focus on what you’ll avoid by achieving your goal. If you’re motivated by pleasure, focus on what you’ll get by achieving your goal.
- Know what’s in your way. Ask yourself: Why am I not already saving 8% of my income? Then continue asking why until you identify what’s blocking you.
Let’s say you’re not saving 8% because you haven’t increased your contribution amount. Ask yourself why again. Is it because you can’t afford it, don’t know how to increase it, or haven’t thought about it? Once you know what’s in your way, you can figure out a way around it.
- Experiment. Maybe you concluded you aren’t saving 8% of your income because you can’t afford to (or because you think you can’t afford to). Don’t just accept your reason—test it.
Try saving 1% more for 3 months. If your finances can adapt, commit to saving that amount (or a slightly higher amount) for another 3 months. When you have regular checkpoints and can see that you’re making progress, you’ll feel good about your efforts—which will motivate you to keep going and set more aggressive goals.
If your finances can’t accommodate a 1% decrease in take-home pay, ask yourself why. Then experiment again. If you can’t swing a savings increase right now, try again in 6 months, 12 months, or when your situation changes.
Keep it simple
Most people are motivated by achievement. Even the anticipation of achievement can be motivating.
If your goal is clear but the steps to achieve it are complicated, you may feel overwhelmed—which can make your goal seem all but impossible. Don’t be discouraged; just recognize your feelings for what they are: an indication that you may need support.