I have always set goals for myself. I actually LOVE setting goals. It is very encouraging to finish a task and cross it off my list.
However, I haven’t always written them down. In the past I have just kept a mental tally of everything I wanted to accomplish, but I think that some of the goals get lost. There is only so much a mind can remember. So, I have decided to write them down from now on.
Why set goals in the first place?
Good question. Goals can keep you focused on your vision – everything you want to accomplish. They can be long term, or short term goals. They can be difficult or easy. Having something to focus on gives you motivation and purpose when the end result seems far away or difficult to obtain. Good goals set a plan for how to accomplish what you desire, so you have a benchmark to track how well you are progressing.
The SMART approach to setting goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound) can be helpful if you are having trouble defining your goals.
I have found that the goals I set for myself naturally follow the SMART approach, so I don’t try to define how my goals meet each of the SMART criteria. Instead, I prefer to focus on the WHY and the HOW.
Many people set goals with only one of those in mind. It is easy to reduce your spending and max out your 401k and IRA contributions, but you might lose steam five years down the road if you haven’t accurately defined WHY you are pursing financial independence. And, while you might want to earn 20% annual returns, you still need a clear plan for HOW to accomplish that.
I frequently forget to think about the WHY, so that was main purpose for including it in every goal below.
In the future, I will probably post goals annually and then publish quarterly updates. But since I have not posted any goals and we are still a few months away from next year, I don’t want to wait until 2018.
Here are my goals for the rest of 2017!
1. Set up HSA for my wife and contribute maximum
A Health Savings Account is THE most tax efficient account you can get in the U.S. Why? Because you don’t pay taxes. Ever. Seriously.
I have had an HSA since I started my job out of college three years ago, but my wife (Chelsea) has not had access to an HSA through her recent employers, including the job she just started at the beginning of August. We are on separate healthcare plans (HDHP) because it is cheaper for us to each be on our own employers’ plans rather than sharing mine or hers.
We have no problem covering our current medical expenses and deductibles, so we will invest the money in the HSA’s and keep it there for a loooooong time, rather than taking money out to cover short term medical expenses.
Opening an HSA in my wife’s name will allow us to reduce our taxable income by the contribution limit of $3,400 per year. That money can then be invested (tax free) and withdrawn for medical expenses (tax free) at any time. Win-win.
Her employer doesn’t sponsor an HSA, so we will have to go elsewhere. We will have to choose an administrator on our own (sadly, Vanguard isn’t an option), but we haven’t quite decided which one to go with yet.
2. Max out IRA’s, HSA’s, and 401k
Setting a (short term) net worth goal by a specific date doesn’t make sense because so much is out of our control. Most of our wealth is invested in stocks, so we are more or less at the mercy of the market’s performance.
What we can control is how much money we save and invest. Here is how much money we plan to invest in each retirement account this year.
- IRA’s: $11,000
- HSA’s: $6,800
- 401k: $18,000
- Total: $35,800
Chelsea also has a mandatory 9% salary contribution to her pension. She does not have access to a 401k, 403b, or 457 plan, so we are using up all the tax advantaged account we can right now (unless we were to open a 529 for future kids’ college expenses). That means we fall about $15,000 short in tax advantaged contributions each year than if she had a 401k-equivalent account. Our plan is to invest the money that would have gone into a 403b/401k/537 in our taxable brokerage account.
As I said before in the previous goal, our taxable income will be reduced by by the amount we contribute to our retirement accounts (since we are doing all traditional this year – no Roth). Retirement accounts are the easiest way to build wealth because of the tax savings and ability to invest.
“Set it and forget it.” Everything is on autopilot! All we do is choose how much to contribute at the beginning of the year and the money is automatically transferred into our accounts. Isn’t technology glorious?
3. Increase cash savings to $20,000
This might seem a little out of place because of how much I talk about the simplicity and benefits of stock market investing. Cash isn’t good for building wealth, so why keep so much cash, much less make it a goal?
We are planning on buying a rental house in the first part of 2018, so we need cash for the purchase, renovations, and general maintenance. That explains why we need the cash.
Why real estate? We want a reliable source of semi-passive income in early retirement, so we have decided to build a real estate portfolio to provide at least some of that cash flow. Unlike stocks, we can use debt to purchase real estate and gain access to highly valued investments, which will (theoretically) accelerate our timeline to FI.
Well…by putting money into our savings account. This shouldn’t be too difficult for us since we have established good spending habits.
1. Post 2 or 3 times per week
I’m still trying to establish a reliable blogging schedule. Since it is done in my free time, I want to find a good balance between blogging and relaxing. I hope to have at least 60 total blog posts by the end of the year.
A consistent posting schedule will help me gain credibility and build trust as a blogger. I also want to build up my blog portfolio as quickly as possible, so the more posts I can consistently publish per week, the better.
I think I just need to sit down and write more. Short periods of writing in the mornings before work isn’t enough to focus on an entire post. I will probably need to block out a solid few hours on the weekend in order to write two posts in one sitting.
2. Develop relationships with other FIRE bloggers
The FIRE community has been great! I have already made a few “blog friends” and I would like to foster the relationships. This might take some time since I don’t have much credibility yet.
Primarily, I just want to be more involved in the community. It would be awesome to go to FinCon next year and actually have people to talk to!
I also want to be able to set up future opportunities for guest posts. This would increase my blog’s reach and help it grow.
I will continue interacting with other bloggers on Twitter, because that’s where most people seem to hang out. It would probably be good for me to become more active on the Rockstar Finance forums.
3. Increase monthly blog views to 1,000
This one isn’t really that important. I just want to continue to see steady growth in viewerhip each month, and 1,000 seems like a nice, round, attainable number. Trail to FI will get a little over 500 views in August, which is more than twice the views in July. I am sure this sounds low to a lot of the bloggers out there, but I think I am doing okey dokey for my second month of blogging. I don’t think I will have any trouble getting to 1,000 views per month by December.
It would be nice to eventually monetize the blog (like everyone else and their grandma) to at least recoup hosting costs. And simply: mo’ views, mo’ money. Also, viewership seems like a reasonably good way to track how many people find my blog interesting, and I like being interesting.
I will follow my 2 – 3 post per week schedule and continue to improve my blog writing. It’s like in that one famous movie:
If you write it, they will come.
I plan on promoting the blog a little more through social media. I have been neglecting Facebook and Pinterest, so those deserve more of my focus. I’m two days in to Pete‘s Pinterest email course to better understand the platform, and I have already learned more than I knew before.
1. Graduate with master’s!
This one is kind of a lame since I have been working toward my degree for the past 2.5 years. It’s definitely not a new goal. I only have one class left, and I’m on track to graduate in December.
My employer is paying for the degree, so there isn’t any financial burden on me. My salary should increase in the long run because of the degree, but if it doesn’t, then at least I got a free degree and learned some stuff.
Show up to class and turn in homework. I have already done most of the work for the degree, so there’s not much left to do…
2. Land a promotion
Recently I have felt like my career has stagnated slightly. I have been in my current position for three years now, and I don’t think my salary and responsibilities have increased proportionately to my experience.
I am also very used to my job now. I am quite comfortable with my daily responsibilities, which feels odd. All throughout high school and college, I felt pushed to perform at my best, but now I don’t because nothing feels new. I think it might be time for a change.
I don’t want to get bored with my career. I still have 10 years to go, and I would like to enjoy it. I do not want to coast to early retirement.
And, a higher salary accelerates our FI timeline.
I don’t have any secret plan to smooth talk my boss into promoting me. I am just going to keep doing my job well. I did mention to him that I was eligible for the next level up, so he said he would talk to the department head.
I am also talking to another group in my department whose work is more in line with my interests. I would like to eventually move over to that group. It is just a matter of speaking up for myself.
That’s it for my 2017 goals! I think that they are all reasonably attainable, but still push me to stay focused, especially the ones related to the blog. I will do an update in January to see how I did!
How do you like to set goals? Do we have any in common? What are your goals through the end of the year? Let me know in the comments!