How to Set SMART Money Goals and Get Everything You Want

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You want to save money, but how? When you’re a single mom on a tight budget, saving for anything can feel impossible.

The key to successful saving plans is setting SMART goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-oriented

Framing your goals this way gives you a much better shot at reaching them and continuing forward financially. When you come up with your SMART savings goal, make sure to write it down. According to research, writing down your goal makes you 42% more likely to achieve it.

Step 1: Be Specific

When you’re thinking about your savings goal, make it crystal clear so you can picture it in your head. Saying “I want to save more money,” for example, won’t make it happen. But add specifics to that idea, like “I want to save $1,000 for emergencies” and you’re already one step closer to making it happen. Imagine what it will feel like when your car blows a tire (or your kid needs a trip to Urgent Care, or your sink backs up) and you don’t have to worry about where the money will come from.

Step 2: Make It Measurable 

Without an easy way to measure your progress, you might get frustrated and give up on your goal. By making your goal measurable (“save $1,000 in my emergency fund by June 1”), you can see how every dollar you save brings you closer – and that can help keep you motivated.

I like to slice my main goal into easily reachable mini-goals to keep my motivation up, like celebrating every $200 along the way (with chocolate). Figure out a reasonable check-in period so you don’t end up measuring too often, which can be very discouraging and derail your whole plan. For short-term goals (less than 2 years), don’t check in more than once a month. For longer-term goals, like retirement savings, you can check in once a year.

Step 3: Make It Achievable and Realistic

To meet your savings goal, it has to be possible, something you can realistically achieve. If your budget doesn’t have room to save as much as you want ($1,000 in 6 months, for example), you have three choices:

  1. Change your goal specifics by decreasing the dollar amount or extending the time period ($500 in 6 months, for example, or $1,000 in 1 year)
  2. Go into a temporary bare-bones budget mode, where you don’t spend any money on things you don’t absolutely need to survive – food, housing, transportation, medical care
  3. Bring in extra money to put toward your goal with a side gig or a second job, at least until you reach your goal

Step 4: Set a Timer

Time boundaries help you start saving, stick to your plan, and reach your goal. With a defined end-point, tracking becomes easier: When you want to save $1,000 in 6 months, you know you need to save $167 each month to meet that goal. Without a timeframe, your goal will seem less important and easier to ignore. Setting a hard deadline is one of the best ways to keep yourself on track.

Step 5: List Your Steps

Once you’ve defined your SMART goal and written it down, your next move will be to list the steps you have to take to meet your goal. For example, with a savings goal, your steps might include

  • opening a new, separate savings account
  • setting up automatic transfers into the account (so you never forget to save)
  • setting reminders for periodic check-ins
  • the first check-in (you can list each check in separately, and track how much closer you are to your goal)

Cross off every step as you finish it. Studies show that crossing things off a list as you complete them releases feel-good brain chemicals, so you’ll feel even better about getting closer to your goal.

Need more help with savings? Click here to contact me, and together we can come up with a plan. If you’d rather DIY but need some more ideas, you’ll find hundreds of tips in my book Budgeting 101, available on Amazon with this affiliate link.

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