Exactly How To Handle Not Hitting Your Money Goals

Exactly how to handle not hitting your money goals - which let's be real, happens to the best of us! Four actionable steps to make sure you hit your savings, investing, earning and other goals next time.

It would be a magical world if you hit your money goals 100% of the time, with no roadblocks or hurdles along the way.

But if that was everyday real life? You probably wouldn’t be reading this blog, and let’s be real, you might be a robot sent from the future to show us how to be perfect with money.

Still here? Not a robot? Let’s continue.

As I told you last week, I won’t be hitting my 50% savings goal until October, thanks to how I’m handling some non-monthly expenses in the next few months. And in case you’re new here, it took me more than 5 months to even hit that 50% for the first time!

Let’s be serious, it’s a s-t-r-e-t-c-h goal.

Since I’m so very well practiced in terms of “not hitting your money goals,” I’ve also figured out a pretty bullet-proof system for handling it productively (instead of crawling into a cave, declaring the goal a failure and spending $600 on a pair of shoes because I DO WHAT I WANT, BUDGETS.)

Yeah, this system works way better than that.

It’s what I do every month when I don’t hit my 50% savings goal, and to be honest, it’s also what I do when I do hit that goal. It’ll help you learn what you can do if you’re not hitting your money goals, and build a plan to move forward with your goals – and your budget – intact.

Sorry, $600 pair of shoes, maybe next time.

Step 1. Review your spending.

In all honesty, spending is the biggest reason I haven’t hit my money goals in the past, and I would take a bet that it’s a big part of why you’re not hitting your money goals too.

I mean, it’s not like I was just too good at saving for one goal and that’s why I didn’t hit the other ones. (This is real life, remember.)

So when I realize I haven’t met my goal, I take a look back at my spending. For me, that means pulling up my handy tracking spreadsheet, but never fear – there’s a pretty easy way to do this even if you don’t write down every single purchase like I do.

Log in to your bank account and your credit cards, and grab your account history for the past month. You can either download it to an Excel spreadsheet or print it out, but you’ll want to be able to look at the full month in one place, and be able to make notes. This is, hands down, the biggest and best wake-up call about why you actually didn’t hit your goals.

It’s far too easy to forget how quickly small purchases add up over the month. Trust me, the fact that it took tracking my spending to realize that $20 at the farmer’s market every month was an extra $80 in our food budget still horrifies me.

Taking a look at your spending is basically guaranteed to come with a few wakeup calls.

Step 2. Check in with your values.

Before we even get into the actual money stuff, it’s really important to take stock of what you value.

This doesn’t have to be a huge, elaborate personal-development session either, where you nail down the exact top five things you value. Just take a minute or two and think about what is really important to you. I guarantee you know the answers – is it fitness? Family? Career? Growth? Learning? Friends? Fun? Adventure? Travel? Education?

Even just going through that list, I’m sure you had some yeses and some nos. No one can value everything!

Once you’ve got a good idea off the top of your head what your values are, take another look at your spending from the past month. Which items or experiences did you spend money on that are totally, 100% in line with your values? Which ones are unrelated – or even more importantly, which ones are totally against your values?

Because hey, it happens. I value health and fitness, but have been known to indulge in pub food. #balance

When you’re trying to figure out how to trim your spending to hit your money goals in the future, spending that doesn’t align with your values is a great place to start.

And you know what? Your money goals might be high up on the list of things that align with your values, too. If you value family, and are saving for a big family vacation or to expand your family (kids or dogs both count in my eyes) that should get a place on the priority list. (It might even help motivate you to hit that goal!)

Step 3. Ask yourself how much you enjoyed yourself.

Ok, this one is touchy-feely – yes, even more so than the values step. But hear me out.

Take a look at your spending, and ask yourself how each thing you spent money on made you feel.

Some of them will trigger awesome memories, like a dinner with your grandparents or food you bought for a picnic with friends. That’s awesome!

Others will fall more along the lines of “Oh right, I did buy that this month.”

If you’re trying to cut your spending while staying exactly as happy as you are right now? My suggestion is to keep spending on the things that you still remember, and that still make you happy, when you look back on them at the end of the month.

And start cutting out the “Oh right, that” items as much as you can (especially if they’re just recurring payments you don’t need anymore.)

Step 4. Make (realistic) plans to do better next time.

This is the part where we figure out how to hit that goal next time.

At this point, you know where your money went last month, you’ve figured out which spending to prioritize based on your values and how happy it made you, and now we get to look forward to see what that means for next month.

First things first, jot down a list of all the non-negotiable things you have coming up – like rent, insurance payments, cell phone bills and feeding yourself. (If you want an easy way to grab estimates for how much you should be spending, grab your copy of the One-Minute Budget.)

Then take a look at what you know will be happening in the next month, from irregular expenses to fun events you’d like to participate in – especially if those things fall in line with your values, or they’re things that have made you really happy in the past.

Then, check in with your goals.

Is this month looking like hitting that stretch goal is feasible? If yes, commit to it. The only months that I’ve managed to hit a 50% savings rate so far have been ones where I knew the goal was within reach, and reminded myself of that constantly – trust me, it really helps avoid impulse spending!

If it looks like the goal might not (or definitely won’t) happen? Don’t be discouraged. Instead, remind yourself how valuable the progress you can make is going to be. (In my case, this is a strongly-worded reminder to myself that 40% savings rates are still pretty great, Desirae.)

So no matter what your goal is – paying down debt, saving for a house, getting started with investing, increasing your savings rate, or another awesome money goal – don’t get too down on yourself if you miss it. Instead, use it as an opportunity to check in with your progress, make sure your spending is making your life great, and make a plan to get closer to it next time.

Have you ever missed a money goal? How did you handle it – and do you have any suggestions for other people who might be in the same boat?

PS. This is actually an expanded look at a framework I sent out to my email list a few weeks ago, but it was too good not to share. If you sign up now, you’ll get handy content like this once a week on Saturdays, plus the One-Minute Budget delivered as soon as you’re on the list!

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.)

20 Comments on “Exactly How To Handle Not Hitting Your Money Goals”

  1. Kate

    Great tips! I’ve not hit money goals on more than one occasion. It can be especially hard to stomach after a string of good months, but I try to remember that one bad month isn’t an excuse to spiral. I see starting a new month as a new opportunity for success!

    Kate | http://www.petiteadventures.org/

    1. Desirae

      Oh man, so much yes to new months being fresh starts! My (nerdy) fave feeling ever is setting up a blank spreadsheet to track next month’s spending, lol, since it’s always so clean and full of potential.

  2. Lindsay @ The Notorious D.E.B.T.

    Great tips! What I have problems with are when I don’t hit my goals because of things that are totally outside of my control. I recently had to shell out $6,000 in home repairs to sell my home to someone who needed it in tip-top shape (a home we’d been trying to sell for TWO years, BTW), only to have them withdraw their offer at the last minute. It wiped out everything in my emergency fund that I’d been saving up over the past year. I’m not sure what to do in those instances – not much I can do, methinks. 🙁

    1. Desirae

      Oh Lindsay I am so so so sorry that happened! Literally, reading the comment, I was already hoping that it had a happy ending and then had a mini-“noooooo” moment. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed that the updates end up being The Thing that sells the house to the next buyer, and that they’re just around the corner.

      On a wayyyy smaller scale, that’s what it felt like kept happening when I was just starting to try to save half my income – like the time I got a surprise $458 ticket, lol. To be fair, that one was based on my own lack of knowledge about How To Car, but *still*. In a month where I was so sure I was going to hit my goals, that one stung. I think you’re handling it well from the sounds of things – understanding that it happens, and bonus, having an emergency fund to cover it when it does!

  3. Fervent Finance

    I have had the opposite problem where I think I’m too soft with my money goals, and therefore I hit them every time. I think you know your goals are spot on when you miss every once in a while, so therefore I think I need to get more aggressive. Recently with my move to the Midwest, and all my goals being set on living in Manhattan, I think I’m going to crush them out of the park. I’ll reevaluate at yearend to make sure I miss a goal next year 😉

    1. Desirae

      Hahaha that’s awesome! And hey, we’ve all been there – it took me a LONG time to see the value in a stretch goal. I think it was someone telling me that what I had weren’t goals, they were a to-do list, that really snapped me out of it!

      And hey, congrats on the move! I loved your update post about it, but am still waiting to hear if the new gym you found is living up to your Manhattan expectations, haha.

  4. Bobbi

    This post is exactly what I needed today. I looked at my savings account last night and wondered why I was unable to hit my goal for June. I took a look at my credit card statement and realized in the month of June I have spent way more on clothing than I even thought I did. Until I actually took a look at the charges, I had forgotten that on my weekend home, I ran out and bought a new pair of shoes for an event and then the following weekend, in Toronto, I hadn’t packed enough shorts for the 30+ weather, so I bought two pairs. How easy it adds up when you forget you even bought the items!

    1. Desirae

      Awww thank you so much Bobbi, it means the world to hear that the post was helpful! And oh my god, YES to the adding up thing. Before I went Full Nerd and started tracking my money, I had those moments all the time, especially after we added The Dog to our lives. Basically anything under about $40 – whether it was a small grocery trip, a new dog toy or a new sweater – seemed too small to remember, but man do they ever add up, lol.

  5. Leigh

    This is great! I especially love #3-“did you enjoy it?”

    I find that I tend to come up with more savings goals than my income can handle AND want to do them all at once, immediately. I just have no patience for them, oops. And then I tend to add more savings goals without realizing that something has to give. That happens more often than spending taking away from my savings goals for me at least.

    1. Desirae

      I FEEL YOU SO HARD ON THIS! That was my buy-a-new-bed goal, to a T. I wanted to – quickly – save up for a new king sized bed, without realizing how much that *really* costs, and when I sat down to look at how much I could afford to save without jeopardizing anything else, it was like $50 a month, lol. So frustrating to see the balance ticking up soooooo sllllooowwwwlllllyyyy, but I’m just reminding myself to be patient – and that it’s a want, not a need, haha.

  6. Rob

    Like you said in the 20% down payment post, putting down 15% is still way better than 5%. I think the same logic applies here, perhaps even more so (since there’s no external penalty for not meeting your goal). If you can save 30-40% of your income in a given month (but not necessarily 50% each time), you’re still way ahead of the curve, in my opinion!

    1. Desirae

      Thanks Rob! And yeah, I’m learning recently that this is a theme with me – I think everyone should do as much as they can to be awesome with money, but once it gets to the pain point of stressing you out or interfering with Actual Life Things, stahp. I just need to figure out where the actual line is, haha, like “Yes, be flexible, but 100% do *these* things.”

      I feel like the answer will be 42.

    1. Desirae

      Thanks Gary! And they really, really do – when I’m not uber-careful about my coffee spending it always gets me at the end of the month, lol.

  7. Our Next Life

    What a great list of tips. Random/funny side note: This is pretty much exactly the method I use to decide what gear I don’t need to bring on my next backpacking trip (because, you know, ounces count — or make that grams for you guys). 😉 I look at everything that I brought, I see what I used. Anything I didn’t use besides basic safety equipment gets uninvited for next time, and the stuff I did use, I ask, “Did I really need to use that or love using it?” So the post mortem approach: it works well for money goals AND trimming the weight of your backpack. Hahaha.

    1. Desirae

      Hahaha that’s awesome – I feel like it could also work for clothing, like the “If you haven’t worn it in X amount of months, it has to go” approach.

      Now excuse me while I hang my head in shame because I am well overdue for a giant closet clean-out. How does this even happen is my real question – I don’t even like to shop. How do I still have so many items of clothing?!

  8. Sarah @ Couple of Sense

    Thanks for sharing. I think that your tip to do a check in with your values is so important. I find when you make sure you are spending on what you want you have an easier time to not spend on things that aren’t important to you.

    1. Desirae

      Exactly! Those kind of things are so easy to let into your budget if you’re not paying attention to it, and it’s so easy for them to take away from the stuff that brings real happiness into your life.

  9. Vic @ Dad Is Cheap

    For me, budgeting and paying yourself first is essential to hitting our money goals. We prioritize are big money goals (retirement, college fund) in our monthly budget before I allocate money to anything else. I even go so far to schedule all of those things to go out on the first of the month so I can’t change my mind as the month goes on.

    It’s definitely important to track expenses and adjust as time goes by. If it looks like you’re not going to hit your goal, you adjust your budget by moving money from one category to another. If it’s something that you’re not hitting pretty frequently that would be a good time to be honest with yourself and readjust your goal to fit what you can actually afford.

    1. Desirae

      Definitely important – I had a conversation today in which someone clearly stated that retirement savings are at the mercy of their other expenses, and that some years they only put aside $500 for retirement. All year. I know. It needs to be a non-negotiable, and other expenses need to work around it!

      PS. I fiiiiinally started a YNAB trial!

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