Get Your Money on Track by Setting Short, Medium and Long-Term Goals

Get Your Money on Track by Setting Short, Medium and Long-Term Goals
Photo: Rido, Shutterstock
At Lifehacker, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW - prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.

For many people — if not most of us — money is mysterious. One second you just got paid and feel like a billionaire, the next moment you feel flat broke and are Googling how to make ketchup soup or how much 22-cent ramen someone can consume before dying of sodium poisoning.

The continuing success of lotteries and casinos proves that few of us understand money, but it’s not actually as complicated as it might seem. You don’t need to understand maths or how to short a stock in order to master the fundamentals of money: All you need is a set of clear goals. Breaking down your financial goals into short-, medium-, and long-term ones is a good way to tailor them in a way that will benefit you.

Short-term goals will benefit you almost immediately — at least within the next year. Medium-term goals will make your life easier in the next few years. And Long-term goals will chiefly benefit Future You, resplendent in some sort of shiny futuristic unitard, blaster strapped to their hip. But trust me: Future You will appreciate your work. Think about how much you resent Past You for their dietary and romantic decisions, and invert it: That’s how much Future You will love you for making smart money decisions today.

Short term: Set up a specific vacation or holiday fund

Photo: phichak, ShutterstockPhoto: phichak, Shutterstock

Short-term savings get overlooked because of our collectively freaked-out focus on retiring in a society that views old age as a depressing Hunger Games situation. But setting up an aggressive, short-term savings plan for a specific goal is a powerful experience to get what you want without going into debt — all it takes is a little patience.

Your local bank likely still offers an old-school “Christmas Club”-style account, but consider simply opening an online, FDIC-insured savings account instead. It’s secure, flexible, and you’ll earn some interest. Best of all, when you book your vacation you won’t have to worry about paying off a credit card or selling some blood to make ends meet.

Short term: Create the right budget for you, and stick to it

Photo: fizkes, ShutterstockPhoto: fizkes, Shutterstock

It’s boring! It’s not sexy! But a budget will absolutely change your life. A budget is all about understanding your relationship to money — you will be amazed at some of the things you discover, like the fact that you apparently spend $US500 ($692) a month on Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Beyond that, a budget is the first step in reducing those expenses and saving some money, so make 2022 the year you make one — and stick to the changes it inspires.

Short term: Reduce your utility expenses

energy rating australia
Image: iStock/SolStock

Another way to lower your monthly spending is to make sure you’re not overpaying with your current electricity provider. The best way to do this is to compare your current costs to other energy providers in your area. We’ve partnered with a powerful comparison tool called eConnex to help make this process fast and easy. You can even use your most current bill details to get an accurate comparison. Enter your postcode in the box below to get started.

Where are you located?

Currently available in ddd, ACT, SA, VIC, parts of QLD, TAS & WA (only Gas). Not available in Ergon Area (QLD), NT and embedded networks or non-quotable meters.

Short term: Choose your debt-reduction strategy

Photo: fizkes, ShutterstockPhoto: fizkes, Shutterstock

Paying off your debt is obvious, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Whether we’re talking credit cards, student loans, or medical debt (or all of it in one horrifying storm of monthly statements), there are a few simple steps you can take to make this happen: Consolidate where you can with balance transfers or loans, start paying more than the minimums where you can, and apply the classic Snowball Strategy.

Short term: Finally invest in the stock market

Photo: photo.ua, ShutterstockPhoto: photo.ua, Shutterstock

There are two connected truths about the stock market: One, most of the people who own stocks are wealthy, and two, owning stock is the best way to get that way. If you’re wondering why you’re not retired and jet-setting around the world yet, investing in the stock market is a good way to rectify that situation. That doesn’t mean opening a Robinhood account and joining /r/WallStreetBets — it means meeting with a financial advisor and setting aside some funds that you can invest.

Short term: Reevaluate your small, recurring expenses

For most people, the problem with their budget isn’t big-ticket items — it’s the small stuff. No one’s struggling because they purchased a Ferrari on impulse — it’s death by a thousand cuts.

Do a deep dive into your expenses and look for the ones you can eliminate. Are you paying for every streaming service under the sun? Consider rotating through them one at a time instead. Do you and your partner pay for separate accounts all the time? Sharing logins can save you some serious money. Look at every expense and ask yourself if you need it, or if there’s an alternative that would be cheaper.

Short term: Review your types of insurance

Photo: Radovan1, ShutterstockPhoto: Radovan1, Shutterstock

A common blind spot for people are the things that are simultaneously necessary and mind-meltingly boring, like insurance. Yes, you need various insurance — health, home, renter’s — but a good goal for 2022 would be to review your various policies and ensure you have the right coverage. No sense in paying for coverage you’ll never use, but on the flip side, the worst time to discover you don’t actually have comprehensive car insurance is when a tree branch falls on your vehicle or your house starts to crumble.

Short term: Ask for a raise

Photo: PK Studio, ShutterstockPhoto: PK Studio, Shutterstock

The old saying that money can’t solve your problems is obvious hogwash: There isn’t a single problem you can have in this world that wouldn’t at least be improved by more money. So, a great goal for 2022 is to have more money coming in. In the long-term, that could mean a lot of things, like starting a business or changing jobs (or careers). In the short-term, why not just ask for a raise? This is especially important lately, as inflation is on the rise. Here’s some advice on how to ask.

Short term: Choose your side hustle

Photo: Champion studio, ShutterstockPhoto: Champion studio, Shutterstock

Another short-term goal for improving your financial situation could be identifying a way to make a little extra money using one of your many skills. The key to a great side hustle is to pick something you enjoy doing if at all possible, and to monitor how much time and effort you’re putting into it to avoid burnout. This can also be something of a long-term goal if you think you might someday make your side hustle into your main hustle.

Short term: Host a garage sale to make some money and start fresh

Photo: Elena Rostunova, ShutterstockPhoto: Elena Rostunova, Shutterstock

Combine two great goals into one by going through all your junk and identifying stuff you might be able to sell. This could be a single, old-school garage sale event or an ongoing project where you slowly sell off all the precious stuff you haven’t looked at in years.

Bonus: It can make your home neater and more comfortable, and if you’ve been carrying the cost of a storage unit, you might be able to get that money back. Maximise the positive effect by using the money you make to start a savings account or as an investment seed.

Short term: Try living way below your means

Photo: Anton Gvozdikov, ShutterstockPhoto: Anton Gvozdikov, Shutterstock

The maths is simple. As Charles Dickens once wrote, “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six , result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.” But if you manage to spend exactly as much as you earn, is that really a victory?

Make it a goal in 2022 to live way below your means and bank the extra scratch. Lowering your living expenses significantly is the same net effect as getting a raise, after all.

Medium term: Save up for a house down payment

Photo: James Andrews1, ShutterstockPhoto: James Andrews1, Shutterstock

This one’s also kind of basic, but goals won’t set themselves. Cobbling together a down payment on a house is a terrific medium-term goal. Depending on where you want to buy that house, your income, and other factors like military service, you can put that down payment together in a few years.

Generally speaking, you should try to have 20 per cent of your home’s purchase price to put down. For first-time buyers, you can look into FHA loans, which only require 3.5 per cent down (but often require other expenses, like private mortgage insurance). And loans acquired through the Department of Veterans Affairs don’t require a down payment at all.

Medium term: Make an extra mortgage payment

Photo: Joe Hendrickson, ShutterstockPhoto: Joe Hendrickson, Shutterstock

If you already own a house, a great goal for next year would be to make some extra mortgage payments. Usually, you can pay off your mortgage faster than scheduled without any sort of penalty, and every extra payment shaves interest costs from the life of the loan. Some banks will allow you to set up bi-monthly payments where your mortgage is split into two and paid twice a month — this has the magical effect of logging 13 payments in a year instead of 12 — which can shave up to eight years off the life of the loan if you keep it up.

Medium term: Buy a new car with cash

Photo: alexfan32, ShutterstockPhoto: alexfan32, Shutterstock

Credit is a great tool, but not all credit is created equal. A car is a necessity and sometimes a joy to own, but it’s also one of the worst investments you can make — new cars lose about 20 per cent of their value in the first year, and 60 per cent by year five. Financing the purchase just makes things worse, because you’re paying even more for a depreciating asset.

A good medium-term goal would be saving up enough money to buy a new car with cash and you’ll get a much better deal — especially because salespeople will often give you a better price if you’re not financing.

Medium term: Establish a significant emergency fund

Photo: teh_z1b, ShutterstockPhoto: teh_z1b, Shutterstock

This goal always gets filed under the “easier said than done” category, because once you have a few dollars set aside it’s difficult not to spend them. In fact, less than 40 per cent of Americans have $US1,000 ($1,384) set aside to cover emergencies. Make 2022 the year you finally accumulate a true emergency fund that covers your necessary expenses (housing, food, medical care, etc) for at least three months (the longer, obviously, the better).

For some folks this could be a short-term goal, but for many it will take a little longer, and that’s ok. This will insulate you from disasters like unexpected hospital stays, job losses, or finally diving into cryptocurrency speculation.

Medium term: Pay off all of your credit card and student loan debt

Photo: Teerasak Ladnongkhun, ShutterstockPhoto: Teerasak Ladnongkhun, Shutterstock

This is another very basic goal that far too many people flake on. Paying down your debts is the easiest way to improve your finances (and thus your life), and starting with high-interest credit cards is a no-brainer (again, the snowball technique is a solid approach to the problem).

And if you’re waiting for someone in Washington to forgive your student loans, you might be waiting a long, long time, so make it a goal to get organised in terms of those payments as well — and don’t forget you can refinance your student loans just like any other loan.

Long term: Financial independence

Photo: CRYSTAL RICKETSON, ShutterstockPhoto: CRYSTAL RICKETSON, Shutterstock

Long-term financial goals often seem impossible at first, but they really just take time and patient effort. Financial independence is something everyone should be working towards.

What that means is that you have enough income from assets (investments, properties, etc.) to cover all of your living expenses, so you no longer need a job. Keep in mind that attaining financial independence isn’t just about having more income — it can also be about lowering the cost of your lifestyle to match the assets you have.

Long term: Create passive income

Photo: Aleks822, ShutterstockPhoto: Aleks822, Shutterstock

Passive income feels like magic: It’s money that flows to you without any work on your part. Investments can be passive, but there’s a wide variety of passive channels you can explore (like making money from vending machines, for example).

A small business that you hand over to employees, a piece of intellectual property like a book that you set up for sale online, rental income, private loans — there are many ways to set up passive income streams, and you can set up as many as you like. Make it a goal to set up at least one reliable source of passive income and you’ll take the first step to not having to work for a living.

Long term: Being able to finally retire

Photo: Scott Heaney, ShutterstockPhoto: Scott Heaney, Shutterstock

The ultimate long-term goal is to retire, but an increasing number of people see a real, traditional retirement with the constant golfing and cruising around the world as out of reach. Which makes sense when you consider that 25 per cent of Americans have exactly zero retirement savings.

But 2022 is when you change that narrative and start making plans. No matter how old you are or how much money you have (or don’t have) saved up, it’s literally never too late to start saving for retirement — you just might need to be more aggressive with your investment strategies.

Log in to comment on this story!