How to Set SMART Goals for 2020

Blog post

Author: Dave Ramsey

This is your year! When it comes to setting smart goals, most of us have the best intentions. You’re finally going to take control of your money. Get fit. Start a new hobby. Yada yada. But here’s the thing: many of us won’t actually do any of that. Setting goals for yourself is absolutely the right thing to do, but just having good intentions alone changes nothing. You can make resolutions all you want—but a resolution without a plan is just wishful thinking. So, how can you stick with your goals throughout the year? Make SMART goals. 

What Are SMART Goals?

Creating SMART goals gives you direction. They make it easy to see if you’re getting closer to your target or still treading water. There are five building blocks that will help you reach your SMART goals:

S – Specific

What do you want to achieve? Get down to the nitty-gritty with it. Just saying you want to lose weight won’t cut it. Instead try, “I’d like to drop 5 pounds and be able to do at least 20 sit-ups in a row without passing out.” Watch for any roadblocks that could keep you from reaching your goal, and make a plan to get around them. 

Questions to ask yourself: Who does my goal involve? What am I trying to accomplish here? When and why do I want to make this goal happen?

M – Measurable

If you know your ultimate goal is to pay off $24,000 of debt in the next year, that means you have to pay $2,000 a month to reach that goal (or about $460 a week). Break your goal into doable chunks. Give yourself daily, weekly and monthly steps. Focus on those, accomplish one, then head on to the next one.

Questions to ask yourself: How long will it take to reach my goal? How do I know when I’ve reached my goal?

A – Achievable

Is your goal realistic? Do you have the ability to do it? What about the skills or tools you need to reach it? If not, no shame. Just change your goal to something you can accomplish. You don’t want easy-to-reach goals though. Stretch yourself! But don’t chase after something that will wind up discouraging you in the long run.

Questions to ask yourself: Do I have the resources to achieve my goals? If the answer is no, what am I missing?

R – Relevant

Does the goal fit with the overall plan you have? If your goal is to learn the art of origami and you have room for a new hobby, great! But if you have plenty of hobbies, think about spending that energy elsewhere. And don’t forget to figure out what your why is. Your why could be something like, “I want to go on dates with my spouse twice a month to invest in and strengthen our relationship.” Why you want to do something is powerful. 

Questions to ask yourself: Is the goal within reach? Is it reachable with the time and resources I have? Why do I want to reach this goal?

T – Time-Sensitive

Set a time limit—because you need a finish line. Take that goal of yours, create a plan, and break it all the way down to daily activities. Then, give yourself a deadline. For example, “I’d like to save $10,000 by December 31.” To do this, calculate things like how much money you’ll need to redirect from other areas of your budget each month. Use a planner to help you organize your thoughts and attack your plan.

Questions to ask yourself: Do I have a deadline for reaching my goal? When will I achieve this goal? How many times will I achieve this goal?

Give Your Goals the SMART Treatment

Okay, we’ve given you a lot of food for thought. So let’s break down exactly what a SMART goal would look like if your goal is to pay off debt.

  • Specific: Set a goal for how much debt you want to pay off. How about $24,000 in the next year?
  • Measurable: Now it’s time for some math. To pay off $24,000 in 12 months, you need to plan to pay $2,000 each month to chip away at your debt.
  • Achievable: Is your goal doable? Heck, yeah! Just make sure you’re armed with the tools you need to tackle it. Have things in place to help you—like a monthly budget, a plan that works, and someone in your corner rooting for you.
  • Relevant: Keep your why in sight! When you’re five or six months into your goal, guess what? The shiny newness of it all might start to wear off. You’ll see people going on vacation, eating at fancy restaurants, and dropping big money for sports events, all while you’re scrimping and saving to hit your goal. And that’s when you need to remember why you’re getting out of debt, why it’s so important to your future, and why you’re sacrificing temporarily.  
  • Time-Sensitive: Sure, you could spend the rest of your life taking your sweet time to get out of debt—but why do that when you can kick it to the curb now and get on with living your best life? Giving yourself a time limit to complete your goal will help you stay focused and motivated.

Make Sure Your SMART Goals Are Your SMART Goals

Let’s be honest—trying to accomplish someone else’s goals for you never works out. Sure, your mom may want you to take classes and switch careers. But it won’t happen unless it’s your desire too. Why? Because striving to win isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s tough. And you won’t have the drive to stick with it if you’re working toward a goal you’re not even passionate about.

And just because your spouse or parent wants you to get out of debt doesn’t mean you will either. You have to want it too. The goals you set must be your goals. When push comes to shove, you’re the one who has to fight to make them a reality. So get in there and start swinging!

Write Out Your SMART Goals

Something special happens when you write down specific goals. Get them down on paper along with all the steps it’ll take for you to get there. Our Goal Tracker Worksheet is a handy tool for this. Seeing your goals in black and white will help you hold yourself accountable and track your progress along the way. 

Seven Areas of Life for SMART Goals

We recommend you set goals for these seven significant areas of life:

  • Financial Goals: Start saving for retirement, get out of debt, or use a monthly zero-based budget.
  • Fitness Goals: Hit the gym more often, take the stairs, and remember to eat your veggies.
  • Educational Goals: Go back to finish your degree, get your MBA, or read a good book every month.
  • Family Goals: Plan one-on-one dates with your kids, have a standing date night with your spouse, or make it a point to call your mom and dad on Sunday nights.
  • Spiritual Goals: Pick up a new devotional, start a daily journal, or plug in to a group at your church if you attend one.
  • Career Goals: Work toward a promotion or raise, learn something new about your line of work, or polish up and send out resumés if you’re looking for a new career path.
  • Social Goals: Say yes when someone invites you out to lunch or a social gathering—or, for some of us, say no more often.

Don’t get discouraged if you get off track. Life happens. We all hit speed bumps and roadblocks from time to time. That’s okay! As long as you stay focused on the end goal and keep taking small steps toward achieving it, you’ll be on your way to big life-change.