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How to Create a Written Plan for Your Financial Goals

Commanding and working in elite military organizations, I gained an appreciation for the importance of goal setting to ensure the organization continually  accomplished or exceeded all expectations. I also realized that without a detailed, well-thought-out written plan, achieving the set goals was left to chance. As we enter a new year – typically a time where many people set new goals – I want to introduce a framework for increasing your success.

Throughout this blog, I will share a written plan for a hypothetical couple with a new goal of saving an additional 5% of their income towards retirement by the end of 2023. Assume the couple makes a combined $100k in salary and bonuses per year, and currently saves 10%, or $10,000, towards retirement in their 401(k) plans.

Many of you may be familiar with the ‘SMART’ principle for setting goals, and it is a good place to start. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. This principle is a solid foundation for goal setting, but what happens next? What’s typically missing is a written Plan of Action (POA) containing numerous key components to ensure fulfilment of one’s goals, which includes: prioritization, why the goal is important, metrics, steps/habits to achieve goal, obstacles and countermeasures, and recognition of ‘Gains’ or ‘Wins’ while pursuing goal.

Identify the priority and importance of each goal. While you may have 3 or more goals, it is important to prioritize them to properly allocate resources if there is a conflict with a scarce resource such as money or time. If you find you have difficulty juggling multiple goals, narrowing your focus to working towards just one goal initially may yield better results. Additionally, if you are not able to articulate clearly why the goal is important, it’s much harder to sustain enthusiasm and self-discipline to achieve it. An initial build out of a goal may look something like this:

Pro Tip: You have a better chance of achieving your goals if everyone who will be affected by this Plan of Action (family, organization members, etc) contributes to and feels empowered by the development of the goals.

Develop metrics to monitor success. Identifying meaningful metrics will allow you to know if you are making progress toward achieving a goal. This is how you will identify ‘Gains’ when doing your weekly or monthly reviews.

Pro Tip: That which gets tracked gets done!

List steps and habits to work toward the goal. This step gets into the habits and processes you will implement to achieve your goal. They are the specified tasks, with a date to execute each task, which you must complete to ensure success.

Identify obstacles and countermeasures. This step identifies events, situations, or negative thoughts which might prevent you from achieving your goal.  Having a game plan of countermeasures in place for when you encounter the inevitable setbacks or obstacles should result in you feeling less anxious and provide the ability to take setbacks in stride while maintaining momentum towards your goal.

Recognize gains during goal reviews. As you work on the steps to achieve your goal, document your gains: where I am today vs. where I was yesterday. In the book The Gap and The Gain by strategic coach Dan Sullivan, Sullivan theorizes unsuccessful people focus on the “Gap,” while successful people focus on the “Gain.” The “Gap” lies between one’s current position vs. their goal. So, if your goal is to earn an additional $10k in 2023, and throughout the year you pick up odd jobs which increases your income $3k, and you receive a raise at work of $5k, you’re never truly satisfied if you consistently measure success against earning an additional $10k for the year. Accordingly, focusing on the “Gap” highlights the fact you are still $2k short of your goal. Thus, you fail to take satisfaction in your progress and, in the end, are unhappy and may give up on the overall goal. In contrast, living in the “Gain” recognizes your successes through the process, and measures success against where you were the previous day. When living in the “Gain,” one appreciates the steady and real progress ($3k income from odd jobs, $5k raise at work) made toward achieving your overall goal to increase income by $10k. This method allows you to set lofty goals, celebrate progress, maintain a positive mindset, and keep moving forward toward achievement of the goal.

Pro Tip: Review goals weekly or at least once a month. Set aside a 30-60 min block of time on your calendar where you are free from distractions and can focus solely on your goal status, wins, shortcomings, and path forward. Having an accountability partner often helps you stay on track towards your goals when you start feeling discouraged.   

An abbreviated version of the final written plan will look something like this:

As we begin 2023, I encourage everyone to take the time to reflect, identify goals for the new year, and follow through on developing a written plan of action. Having a strategy like the one detailed above can be the difference between simply wishing for success and achieving it!

Counterweight Private Wealth is a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with its principal offices in Raleigh, NC and Wilmington, NC. Registration of an investment adviser does not imply any specific level of skill or training and does not constitute an endorsement of the firm by the Commission. Counterweight Private Wealth only transacts business in states in which it is properly registered or is excluded or exempted from registration. A copy of Counterweight Private Wealth’s current written disclosure brochure filed with the SEC which discusses among other things, its business practices, services, and fees, is available through the SEC’s website at:

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