Skip to main content
The M Dash

Live with purpose.

How to Set Financial Goals You’ll Actually Stick With

If you’re struggling with making time and space—and, you know, room in your budget—for all the things you want to do in life, it might be time to realign your budget and your values.

By Ellevest

Most of us have a finite amount of money at our disposal. Also? Life is chaos! We all live unpredictable lives, and circumstances often shift overnight. This uncertainty is what makes planning for the future so darned stressful: Where, how, and in what order are we supposed to divide up the resources we have to cover everything we want to achieve? And even if we’re able to figure that part out, what happens when things inevitably change?

Our friends at Ellevest think about this a lot (it’s kind of a full-time job for them). And from now until October 20th, they’re giving away a free workshop to help you start practicing financial wellness. Think: investing, busting harmful money myths, and getting on track for that dream retirement. In the meantime, they’ve shared a quick guide to setting your financial priorities and making them stick. Read on for some top-notch advice. 

Step 1

Name Your Values

Big, existential question time: What’s important to you in life? More to the point: What in life is more important to you than other things? It’s a heavy lift, but luckily there are a lot of ways to frame this question to make it easier to identify exactly what motivates you. By making your list of life priorities explicit (i.e., writing it down), you’re basically figuring out what kind of life you want—and then how you’re going to realign your spending and your goals to reflect that. 

Step 2

Create a Value-Focused Budget

From there, it’s time to create your budget. Eek! Hear that screeching sound? Half the people reading this just slammed on their mental brakes. We get it! Budgeting can feel overwhelming. But making tradeoffs vis-à-vis your spending is a huge part of being financially well. And when we understand the tradeoffs we’re making, they can actually be pretty liberating. The trick: Learn how to spend intentionally to set limits based on what you really want, not what you want to avoid.

There are plenty of healthy budgeting approaches to choose from. The two we recommend the most are the 50/30/20 rule and the one-number approach. If overspending is a problem (relatable!), we’ve also got tips that can help reel it back in

Note: Building a budget is a big part of escaping the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, but we also know that many of us are facing lean times, when even that is going to be out of the realm of possibility. If you’re struggling with infrequent or nonexistent income, you may need to pare way back just to make ends meet. And yes, it’s going to be tough. But even an essentials-only budget is going to feel better than spending blind. Being in control—even when most of that control is of the damage variety—will be one less uncertainty in your life until you can get on your feet again.

Step 3

Identify and Prioritize Your Money Goals

Once you’ve got a rough budget outlined, this is where the fun begins: This money is what you’ll be using to start dreaming and building the life you want.

Identify Your Financial Goals

Write down all of your money goals, big and small. Real, specific ones that you can work toward—not like “win the lottery.” (Although that would definitely be cool.) Just brain-dump that ish.

Categorize Needs vs. Wants

Start by placing each goal into one of two basic categories: must-haves and nice-to-haves. The must-haves will definitely get a place on the roadmap, and the nice-to-haves will get slotted in afterward.

Place Your Goals on a Timeline

Then you’re going to sort your money goals chronologically—specifically, into short-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals will take two years or less to accomplish. For these—things like paying off that one nasty credit card or saving for that European vacation—you’ll be using savings. Anything over two years is a long-term goal, like a down-payment on a house, your child’s college fund, retiring by a certain age, etc. These you’ll be able to tackle more strategically through investing. If it’ll help, you can even get a little more refined and sort them by deadline.

Add Your Values, and Rank Accordingly

Now you’re going to use the values list you made earlier to rank your goals even further. Goals aligning with your top values get pushed up the list, while nice-to-haves drop down lower. You can also use your values to adjust your goals themselves, too. For example, maybe traveling for your 40th birthday is important, but the destination is up for debate. Aiming for a place closer to home can make that goal a little smaller to make room for others.

By the end of this, you should have a rough (not ironclad!) sense of how you’re going to be allocating your “Future You” money for the foreseeable future. When a new short-term goal pops up—and it will—you’ll be able to slot it into your roadmap where it feels right.

Remember, Stay Focused and Adjust as Needed

The goals on your roadmap do not have to be entirely consecutive. You shouldn’t have to forego a vacation if you’re still building up your emergency fund. Some goals will require your full attention, but others can be worked toward simultaneously. For example, even if homeownership is a priority, you might be comfortable extending your down payment timeline if you’re saving up to get married next year. Or, if getting out of debt is a hard-and-fast goal for you, you might opt to take care of that before you start planning a big wedding.

There also might be times when you feel like your roadmap’s black-and-whiteness doesn’t always align with the unpredictable realities of your life. That’s why it’s designed to be tweaked whenever necessary. Your roadmap can change with you—it’s not built to provide set-in-stone rules, but to strengthen the confidence you need to make spending decisions proactively, rather than out of guilt. Believe it or not, when you’re making choices according to a system that meets your needs, it can feel just as good not to spend that money on impulse buys. Because now you know you’ve got bigger, better plans for it.


The information provided does not take into account the specific objectives, financial situation, or particular needs of any specific person. The information provided should not be relied upon as investment advice or recommendations, does not constitute a solicitation to buy or sell securities and should not be considered specific legal, investment or tax advice. Investing entails risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there is no assurance that the investment will provide positive performance over any period of time.

Read on.

Back to Top