There’s No Such Thing as “Money Goals”

Money goals don't exist - which is the real reason you never seem to hit them.

I have a confession to make about my money goals, and in a way, about this blog.

I’ve been blogging for almost 18 months about something that doesn’t even exist.

See, for the longest time, I thought that “money goals” were a thing, which is why I wrote so much about my goal to save half my income.

But here’s what I’ve very recently realized: it was never about saving 50% of my money.

*shock! awe!* 

I realized this because in the past few months – as you’ll know if you’re on my email list – I’ve been very consistently saving over half my income since September.

I even pushed past what I thought was my goal, and topped a 60% savings rate one month this fall. That’s still ludicrous to me, especially since it took me so long to hit my 50% number for the first time.

But when I started hitting my goal consistently, the weirdest thing happened. 

Instead of feeling super accomplished, and like I could check a big, huge win off my list of goals, I felt… well, not much.

It was kind of like OK, that keeps happening, cool.

I guess I’ll just keep living my life.

So I dug into that experience. Why wasn’t I more excited about finally hitting this goal, especially after building an entire blog and “financial plan” around it?

Well, it turns out money goals don’t exist

The reason I didn’t feel excited about finally – finally – hitting my savings goal was that it was never my real goal.

That whole “save half my income goal” I thought I had? Yeah, it wasn’t real.


My real goals were actually…

  • Be a responsible dog owner, and have the ability to cover any emergency care The Dog might need.
  • Contribute half of a down payment on a house, and be able to put down 10%, with my partner by the spring of 2017.
  • Make sure that I’m covered if anything happened that meant I wasn’t earning income for a while.
  • Have the flexibility and means to do things like travel for family weddings and donate to my favourite dog rescue when they need extra support.
  • Buy a king sized bed, because I’m a luxurious monster. (Hey, the other ones were so responsible, ok? Let me have this.)

Those goals were the “why” behind my admittedly aggressive savings rate. The savings itself was just the “how” – which is why it never seemed all that exciting to hit that 50% number.

You know what was exciting, and hugely rewarding?

Achieving my real goals

Finally having a fully-funded emergency fund for The Dog, so that if he does something goofy that results in an unexpected trip to the vet, I know I can afford to have him treated without having to tap into my other savings accounts.

Being able to take a 10-day vacation to the Rocky Mountains to celebrate a family wedding, without worrying about the cost.

Sending extra money to a local dog rescue a few different times this year when I knew they had taken in a lot of dogs who were running out of time.

Achieving my real goals was always an awesome experience.

But saving half my income?

Enh. It’s just the “how”.

Don’t get me wrong, the “how” matters a lot

Now, this is in no way me throwing in the towel on writing about money, because literally none of those aforementioned amazing experiences would ever, ever have been possible without money.

Sure, saving half of my income wasn’t my real goal, but it is the real reason I was able to do all those things I wanted to do.

It’s also why I’m on track to do the rest of them, so don’t worry: I’m still on the save-half-my-income train. I’m just much more clear on what it is, and what it isn’t. It’s a great tactic to reach my goals – like, hella great – but it’s not the end goal.

And as much as I’m not the queen of frugality, and as staunchly as I’ll defend spending money on fun, it does take a certain amount of know-how and prioritization to save half your income.

There’s a whole lot of “how” that goes into making your goals a reality. Money is just one part of that – albeit an important part.

But your “how” will never be your “why”

The money stuff – the strategy, the tracking your spending, the investing, the budgets, whatever – is never going to be what you actually value.

And figuring out what you value? What your “why” is? That’s the tough part.

It takes time, and trying things, and making wrong choices, and course-correcting like a boss, even when you thought you had already learned that lesson, dammit.

Once you know what you really want, that’s your goal.

The money stuff is all just “how”.

And while it’s important, and a key part of the puzzle, it’ll never be your “why”. And since it’ll never be your “why”, it’ll never be enough on its own.

That’s why it’s so notoriously tough to set a goal to “save more money” and just… never achieve it.

It’s not your fault!

It’s just that “save more money” isn’t a goal.

Even “saving 50% of your income” isn’t a goal (my bad!). That’s why, on its own, it’ll never work. It’ll never be enough to make you prioritize saving over all of the other things you (rightfully) want to do with your money.

Saving 50% of your income to build a stable life in the neighbourhood you want, even if your dog breaks his leg? That’s a reason to choose to make more coffee at home (but still buy lattes because you’re kind of obsessed with them).

So as we head into the new year, can we just agree to strike “save more money” and “spend less money” and all variations thereof off of our list of resolutions?

They’re not real goals.

And because they’re not tied to the things you really value, they’ll end up left in the pile of resolutions you didn’t complete this year.

Putting them in that pile would be a huge shame, too, because as much as they aren’t goals in and of themselves, they’re still hella important things to do in order to achieve the things you want.

Money just isn’t a goal by itself.

Because there’s no such thing as a “money goal”.

PS. This is the last Half Banked post for 2016, as I take the next two weeks to plan for next year and drink copious amounts of eggnog. I’ll be sending one last weekly newsletter out on Saturday morning to my email list, which you can join right here. Otherwise, I’ll see you in 2017, friends!

Use money to achieve the goals that matter to you - here's how.
Desirae is on a mission to demystify and un-boring financial info for millennials, so that we can all save more money, spend on stuff that matters to us, and still have a latte or two along the way. Money is literally why we can have nice things, and Desirae is committed to helping make sure you know just enough to make the right calls for you. (She’s also committed to her expensive dog, her side hustle, and her retirement fund.)

21 Comments on “There’s No Such Thing as “Money Goals””

  1. Erin

    I loved this post. It puts things in perspective. For me saving for goals is much easier when it’s not just about a percentage or an amount but the real reason you’re doing it. Definitely good motivation to continue with regular savings contributions and not just go crazy with holiday spending!

    1. Desirae

      Thank you so, so, so much Erin! It means a lot coming from you – and same here! I think in retrospect, this is also probably why I never really prioritized the actual 50% number over things like birthday dinners, lol. (And I feel you on the keeping up with regular contributions! It’s SO tempting this time of year, haha.)

  2. Kathryn

    This concept has been life changing for me! I love this so incredibly much and the specific examples you gave. I have been thinking about my financial goals all year from the perspective of what I want my ideal life to look like and how money is going to help me get there. It’s been life changing and the catalyst for increasing my saving. For me, some of these things are a house repair sinking fund (after stressing about the cost of extension renovations we just completed it gets to me…also I want to rent, but that’s another topic), having enough in my HSA to cover the maximum out-of-pocket cost (I don’t want to think twice about money if we have a medical emergency for us or our 3 kids) and setting aside money for travel (haven’t been to Europe yet!). Money is how I’m going to get there, but my goals really are other things, with money being the tool to help me achieve them.

  3. TJ

    Yep, for me it was never about saving 40% or whatever, I just bought what I want and saved the rest. That is, I lived my life and didn’t worry about the money and the saving just sort of happened..

    But I don’t know if I’d go so far to say “save more money” or “spend less money” aren’t valld resolutions. For the people who do struggle intensely with this stuff, it probably does help to focus narrowly on that baby goal of this getting out from under it all before thinking about how they really want to utilize it.

    1. Desirae

      I actually disagree pretty strongly! If you really do want to save more money, I think it’s entirely ineffective to just set that as your goal, with no concrete underlying reason. It’s not a baby goal at all, it requires a big shift in how you manage and track your money, and without the motivation of a “why” behind it, I just don’t see it being an effective way to *actually* save more! Now, something like “I save $50 a month to fund my upcoming vacation / get a dog / buy that dream pair of shoes / start an emergency fund to take care of myself” is a much better way to actually save more, but you need to tie it to something beyond just the act of saving more. Otherwise, why on earth would savings trump the other things you’re currently doing with your money?

      1. TJ

        Hmm, bummed that you strongly disagree. This is where I sometimes get myself int trouble because I’m not talking from personal experience, but observations of how other people describe their dealings with debt.

        Maybe an attempt at explaining the rationale will help. I intended “baby goal” not to imply that it’s a simple goal to accomplish, but a simple/undeveloped goal to verbally describe and write down the page. That is, if I have $50k in debt that I’ve decided I’d like to get rid of…i’m not thinking about what I can do with the extra cash flow once that debt is finally gone, I’m not thinking about the super awesome dog or the super fun vacation or whatever else, I just want to get rid of the debt as quickly as possible because the debt is a dark cloud that is over me. And can even break it down into smaller goals – i want to pay off the first $5k of debt, how do I do that?

        The goal doesn’t need to be super developed because the situation you are in dictates the sheer magnitude of what that goal means in your overall personal financial life.

        And – to link it to my own shit, it’s easy enough to adapt that broad style of “budgeting” to savings goal because you see that the psychology of it works for the person trying to get out of debt.

        For me, savings has always trumped spending or whatever else because saving today buys freedom tomorrow. For example, If I know that I want to spend $50/month on a paid TV package rising indefinitely, rising only by inflation, under the 25x multiple /4% rule, I know that I $15,000 saved in a balanced portfolio, and I can sustain that purchase with a pretty low margin of error. The flip side of that is that if I cut out that $50/mo cable TV purchase, that’s $15,000 less that I Just don’t have to save at all.

        So, I’d say that, for me, savings trumps because the more passive income you create from your investments can at some point replace your job income. (Passive income could be the stock market, profitable real estate that is outsourced to a property manager, or some sort of hands-off self employment business).

        My only issue with this post was the blanket statement that generic money goals is not an effective money strategy.

        Like most money thought processes, it works for some people, it doesn’t work for others.

        Specific goals don’t work for me because once I hit some specific goal, I reach a “now what?” phase and start to get a little aimless. I feel like It’s hard to reach a point of contentment when you’re always looking for the next thing to save for.

        I know you had mentioned at CPFC that you went against what seemed to be the consensus and were like ” I save so much that I can spend it” and that’s super duper fantastic. It’s one of the reasons your blog stands out as interesting because you definitely talk about things that not everyone else is talking about.

        1. Desirae

          There’s definitely always more than one way of looking at it! Thanks for the input, TJ – I stand by my opinion, but it’s always good to consider multiple viewpoints!

  4. The Finance Spa

    This is such a great perspective! It’s so true that finding out why you have these goals are the most important part and the money portion is how you will reach your goals. Another great post Des 🙂

    1. Desirae

      Thank you so much! So much easier to keep saving when you know why you’re doing it (or, ahem, keep making coffee at home when you know why you’re doing it, lol.)

  5. Casey Elliott

    I think my financial goal is basically just “dont stress about money”. For instance, to be a position where it’s ok if I lose my job. It’s looking good that I will retire early. I can afford xyz if I want to (Like my wedding this year)! So as long as I am diligently saving and managing my money, I dont have stress around money as a whole, but I don’t have any particular goals because I’m never saving to an exact dollar amount. It’s a good way to live.

    1. Desirae

      Oh I love that, and I’ve even said that to The Boyfriend a few times, either about how my goal for our lives is that we never have to freak out over $20, or about how grateful I am that we’re in a position (and plan to continue being in a position) where we can afford the things we need with no stress or hardship. I love love love that goal!

    1. Desirae

      Hahahaha oh shoot, no, that’s my bad – I’ve been meaning to add more prominent social share buttons, but I haven’t yet! I’m guilty of getting stuck in my own process of reading things and tossing the text link in Buffer with my own commentary, but I need to remember that’s not how everyone does it! It’s on my list to fix over the Christmas break!

  6. Alyssa Fischer

    I totally and completely agree with you. If it’s not specific, chances are very high that you will fail at achieving your broad goals. I stopped saying “pay off my debt” and started saying “pay off my debt by ___” and it completely changed my perspective and planning.

    SMART goals. Am I right, ladies?!

  7. Jena

    Such a great post! I don’t know that I had ever thought of things in this light before, or maybe not consciously… I haven’t ever had a % savings goal, but I did have specific sums of money I wanted to save for specific reasons… So, maybe I knew this before I actually knew that I knew this? Does that make any sense? Ha ha ha!

    1. Desirae

      Hahahaha it makes a bonkers-amount of sense, because that’s basically how I felt writing this! I feel like there are definitely still refinements to make in terms of like, my concrete thoughts on HOW to actually make this make sense in different people’s lives, but all I know is it’s definitely true for me.

  8. Leigh

    This reminds me a bit of my “Early Retirement is a LIE” post 😉 I’ve realized that my “money goals” the last few years have really just been my money plan for the year. My “money goals” have basically been the same every year. I’ve stopped pushing myself to save more because I’m happy with my spending/saving balance at this point in my life.

    Like your save 50% goal, I’ve had a goal to save 80% for quite a while now and I just haven’t gotten there. I eventually gave up on ever getting there unless I get a huge upswing in income and there’s no real reason to ever get there. This year, my savings rate dropped to ~45% and you know what? That’s perfectly fine too.

    In some sense, this is something I’ve struggled with ever since I bought my condo – there wasn’t much to save for other than retirement, which is part of why I worked to aggressively pay down the mortgage because that was super motivating as a target. Notice how I said target and not goal? I was paying off the mortgage aggressively because my values include NO DEBT WHATSOEVER, loving the home I live in, and financial security. And now that what is left on my mortgage has been assigned to my husband, I have no debts owed. So what do I save for now? Retirement really, though I prefer to call it “financial security” 🙂

    That said, SMART goals are *super* helpful when you have a well-defined, specific period of time in which you want to accomplish something. They’re a great tool to help you get what you want once you’ve already figured out what you want!

  9. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life

    My money goal forever has been to become rich, that’s valid, right? 😀

    How that’s quantified, and how, has shifted over time, both because I like to push myself, and also because life has changed our perspective and reality with regard to what we need. Once I got out of having any debt but mortgage debt, I’ve focused strongly on building up our financial foundation and the why behind has always been clear: make sure that we are as prepared to weather any drastic life changes as possible. Aside from our own personal issues, there’s been a massive earthquake in the region, and two friends were diagnosed with cancer at a young age. Oh and there’s also that election to be consider. So yeah, I have what’s been commonly called a money goal but it’s really an “our lives” goal.

  10. Sarah @ Smile & Conquer

    I was nodding along through this whole post, you are so right! Money is just money, it’s ALL about the things you want that the money can get you. It also makes it so much easier to think about saving X amount of dollars when you know that X amount of dollars is for something specific.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *