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Expert Advice: Setting Financial Priorities & Goals

Setting Financial Priorities & Goals Interview Highlights from Your Life, Your Money

Know where you're going

It's critical to set goals so you know where you're going. If you want to buy a home, you need to know that the average price of a home is about $160,000 right now. You'll need at least 10% to 20% for a down payment, so that figure should be your goal if you plan to buy a home. If you want to buy a car, the goal is a 10% down payment.

But whether your goal is paying off your high-rate debt or just building up an emergency cushion, you have to know that number and save every month to reach it. If you don't have goals, you won't know where you're going, so you can't take the steps you need to get there.

Beth Kobliner, author of Get a Financial Life

Put things in perspective

Priorities lead to prosperity. If you put things in perspective by putting your priorities first, then you will prosper. Lots of people say they want to pay off student loan debt or buy a house. But when you look at how they spend their money, are most of the checks they make out to MasterCard and Visa? Are they paying cell phone bills and buying video games and going to the movies and eating out? If so, then they value those things more than their stated goals. If their goals were truly home ownership or getting rid of debt, then that's where the money would go. Then they will prosper.

Your financial plan should be about your values. What do you want out of life? That's your financial plan.

Michelle Singletary, Washington Post financial columnist

Get started today

A lot of people have wonderful excuses for not starting a financial life. "I'm about to be deployed," "I'm about to graduate," "I'm about to be married," "I'm going through a divorce," "I've got a child on the way," and "I am working a full-time job and going to school full time this semester." They generally feel that it's just not a good time. But there is never a good time in your life when you've got plenty of free time and plenty of money to get started on your financial life, so you might as well get started today.

Peter Bielagus, author of Getting Loaded: A Complete Personal Finance Guide For Students and Young Professionals

Have financial goals

The most important thing about setting financial goals is having them in the first place. One of the best things to think about when you're young and right out of college, or still in college, is that you want to be deliberate about your spending and saving. You don't want to do things randomly without thinking about them first. That's how we get into trouble.

Ron Lieber, New York Times columnist