For most people, tax season is the time of year that people are thinking about money. Some people plan for their income tax returns long before they even file, while others use the extra funds to spend on larger purchases or plan for upcoming vacations. Regardless of how you may or may not use your refund, one thing is sure: money matters.

Every person has a different relationship with money, and this depends in large part on your upbringing, as well as your current state of financial affairs. Even if you earn a decent living, setting financial goals helps you prepare for a sound financial future. Setting appropriate goals for your funds gives you peace of mind, knowing that in the event of unforeseen occurrences, money won’t be an obstacle in preventing you from getting matters resolved.

Figure Your Funds

In the same way, that we all have different experiences with money, we will also have different goals for how we want our money to work for us. For younger people just starting out, simply building a healthy savings account may be the primary focus. For married couples with small children, the goal may be to set up college funds in addition to growing a 401k. Still others in later stages of life might be focused on their retirement savings and how they can maximize their last few years of work to support and sustain their lives once they stop working.

Figuring out your overall objective for your finances will better help you break down those large goals into a series of weekly or monthly goals that will help you accomplish what you’ve set out for yourself.

Needs vs. Wants

Yes or no? Now or later? Splurge or save? A healthy savings fund, which is a sign of a stable financial plan, can easily be depleted by telling yourself too often that yes you should splurge on that great item now. There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to nice things every now and then; after all, you work hard for your money.

But, if unnecessary spending becomes a habit, it can start to erode the safety net you’ve built for yourself and your family. Making a monthly list of needs vs. wants will help you see what’s absolutely necessary to purchase, and which items are actually not needed. Keeping the list in an easy-to-access place, like on your smartphone, will keep it present during all shopping trips and even when you’re browsing online for items.

Plan for the Unexpected

Chances are, someone in your childhood gave you the good advice to plan for a rainy day. Life has a way of just happening, and in those instances there are times where having money put away will be a welcome relief. Thinking of your savings in terms of a general fund and an emergency fund helps to ensure that you’re never in a situation where funds are inaccessible.

Challenge yourself to not touch your emergency fund, unless it’s a real emergency—and no, that great new pair of shoes or drill you’ve been eying do not qualify as emergencies.

Debt-to-Income Ratio

People who are good with money always factor existing debt into their monthly budgets. If you have a significant amount of debt, especially debt that may have fallen into any sort of default, you’ll need to make more than minimum monthly payments to pay down the principal, not just interest. Calculating how much you need to pay down on your debt every month to keep those accounts healthy will go a long way in making sure you can meet the money goals you’ve set for yourself.

Additionally, if credit card debt has become a difficulty for you, keeping cards stored away and only using cash can sometimes help you to meet those goals of paying off that debt faster.

If you’re disciplined enough, you can also take advantage of your credit cards to help you pay off debt and save money. Robert Palmer shows you how here.

Setting goals in all areas of your life is a healthy habit that has big payoffs down the road. If you can stick to a budget and meet the financial goals you’ve created, you’ll thank yourself down the road as you embark on the path to financial freedom.

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