Set a goal, make a plan

The discipline you exercise today can lead you straight to your ultimate financial goals, writes Sally Patten.

When we try to lose weight we inevitably formulate a plan. In my case, it is usually reducing my evening intake to a bowl of vegetable soup a couple of times a week and cutting out sugar.

Then we set a goal. 

Why does it seem so normal to have weight-loss plans and goals, but so abnormal to use a similar methodology to save for things that are just as important, or probably more important, than being thinner?

Goals that spring to mind could be that holiday in Mexico, an apartment, the kids' school fees, a wedding or enough money to live on in retirement.

"If you don't have goals, you are guaranteed not to achieve them," says Claire Mackay, a director of advice firm Quantum Financial.

It is the sort of logic against which it is hard to argue. Like me, Mackay believes in starting small. Taking lunch to work and not buying that second coffee every day are cliches, but they work.

Even if you buy a big round of drinks for your friends on Friday, at least you are not buying that round as well as forking out for all that caffeine during the week.


"Those big expenses are only affordable if you are building little amounts to get there," says Mackay, referring to our ultimate goals.

Part of the beauty of taking care of the small stuff is that it teaches sound habits. Whether it be saving for a holiday on the coast or retirement, much of the basic building blocks are the same. Saving is simply deferring consumption today until some point in the future.

So, set a goal and make a plan. The plan to buy a property could include living as if you are already paying down a mortgage, setting aside those extra dollars.

The retirement plan, even for younger women, could involve voluntarily contributing to superannuation. Even if it is a few dollars a week it adds up to more than you can imagine.

And don't be afraid to tell your friends that you might not be able to go to the pub every Friday night because you are saving up for something. It's not that naff – and the idea might catch on.

Goal setting is part of the job description for Carolyn Roberts.

The mother of three manages all aspects of the household to enable a "good family life" on one income.

This includes managing the family budget. Or micro-managing.

"Marcus, my husband, is a senior teacher in the private system; he's on a good wage and we should be doing well but life is expensive," says Roberts. "Because there's not a lot of money in my household I've got find it where I can. I've got to see where the money is and keep track of it and I've got to plan how to use it in the best way."

The psychology graduate sets monthly and annual financial goals which she rarely fails to reach. The primary goal is not paying down the mortgage on their home in Melbourne's outer east but funding their annual holiday to the NSW south coast.

"I came from a place where my parents were migrants and I grew up in housing commission," says Roberts, the youngest of nine. "There was never any money but we always went away on holidays. They're my good memories. That's why it's important to do that now, for the kids, to still have time off and have a good time.

It's more important at this point than paying off the mortgage.

With her youngest child now at school, Roberts's next goal is to return to work part time.

The 44-year-old plans to use that income for maintenance on the house while still maintaining a simple lifestyle.

"There's been points in our lives when Marcus has earned a lot of money and we could have set ourselves up but we chose to travel overseas and to study," she says.

"Marcus career-changed to teaching because he wanted a job with meaning. We've never been motivated by money. Now family is the priority."

Case study by Natasha Hughes


December 2015