More money goals, more problems — or at least that’s how it can feel when you’re trying to do all the right things financially at the same time. Shifting your attention from one thing to another can be exhausting and even slow your progress towards achieving your goals. But it is possible to multitask when it comes your money. Let’s take a deep breath, regroup, and explore how to smartly tackle multiple financial goals.
Begin with any debt.
Put it all in writing, starting with how much you owe. If you have multiple debts, you should list them out so you can see everything in one place. No matter which path you take to tackle them, it’s important to know the total amount you owe and how much it’s costing you in interest. Start by writing down everything in one place, including minimum payments due, annual percentage rates (or APRs) and current balances.
Make a game plan. There are two main schools of thought around paying down multiple debts. You can either tackle the debt with the lowest balance first or you can tackle debts in order of how expensive they are (ie: the APR). Each of these strategies has its own pros and cons, so choose the one that feels best for you. You can feel confident they’re both effective at prioritizing multiple debts.
Then consider your needs and wants.
Put a name to your savings goals. One of the challenges to saving for long-term goals (like the down payment on a home or for a vacation) is that it can be hard to think about future needs when there are so many daily tugs on our finances. If you can visualize your saving goal in a meaningful way, such as naming your savings account after a specific milestone you want to reach, it can help you think twice before dipping into your piggy bank for an unrelated expense. With Ally Bank’s Online Savings Account Buckets, you can categorize your savings into up to 10 separate “digital envelopes” and track your progress with our new Goals feature. Having a visual marker of how you’re progressing toward your goal can help you stay the course.
Get comfy with your budget. Often financial goals are things we want to achieve beyond the everyday essentials like paying our bills and keeping food on the table. In order to find money to reach those goals, you’ll want to understand how much money you have left after you meet your necessities. For some, there may not be much, if anything, left for extra goals. If you can’t trim expenses or take on additional work to bring in extra income, setting a goal like earning a professional certification could be a step toward improving your earning potential.
Look for the assist.
Use technology to stay on track. Once you have goals in place, set up recurring transfers from your paycheck toward specific savings priorities or your retirement fund. By automating your savings, you’re less likely to spend on something not aligned with your goals. Saving regularly and consistently adds up over time, help you achieve your goals faster.
Take a boost when it’s available. Taking on a long-term goal like investing for retirement can be daunting, but any little bit helps. Even if you contribute the bare minimum to your employer’s tax advantageous 401(k) plan now, see if they offer an automatic contribution increase annually. By ratcheting up your savings by 1% or 2% each subsequent year can make a big difference. And you can maximize your 401(k) even further if your employer offers a matching program.
Keep your eye on outside forces that might impact your plans. As part of the CARES Act, Congress has suspended all federal student loan payment requirements at least through September 2021. During this time, borrowers won’t accrue interest, either. For folks who have been dividing their extra money between student debt and other debts, now may be the time to use that extra student loan payment money and put it toward other goals instead. And if you are eligible for tax credits like the expanded Child Tax Credit under the most recent stimulus relief bill, make sure you take advantage of the benefit by filing your 2020 taxes before the May 17 deadline. For those who received stimulus money, that could provide an extra boost for debt payments.
Tell yourself kids don’t always have to come first. For parents feeling pressured to save a substantial amount of money for their kid’s college education, take a deep breath and regroup. Despite the rising cost of college, many savings options are available: from low-interest federal loans to scholarships and grants or enrollment at a community college instead of a four-year degree institution. You don’t have the same option if you’re low on retirement funds in your golden years. So, if you have to pick one or the other to save for, don’t feel guilty putting extra cash toward your emergency fund or retirement nest egg first.
Consider enlisting help from a credit counselor. If you’re overwhelmed by debt and feel it’s impossible to pay down, there’s no shame in asking for additional help. You can find a credit counselor through a nonprofit financial credit counseling organization who can help you weigh your options such as a debt management plan or filing bankruptcy. Just be on the lookout for scams where agencies promise certain results or ask for an upfront fee before any services are rendered.
Give yourself grace.
Don’t hold yourself to an impossible standard of success. There is no linear path toward financial freedom. You will need to overcome curveballs and roadblocks and a whole bevy of financial hurdles on your journey to accomplishing multiple goals at once. You’re doing the best you can. And when things start to feel out of control, talk to a trusted friend, family member or financial counselor who can help you weigh your options and make a game plan.
Keep a positive mindset. It may sound fun to put together your version of a financial vision board but once you get a look at the list, it can feel overwhelming. Don’t ball it up and toss it in the trash can just yet. If you feel simply lost in knowing how to achieve them, you have the ability to find the tools and resources that can help you get there. Remind yourself you are in control of the steps you take to tackle your goals — and that you have all you need to achieve them.
Learn more about paying off debt and saving simultaneously.