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7 Tips for Setting Financial Goals in the New Year

New Year’s resolution ideas are plentiful during the holiday season. Sometimes getting your financial house in order gets lost amid the social media and commercial plague urging consumers to better their mental health, eat veggies and quit smoking — not that those are bad goals!

Along with traditional New Year’s resolutions such as weight loss and developing a new hobby, why not put financial well-being at the top of your list?

It’s worth considering your financial goals as of New Year’s Day because Americans say their financial health is worse now than before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Nerdwallet survey. The research shows that more than a third of Americans (37%) say they have stopped saving and about 35% have had to use emergency funds to pay for everyday items. Fifty-nine percent of Americans also say the current U.S. economy has made them feel less confident about their personal finances.

How might you change your life — your financial life, that is — in 2023? Let’s take a look and a few tips. Now’s the perfect time to make changes!

7 Tips for Setting Financial Goals

Setting financial goals doesn’t happen for you. You have to make financial goals happen. Being intentional about them helps make it more likely that you will hit your goals. Let’s take a look at a few tips for setting financial goals.

Tip 1: Write down financial goals.

Dr. Gail Matthews, psychology professor at Dominican University in California, created a study on goal setting. She found that you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals just by writing them down.

If you adopt a gratitude journal, add in a few financially healthy habits you’d like to achieve. If you already know of some bad habits you’d like to squash, this task might seem easy. Check out some suggestions you may want to consider over the course of daily life:

  • Live below your means.
  • Make time to meet with a financial advisor.
  • Start budgeting.
  • Pay off debt.
  • Automate your finances.
  • Add to (or start) your emergency fund.
  • Grow your investments.
  • Get the right insurance for your particular situation.
  • Review your investments and bank statements.
  • Eliminate charges you don’t use (like gym memberships and magazine subscriptions you don’t read).

Writing down the healthy financial habits you want to achieve will help you organize your list of new year’s goals and help orient you for the rest of the year.

Tip 2: Write down what you need to achieve your goals.

How much do you need to reach your goals? Do you need to save $40,000 for a down payment on a house? That’s a concrete figure you can add to your to-do list.

How much will that new car cost? That vacation home? The college education for your kids? Get as close as you can to concrete figures for everything on your list, even if they make you cringe. If you have a hard time writing down such large figures, remember that you don’t always need a gigantic monetary figure to achieve them.

Setting goals usually involves taking small bites out of a larger goal. If you plan to save $40,000 for a down payment for a house, what does that mean over the course of five years?

It means saving $666.67 per month for 60 months, which might seem a lot more palatable than looking at that massive $40,000 figure.

Tip 3: Write down action steps toward those goals.

Unfortunately, just writing down your goals won’t ensure that you take action. You have to take steps to achieve them. For example, let’s consider a non-financial goal, such as getting more sleep every night. If you wanted to achieve eight hours of sleep every night and you currently get five, you may want to consider increasing your bedtime hours to a half hour every night, like this:

Day 1: Five hours of sleep.

Day 2: Five and a half hours of sleep.

Day 3: Six hours of sleep.

Day 4: Six and a half hours of sleep.

Day 5: Seven hours of sleep.

Day 6: Seven and a half hours of sleep.

Day 7: Eight hours of sleep.

How will you reach the financial goals you’ve put on your list? Let’s use the emergency fund goal as a sample financial goal.

Let’s say you have a goal of saving $1,000 in your emergency fund over the course of the next six months. Your steps might look like this:

Step 1: Open up a money market account or savings account.

Step 2: Automate $166.67 to go into the account over the next six months after you receive your paycheck.

Step 3: Reevaluate your goal after six months.

Whatever your financial goal, carefully consider how you can get there. If you’re not sure about one of your goals, like how to build a $2 million nest egg, you may have to do some research to write your next steps or involve other experts in the process, such as a financial advisor.

Imagine how much more successful you might be if you write down your next steps to achieving your goals. Putting the roadmap in front of you can help you achieve your goals over the next week, next month or next year.

Your action steps might require you to get creative, such as learning a new skill or using skills you already have to work a side hustle.

Tip 4: Consider all your future goals.

What are your future goals? Do you want to retire with $2 million in the bank? Save for your child’s college fund with UNest? Consider all the little things and also dream big. Write down all your wildest desires, from your long-held desire to visit Patagonia to your yearnings to build a home in the Smoky Mountains. Whatever they are (and no matter how silly they sound), write them down. Get as specific as possible, because specific goals that you can see may seem more attainable than vague goals. For example, you may want to:

  • Increase your salary
  • Eliminate all non-mortgage debt
  • Save for retirement
  • Save for your children’s education
  • Create a long-term charitable plan for your money
  • Make an end-of-life plan
  • Become financially independent
  • Become a millionaire

Think longer-term — 10 years or more. It might be hard to think of 10 years into the future, so brainstorm with your spouse or partner. They may bring more to the table — and may have some surprise dreams you knew nothing about! It’s important to consider their dreams as well because neither of you want to be surprised later on. Imagine that your husband had always wanted to land by a lake in the mountains, while you always wanted to live by a beach. You don’t want to end up in a stalemate with your mutual life goals, so work together on your long-term goals.

Tip 5: Tackle debt.

Debt is one of the largest hindrances to wealth building.

More than 64 million Americans carry credit card debt, according to the Urban Institute, while an Experian study found that 340 million Americans currently carry some form of debt. Having debt can negatively impact your life. Not only can it prevent you from buying things on a month-to-month basis, it can also increase your debt-to-income ratio (the amount of debt you have relative to your income) so you can’t get a loan. You may also sacrifice the best interest rates when qualifying for a loan. You may even get rejected for certain jobs because you carry too much debt.

In short, one of the best things you can do for your financial future involves squashing debt completely. Try making more than the minimum payment on your debt, try the debt snowball method of debt repayment (where you make the minimum payments on all your debt except for the smallest debt, which you try to pay off as fast as possible).

You may also consider refinancing your debt to pay it off faster. For example, you may consider switching from a 30-year mortgage to a 15-year mortgage so you pay off your home 15 years more quickly.

Finally, consider getting out of debt more quickly by putting any extra money you have toward it. For example, if you receive a mid-year bonus from your employer, consider putting that money toward your debt instead of spending it.

Tip 6: Declutter your finances.

Do you have money parked in three different banks? Do you have a couple of retirement funds from old employers sitting around? (No worries, we’ve all been there.)

Just like decluttering your home makes you feel mentally freer about living there, decluttering your finances can make you feel better about navigating your money. Here are a few simple ways to declutter your finances:

  • Roll over your 401(k) accounts from former employees into a traditional IRA.
  • Get rid of debt.
  • Automate everything, from rolling money in retirement funds to paying bills.
  • Get rid of excess spending.
  • Stop getting paper statements.

Tip 7: Get help if you need it.

Don’t feel as if you have to declutter, plan or create goals all by yourself. These are all a big deal to figure out and most people need the help of a professional. You don’t want to end up letting life “happen” to you instead of organizing your life so that it fits your vision. You want to get exactly what you want out of life.

Look for a financial advisor in your local area. Ask people you know and trust, such as your brother-in-law, friends, coworkers and others who they’ve chosen as their financial advisor. Once you get a few names, sit down and interview the individuals who these people have recommended. You want to feel as comfortable as possible with the person you work with financially for many years, and you also don’t want to have a financial advisor in New York if you live in California — you want as much ready access to your financial advisor as possible.

Get a Financial Goal

Finance goals don’t have to be a DIY project. Get help! Your future hinges on it. It’s also a good idea to revisit your financial goals every year to make sure they’re on track. Make sure they become as commonplace as most common New Year’s resolutions.

If you put “saving for college for your kids” on your goal list. UNest offers flexible tax-advantaged custodial accounts for minors. Your family and friends can contribute money to kids’ UNest investment accounts using a shareable gift link. You can save on taxes with a UNest Investment Account. The first $1,100 of the earnings is completely tax-free! 

Download the UNest app today.


This material is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as financial, legal, or tax advice. You should consult your own financial, legal, and tax advisors before engaging in any transaction. Information, including hypothetical projections of finances, may not take into account taxes, commissions, or other factors which may significantly affect potential outcomes. This material should not be considered an offer or recommendation to buy or sell a security. While information and sources are believed to be accurate, UNest does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any information or source provided herein and is under no obligation to update this information.