To Achieve Financial Stability, Start With Small Steps

Setting specific and manageable goals — and celebrating your successes — can make your financial journey much less daunting.

A toddler takes her first steps while outside on the lawn with her mother right behind her.
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The journey toward achieving financial stability and reaching long-term goals can often seem overwhelming. However, I advocate for an approach centered on small, manageable steps. This method is not about overnight transformations; it's about cultivating consistency, patience and setting achievable short-term objectives that cumulatively lead to significant long-term results.

Embarking on your financial journey

For those defining their financial journey in 2024, the initial step is crucial — designating a family chief financial officer (CFO). This role entails a comprehensive assessment and ongoing monitoring of the family's financial status, including income, expenses, debts and savings. 

It’s essential to set clear, realistic goals, whether it's saving a specific amount, reducing debt or making wise investments. The family CFO should also develop a simple, realistic budget that aligns with these goals, ensuring the family's financial aspirations are grounded in their current financial reality.

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Setting financial goals at the beginning of a new year can be a game-changer. The key is to make these goals specific and measurable. Some potential goals include:

  • Build and maintain an emergency fund. Commit to setting aside a fixed amount from each paycheck to build an emergency fund, or utilize direct deposit to systematically save for unexpected expenses that pop up throughout the year. Putting aside $75 to $100 each paycheck can end up making a difference when you least expect it. If that feels like too much, designating any amount toward savings will always set you ahead.
  • Reduce credit card debt. This requires a strategic approach. Calculate your total debt and plan monthly payments, aiming to significantly reduce, if not entirely clear, the debt by year-end. Be sure to account for limited use of your credit cards through the next 12 months. If eliminating all of your debt seems out of reach, consider paying down 50% or 75%.
  • Keep close tabs on your financial standing. Monitoring your credit score and continually educating yourself about personal finance are also vital components of this process. Regularly review and adjust your financial goals, be it monthly or quarterly, to ensure you maintain focus and keep yourself accountable. The family CFO can be responsible for sharing key information with the family, as well.

Budgeting: A cornerstone of financial planning

Effective budgeting is a cornerstone of financial planning and aligns perfectly with the philosophy of taking small steps. A practical approach is the 50/30/20 rule, where 50% of income is allocated to necessities, 30% to wants and 20% to savings or debt repayment. 

This strategy, however, is not set in stone; it requires regular adjustments to adapt to life's ever-changing circumstances. Small, monthly budget tweaks are far more effective and manageable than overhauling your budget sporadically or insisting your budget remain the same, despite changes to bills or your lifestyle.

Tools to help: Professionals, technology and education

Financial institutions, particularly credit unions, play a pivotal role in supporting members on their financial journey. Many credit unions offer personalized advice, educational workshops and a range of resources tailored to individual needs. Engaging with financial experts at your institution can provide insights and direct you to relevant tools and information, enhancing your financial literacy and decision-making skills.

Financial education is fundamental in understanding the importance of small steps in your financial journey. It empowers you to make informed choices, fostering a sense of long-term financial responsibility. Understanding financial concepts, tools and strategies not only helps in setting realistic goals but also in identifying potential shortcuts and avoiding pitfalls.

In today's digital age, technology is a valuable ally in tracking financial progress. Budget-tracking apps and financial tools can provide a clear picture of where you stand in relation to your goals, allowing for timely adjustments.

Overcoming obstacles and celebrating successes

One common challenge in financial planning is the tendency to set overly ambitious goals. Break down your goals into smaller, more manageable milestones to maintain motivation and momentum. You can manage both by setting clear, meaningful goals and celebrating small victories along the way.

My team at Affinity Federal Credit Union has witnessed numerous success stories where individuals and families have achieved significant financial milestones by focusing on small steps. One inspiring example is a family who treated financial planning as a collective activity. They held monthly family meetings to discuss progress and challenges, involving everyone in the decision-making process. This not only kept them on track toward their financial goals but also instilled positive financial habits in the younger family members, preparing them for future financial success.

The path to financial stability and achieving your goals doesn't have to be daunting. By embracing small, manageable steps and leveraging the support and resources available, you can confidently navigate this journey. Remember, it's the cumulative effect of these small steps that leads to significant achievements in your financial life.

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This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Kevin Brauer, MBA, CPA, CMA
President and CEO, Affinity Federal Credit Union

Kevin Brauer, a distinguished finance industry professional with over three decades of experience, has been at the helm of Affinity Credit Union as CEO and President since January 2023. His substantial contribution to Affinity over the past seven years has been instrumental in propelling the firm's value proposition and innovating its financial well-being initiatives. Brauer leads Affinity's dedicated team of 500 employees at its Basking Ridge, N.J., headquarters and throughout its 18-plus branches.