Financial Literacy

Becoming Financially Literate: Set Goals that Matter

Becoming Financially Literate: Set Goals that Matter | www.TheHeavyPurse.comI am going to share some of my best advice to help you become financially literate and live the life you want for yourself and your family every Monday in April to celebrate Financial Literacy Awareness Month. Today, I am going to share the most important piece of the puzzle when putting together your financial life—your goals.

Your Goals Come First

A few weeks ago, I had a call from a prospective client. She was successful executive at a large company who was looking for some guidance. After some initial pleasantries, she jumped right to the focus of her call.

“I need you to help me pick my investments.”

“Whoa,” I said. “Investments are the easy part. But before we even start looking at investments, we need to figure out what your goals are first.”

There was a long pause, then almost a sigh of relief. “Really? Goals first, then investments?”

“You got it.”

This is a familiar scenario for me. Most people naturally jump to investments with little consideration of their goals. You need to know what you want for yourself financially before you start considering which investments will help you achieve your goals.

Why Your Financial Goals Matter

I have long believed that we are the culmination of the many decisions we make daily. I find this true with all aspects of our life. If we make more good decisions (ones that take us towards our goals) versus bad decisions (ones that take us further from our goals), then we move closer to realizing our desires.

After 23 years of working with individuals, small businesses and families, I know that goals for retirement, education of children, new homes and travel can take years to achieve. So if you do not know what your want for yourself, then how can you make good financial choices towards the achievement of your goals? You can’t.

This is why your goals matter. They act as your best defense against mindless spending. People who are in debt are not bad people. They are people who made some bad decisions, often times without even realizing it. Many times we think we are making smart financial decisions, but without goals to act as a filter, more often than not, our spending decisions are guided by our emotions and may not be in our best interests.

It’s why one of the first lessons I taught my girls was to give their money purpose through setting goals. The second lesson was how to use those goals to compare against other things they find and want by asking themselves, “Will this bring me closer or further away from achieving my goals?”

It’s a question they have heard me ask myself as well. We always find things we like and want and without having something to compare against them, it’s very easy to say “yes” to everything we want. By seeing me choose to honor my goals instead of satisfying a desire, it’s now easier for them to honor their goals as well.

Set Authentic Goals that Make Your Heart Happy

I love to set goals, but I realize it can be a struggle for some people. They are unsure of what they want, so they fall back onto what everyone else seems to want. This is a mistake. What someone else wants isn’t necessarily what you want. You shouldn’t set goals to impress me or others. Your goals should be something you are highly motivated to achieve and make your heart happy. You want to be confident that when given a choice between achieving a goal or something else, you will choose your goal.

As you create your authentic goals, two things to keep in mind:

Goals Aren’t Etched in Stone

Some people believe they are stuck with the goals they set for the rest of their life. While you certainly don’t want to change your goals every other day, they are not etched in stone either. Our lives change and the things that we want change too. What matters is you set the goals that you want to achieve right now, so they can guide your money decisions.

Goals Need to be Reviewed

Goals need to be reviewed regularly. Not only to to chart your progression but also to give you a chance to refine or change goals. Too many people create their goals, then tuck them away and forget about them. Don’t do that. Review them monthly or quarterly and make adjustments as needed. Share your goals with others, especially your kids. Put them on post-it notes and hang them in your office, so your goals stay front and center.

Knowing is Often Easier than Doing

Just as we understand what we need to do to be healthy and fit (eat right and exercise), we also know the basic tenets of how to be financially healthy (spend less than we make and save) but examining our obesity and debt statistics prove – knowing is easy but doing can be hard. This is why goals are so important. They form the foundation of your financial lives. The strength of your goals—your commitment to achieving them—play a key role in building the life you want.

We are in the process of buying a new home right now. We have a budget that will allow us to still save towards our retirement, the girls’ education and do the travel we love. But is it hard, even as a financial advisor, when the house you love is over your budget. It’s hard to stand back, and not get caught up in the bidding war and exceed our budget so we can live in our dream home. But we have other goals that are more important to us. Because we know what they are, and how much we have to save towards these goal each year, it helps to take out the emotion that many get caught up in with big purchases. We may have not been able to buy our “dream” home but truth be told, it wouldn’t be much of a dream home if it meant sacrificing all of our other dreams and goals either. Financial literacy starts with knowing what you truly want.


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Leave a Comment


  1. Monday, April 7th, 2014
    It's impossible to figure out how you're going to get somewhere....if you don't have any idea where you're going. Those goals have to be specific as well - you can't just say, "I want to have enough money for retirement." What that means is going to differ from person to person. A clearly defined goal is priceless. :)
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, April 7th, 2014
      Great point, Travis. I see a lot people make general or generic goals but they need to be specific. Otherwise, your motivation will be low. Retirement by itself doesn't mean all that much, but knowing you want to retire by 50 so you can travel the country by RV is very different. You can always modify your goals but in order for them to be sticky now and help guide your decisions, they need to be specific goals you want to achieve.
  2. Monday, April 7th, 2014
    I am constantly setting and re-evaluating my goals. I have some long-term ones that won't change much like having enough passive income to live off of, but I also have short-term ones that change quite a bit like what I want to do as far as my career/small business go. If you don't know where you want to land, it's hard to plan properly, especially if we are talking finances.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, April 7th, 2014
      Sounds like you have a good grasp of your goals, DC. Goals definitely evolve so it's important to re-evaluate them and make sure you're still working towards what you truly want. Like you said, it's hard to plan appropriately if you don't know what you want to achieve.
  3. Monday, April 7th, 2014
    "It wouldn't be much of a dream home if it meant sacrificing all of our other dreams and goals." LOVE that, Shannon. Good for you for buying a house the smart way! Best of luck to you on the house hunt. :-)
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, April 7th, 2014
      Thanks, Laurie! It's true that your dream can turn into a nightmare if you sacrifice everything else you want for it. It wasn't easy to let go but knowing what else I would lose if I bought more home than I needed/could comfortably afford made it a lot easier to do.
  4. Monday, April 7th, 2014
    One of the things I've learned is that you have to be patient and allow your goals to work themselves out. We saw two homes on our last house hunting go around that we loved but were 10-20k above our targeted price range. We passed and a few weeks later found our current home. The price had been slashed steeply to get the home sold because it was holding up a divorce. We got it for 20K less than our target price. We were much happier with that scenario.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, April 7th, 2014
      Sweet! I'm definitely hoping we can find our new home under our target price too! Yes, a little bit of patience can really make a difference. We can get into a rush but often times when I slow down things just fall into place.
  5. Monday, April 7th, 2014
    Shannon, I LOVE this post! All I needed to read was the title, and I was hooked. There is nothing more important, in my opinion, than intentional living (i.e., goal setting). Specifically in the category of finance, having goals sets you up for the rest of your life. Remembering the bigger picture is key to success. Great post!
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, April 7th, 2014
      Thank you, Natalie! I'm a huge proponent of intentional living too. We need to know what we want in life so that we can make good decisions that support that life. Knowing your priorities and the the big picture definitely play a key role in living our best life.
  6. Monday, April 7th, 2014
    I had similar conversations all the time in my last job and was always encouraged when they would want to discuss their goals as opposed to go on some random stock picking exercise. I could not agree more about goals needing to be flexible and needing to be reviewed. You never know when life is going to change, or what you want is going to change and it makes no sense to work on a goal that you have no intention of trying to reach anymore. Good luck with the house hunting as well Shannon. :)
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, April 7th, 2014
      I know investments are "sexy" and get all the attention, but goals are what really matter. Everything falls into place after you know what you want. So many people actually fear setting goals because they don't realize they can change them. Goals are fluid and that just another reason why it's so important to regularly review them. And thanks for the well-wishes. Fingers crossed that we find our new home soon. :)
  7. Monday, April 7th, 2014
    Ha! As you can imagine, I have had similar conversations with clients. And when I ask them what they want in life, they always say "My current advisor never asked me that." Because the "old school" advisory approach is all about investments and investment returns. I tell clients that without goals, how do you know what you are working towards. It's like getting in a car and driving without knowing your destination. This is a great reminder that you need a destination (or multiple destinations) to keep you focused financially.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, April 7th, 2014
      Exactly! Investments get all the attention and certainly matter but how can you choose appropriate investments when you don't know what you're working towards? Once you know what you want, it's a lot easier to make good financial decisions and not feel deprived when you do have to tell yourself "no". You realize that you're not missing out, you're getting exactly what you want. And that feels so good!
  8. Monday, April 7th, 2014
    This is a great post, Shannon! It's true that we didn't really get anywhere until we figured out what our goals were. Our goals are still changing but at least we have the rough outline of a plan.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, April 7th, 2014
      Thanks, Holly! It's great that you and Greg figured out what you want and have a plan in place to achieve. I'm sure some of your goals may change over time but that's okay. Goals and plans are fluid.
  9. Monday, April 7th, 2014
    Great post! It is important to have goals AND to know that they can be changed and altered along the way. Thanks for sharing.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, April 7th, 2014
      Thanks! Yes, some people forget that goals are also fluid. You want them to be sticky but also recognize that your priorities change over time, which is normal and okay.
  10. Monday, April 7th, 2014
    I'm sure the perfect house will come along! We were seriously considering buying a new house but we realized that it would really push our budget to the edge. We decided to pass on the opportunity and I'm so glad we did. Part of what helped us make up our mind was that we have goals and dreams that we weren't willing to negotiate. After we gave the sellers the official "no" we felt so much relief. Haven't looked back at all. Good luck on the house hunt!
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, April 7th, 2014
      I remember you blogging about it, Liz. And it sounds like you made the right decision too. We aren't willing to negotiate on our goals either. In the moment, it's hard to walk away from our dream house but we know we made the right decision for us, just as you did.
  11. Monday, April 7th, 2014
    I have adopted the make your heart happy philosophy. Many of the things people think they want money for are not for reasons that make them happy. Without a goal, you'll never know. I doubt it's ever been anyone's goal to always have a new car but no retirement money, but that happens to tons of people because they never thought about what they wanted.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, April 7th, 2014
      Good for you, Kim! I always think about whether or not something will make my heart happy and my girls do too. And I love that they are able to tell the difference and will refrain from buying things they realize won't make their hearts happy long-term. And you're so right - everyone wants a comfortable retirement but so many people do things that make it increasingly difficult for that to happen because they haven't really thought what a comfortable retirement looks like or costs.
  12. Monday, April 7th, 2014
    "Financial literacy starts with knowing what you truly want" So true! Good luck with the house hunting. We've been looking for a place too, and sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the emotions. You start thinking...maybe we'll push our budget higher, but like you don't want to compromise your other goals and dreams. I think when I was younger my goals were pretty vague, while I always was a saver, it was just saving for the sake of saving, but now I have more concrete goals like purchasing a place, early retirement, etc. The journey is sometimes easier when you know where you're going.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, April 7th, 2014
      Thanks, Andrew! Yes, it's very easy to get caught up in a bidding frenzy or let your emotions get the best of you. When you're young, I think goal-setting can be harder because retirement seems so far away and it's not always easy to know what you want to do 30 or 40 years from now. But there are goals like buying a home, starting a family, travel, new vehicles that you want in the short-term. And as your retirement picture becomes clearer, you can start setting more specific goals.
  13. Monday, April 7th, 2014
    "Knowing is easy but doing can be hard" - so very true! Theory is fairly easy to conceptualize, but practice/implementation is where the real work is at. I keep being told to treat myself every now and then and not be as frugal as I've been the past year (especially with the new job), and my response is "I will treat myself - to a "forever" house!" Best wishes with the house hunting - it can be disheartening with all the bidding wars, but hopefully your family will find a wonderful one soon! :)
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, April 7th, 2014
      Sometimes I wish the doing was as easy as the knowing. :) Treating yourself to a "forever" home sounds like a great goal/treat/motivation! It can be frustrating some days but I know we will find our "forever" home too. And good luck to you and B as you look for your "forever" home too!
  14. Monday, April 7th, 2014
    Good luck with the home search! I'm constantly reevaluating my goals, and I only set ones in the immediate future, but of course taking actions that will lead me to a more secure future, like retirement. LIke a budget, then change and grow with you.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, April 7th, 2014
      Thanks, Tonya! Yes, I'm always reviewing my goals too. You're absolutely right - goals change and grow with you. And that can actually be quite exciting.
  15. Monday, April 7th, 2014
    Excellent points Shannon!

    It is so important to take all of your other expenses into consideration when buying a home. Often times the only other expenses that are considered are utilities and property taxes, and people begin to think they CAN afford the house of their dreams. But then they get in there and soon realize they can't afford vacations or anything else. And they end up working 80 hours a week to afford their lifestyle.

    Good luck with buying your new home!!
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, April 7th, 2014
      Thanks, Sicorra. Yes, I have known people who bought more home than they really could afford. We definitely want a great home but we still want to be able to do the other things we love, like travel. Like I said, it wouldn't be much of a dream home if it meant we couldn't do the other things we love, which is something people easily forget when they let their emotions takeover when making big purchases.
  16. Tuesday, April 8th, 2014
    Great post Shannon :)

    I am a goal-setter myself, and love to make goals. Along with making lists...did I mention I also love to make lists, too? :) But seriously, I love what you said about goals not being etched in stone. Life is about change; sometimes you gotta just roll with it.
  17. Tuesday, April 8th, 2014
    I know talking about goal setting still elicits eye rolls from some people, but it is the single most important thing I've done for myself financially.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Wednesday, April 9th, 2014
      People always believe (or maybe want to believe) that becoming financially literate needs to be hard or complicated. It starts with the easiest thing possible - deciding what you want for yourself. Without this step - it's really hard to make good decisions, no matter how smart or financially responsible you are. I'm glad you set goals for yourself, Stefanie and are already seeing the rewards of doing so.
  18. Tuesday, April 8th, 2014
    The first time I invested I was absolutely guilty of just jumping in without assessing my goals. And you're so right that they need to get re-evaluated (I think pretty regularly). Sometimes I set lofty savings goals that I want to hit by certain mile markers in my life: ie: XX saved by the time I graduate college or XX in savings and investments before I get married. I'm coming close on hitting on I thought would take much longer so I need to readjust my goals, set more relevant ones and figure out my investment strategy accordingly.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Wednesday, April 9th, 2014
      A lot of people are guilty of investing without assessing goals first. It's always easier to do (and to remain emotionally competent during volatile markets) when you know what you're working towards. Yes, goals definitely need to be reviewed regularly. People sometimes want to check it off as a to-do from their list but it's not that easy. :) Sounds your goal-planning is paying off if you're hitting your goals early!! Woo-hoo!
  19. Friday, April 11th, 2014
    I think this is so important. Setting goals is important and achieving them is even more important. There is a fine line between setting goals that are too easy and setting goals that are realistic. Goals should put us to the limits - but not over the edge.
  • Meet Shannon

    "As a Certified Financial Planner, it is my passion to help individuals and families build a healthy relationship with money. I look forward to helping you raise financially confident kids.” - Shannon Ryan