Written By: Peter Byrd

Maybe you’ve had that steadfast vision of shifting gears in the front seat of a new two-door sports car. Or perhaps, you yearn to have your toes in the sand, umbrella drink in your hand on a tropical island. Whether you are trying to save for your kids’ education, retire early or anything in between, you can benefit by examining and adjusting your goal-setting process.

For the past two years, my lifelong best friend has lived in San Diego. Taking a trip to visit him has been at the top of my list of things to accomplish for a while now. His siblings have been to visit. Other friends from college have been to visit. But I, his closest confidant, have dropped the ball on a visit of my own to Southern California.


My goal to make it to San Diego hasn’t been a SMART one.  A SMART goal is an acronym for a goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. Too often, we can get caught up in desiring a certain outcome in life without first developing an actionable plan on how to make it a reality.

Let’s assess how to make smarter goals.

First, our goals need to be specific. Perhaps you desire to leave the workforce a full 12 months earlier than planned. Or maybe, you’ll sleep better at night with no mortgage payment over your head and commit to paying an extra $2,500 in principal per year (if there is no prepayment penalty). Maybe, there is a dream vacation to Greece you wish to take. My goal is a trip to San Diego this July for a long weekend of food trucks and beach exploration. It’s important to define who, what, and where during this step of the process.

Next, our goals need to be measurable. Find a measure of progress or evidence to help you identify if you are on track to meeting your goals. You may have a magic number for your 401(k) balance that you want to have accumulated by a certain age. Or you may be hoping to put a dent in your credit card debt this year. You should begin to see the fruits of your labor in the buildup to reaching your milestone. Also, make sure your goals are congruent with your values and beliefs. Attaining your goals can be measured by the emotional response they elicit. How much satisfaction would acquiring that final Frida Kahlo painting for your art collection bring?

Third, we need to make our goals achievable. Assess if you have the ability, skill and/or discipline to see a goal come to fruition. Sacrifices may have to be made during this step. Identify what may be stopping you from attaining your goal and seek to find a solution. For me to buy a flight and have spending cash in San Diego, I will cut my eating out and brewery budget in half for the next 4 months. I will also do Herschel Walker-style workouts at home to save on the cost of gym membership. Are there areas of your budget or lifestyle that can be modified to help you reach your goals?

Next, make your goal realistic, and if need be, re-frame it. Does the goal fit with other priorities in your life? You may have the ability and intellect to go back to school and earn a PhD, but is it realistic if you are already juggling work and family duties? Too often, people feel bogged down by what they perceive to be unrealistic goals and, consequently, may even give up on them. Paying an extra $2,500 in mortgage principal per year may seem daunting until you realize that it translates to saving a more manageable $48 per week. In football, a perfect season may be the end goal, but coaches and players rally behind going 1-0 each week. This allows for small wins along the way that provide a sense of satisfaction. Reframing your goals to be more realistic can be an effective psychological tool for helping you cross the finish line.

Finally, our goals must be time-bound. In other words, they need a target date. So you want that new Lexus? Great! Now put a timeframe on it. Is this a three-year endeavor or one that is 10 years down the road? My target date for my trip is end of July. I’m happy to report that the wheels are in motion on making it a reality. Whether it’s saving money or booking a flight well in advance, having a defined date forces us to work toward achieving our goals. For long-term goals, reframe them to set smaller thresholds to meet along the way. If you don’t meet your goal in time, you should at least, a) be closer than where you started — thanks to enacting the SMART process, and b) create a new target date.

We all have goals of what we want to accomplish in life – both in the short and long-term. Having a goal is one thing; attaining that goal is another. Success can be made easier by following the five-step process outlined above. If you set SMART goals for yourself, you’ll be well on your way to tangibly achieving your aspirations and living a happier life.

If you’d like help developing a SMART plan to reach your next goal, please reach out to your financial team at Agili. We’ll be happy to help!