Financial Goals Examples—And How You Can Actually Achieve Them

A woman signing a contract, illustrating how to achieve financial goals

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Amanda Cardoso
Amanda Cardoso
July 21, 2024 at 9:50PM UTC

Having financial goals plays a big role in our relationship with money. When we dream of buying or doing something that costs a bit—like getting a car or going on a trip—it pushes us to learn how to budget, readjust our spending habits, and save money. It gives us purpose.

However, not everyone can set financial goals on their own and simply take each day as it comes. Some might not be keen on thinking too far ahead, while others may want to plan but struggle with setting and achieving realistic goals. 

If you're in the second group, today's the day things change. We've put together 10 examples of financial goals to help you understand what they really are, plus expert tips on how to achieve them.

What are financial goals?

By definition, a financial goal is a “specific, measurable, and achievable objective that an individual sets for themselves to manage their finances effectively,” says Emma Davidson,  High-risk Payment Consultant at Emerchant Authority, MBA in Finance from New York University.

Unlike life goals, financial goals always directly involve money. “Many financial goals are also life goals, but not all life goals are financial goals,” says Melanie Musson, personal finance expert with Insurance Providers

Sure, some life goals also require money, but they're not always as tied to your finances as financial goals are. “You may have a life goal of getting married, completing a marathon, going skydiving, or maintaining lifelong friendships,” Musson says. “Those things aren’t directly related to finances. Buying a house is a financial goal and also a life goal.” 

How do long-term financial goals differ from short-term financial goals?

Financial goals come in two main types: short-term and long-term. You can usually achieve a short-term goal within a year or less, while long-term goals can take a decade to become a reality. 

A short-term financial goal might include saving for an emergency fund worth six months of monthly expenses and paying off credit card debt. Meanwhile, a long-term financial goal could be saving for retirement.

“Short-term goals are often steps to long-term goals,” Musson says. “So, if you have credit card debt, you may have a short-term goal of paying off one credit card in a year. But you may have a related long-term goal of eliminating all credit card debt and maintaining a zero revolving balance.” 

Between those two, there are also medium-term goals, which “typically take a few years to achieve, like saving for a car or college,” Davidson says. It's common to see these examples categorized as either short-term and long-term goals in finance books or apps—and there isn't really a strict rule on how to classify them. 

Financial situations vary among individuals, and what might take you 12 months to achieve could take someone else up to three years. 

10 financial goals examples—and how to achieve them

We've gathered 10 of the most common financial goals and asked finance experts advice on how to achieve them. The list is split into short-term and long-term financial goals, but feel free to set your own timeline based on your financial situation, priorities, and lifestyle.

Short-term financial goals examples

1. Paying off credit card debt

Paying off debt is a great way to kickstart your path to financial health—especially when it comes to high-interest credit cards. To settle credit card debt, figure out a manageable monthly payment and avoid adding new charges to your card. 

By refraining from new purchases, you'll clear your debt faster and free up money for other goals. It's important to make payments on time to steer clear of late fees and protect your credit score.

2. Building an emergency fund

If you're aiming to build emergency savings, start by opening a dedicated savings account. Keeping your savings separate from your checking account can help avoid the temptation to spend. Next, determine how much you want to save. 

While many experts suggest saving six months' worth of living expenses, this goal might not be realistic for everyone.  Ideally, aim to save at least three  months' worth of essential expenses. This can help cover for potential unexpected expenses and keep you away from credit card debt.

Calculate how much you can comfortably transfer into your savings each month from your paycheck. Personal finance experts recommend saving up to 20% of your income, following the 50/30/20 rule. If you have debt or other financial obligations, start with saving between 5% and 10%, until you're able to save more.

3. Buying a car

Looking to buy a new car? The key is to develop discipline in saving money. If you haven't set a budget yet, take some time to budget your expenses and figure out how much you can save each month. This will help you determine how long it will take to save up for the car you want.

If you're considering a loan, keep in mind that your credit score plays a crucial role. To improve your chances of getting one, focus on paying off any existing debt and consistently paying your bills on time to build a solid credit history.

4. Funding a vacation 

Those looking forward to a vacation should start financial planning at least a year in advance. “Save all year,” Musson says. “Make a vacation budget and spread the cost over 12 months. That way, when your vacation comes, you’ll be ready with all the money you’ve saved over the year.” 

Your budget should cover typical expenses like plane or bus tickets, accommodation, food, and beverage, with an extra amount just in case a thing or two don't go as planned. “Research affordable lodging options and consider budgeting for unexpected expenses,” Davidson says.

Long-term financial goals examples

5. Buying a house 

According to a 2022 Bankrate survey published by The New York Times, becoming a homeowner is still the American Dream. If you're among the 74% of Americans who view homeownership as the ultimate benchmark of prosperity, there are three important steps you should take. “Save for a down payment, improve credit score, and research mortgage options,” Davidson says.

“Ideally, you’ll have 20% of the property price to put down so you can avoid paying mortgage insurance and get the best interest rates,” Musson says. 

To help with goal setting, do some market research. “Figure out a realistic budget and work to get there even before you start your home-buying process. For example, figure out the mortgage of a home in your price range, including taxes and insurance. You can pay your rent from that figure and then save the rest,” she says.

6. Paying off student loans 

For those with student loans, tackling the debt is similar to paying credit card debt. “Create a repayment plan, prioritize high-interest loans, and consider income-driven repayment plans,” Davidson says. An income-driven repayment (IDR) plan adjusts your payment amount based on your income and family size. You can apply for it on the Federal Students Aid website.

7. Paying college tuition 

College education can be expensive, but many students and parents dream of saving for tuition. Given its high cost, it's crucial to start saving as soon as possible. “Save up before you go to school, apply for scholarships, and work while you’re in school,” Musson says. 

“The more you can pay when you’re going to school, the lower your loan payments will be. Scholarships can be as financially beneficial as a full-time job, so make sure you devote a lot of time to applying for scholarships,” she adds.

8. Launching a business 

Another common aspiration for workers, and even students, is starting a business and becoming self-employed. If that's on your list of financial goals, three important steps include writing a business plan, secure funding, and networking, Davidson advises. The good news: Women can apply for small business grants specifically offered for women-owned businesses.

“Work with a mentor so you have a full understanding of the costs starting a business will require,” Musson says. “Remember that a business will build its own credit, so make sure you treat your business and its financial responsibilities with the same care you give your own personal credit. The better your credit, the better loan terms you’ll qualify for.”

9. Retiring

“Retirement is something everyone looks forward to, but too few people prepare for,” Musson says. “Start saving for retirement as early as your first job. Establishing good habits will help you stick with saving instead of eliminating retirement contributions as soon as the slightest financial hurdle arises.”

Your retirement account choice is also an important aspect of your plan, as some have more advantages than others. “Take advantage of employer-matched retirement accounts and consider consulting a financial advisor,” Davidson says.

10. Becoming financially independent

Whether you're tired of living paycheck to paycheck or simply want to leave your dream lifestyle without money worries, becoming financially independent is a long-term financial goal that requires tons of planning and discipline. 

Begin by creating a budget worksheet and paying off debt, then think about getting multiple streams of income, and finish by investing to grow your wealth. You can start solo, but as you get closer to your goals, it's wise to team up with a financial planner or advisor.

Key takeaways 

Financial goals should be specific, measurable, and achievable. They're split into short-term (achievable in 12 months or less) and long-term (taking years or even decades). To reach them, figure out your priorities, set timelines, and estimate what you'll need.

Of course, everyone's financial situation and lifestyle are different, so there's no one-size-fits-all timeline. Focus on what truly makes sense for you, not what others say you should want. Stay disciplined but cut yourself some slack. 

“Reaching your financial goals is a powerful motivator,” Musson says. “So, celebrate every goal reached. Whether it’s with a chai latte or an hour in the sunshine. Major goals, like paying off a credit card, can be celebrated with a dinner out or a good book. Then, when you attain your long-term goals, you can take a trip or reward yourself with something significant.” 

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