Set realistic goals for saving, spending and managing debt in 2024

Posted on by Ed Kromer. This entry was posted in Financially Fit, Life Events and Changes and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to assess your financial health. Here are some tips to help you set realistic goals for saving, spending and managing debt from BECU, a financial wellness partner of The Whole U.

Start a spending journal

In order to budget for the future, it helps to take a look at how and where you’re spending your money now. Creating a spending journal is a simple tool that will reveal a lot.

Start by saving receipts from every purchase you make within one month. Write down the purchases in your spending journal. At the end of the month, add up your expenditures in categories like “groceries,” “utilities,” “gas,” “clothes,” etc.

Budgeting requires you to be honest with yourself. Write everything down. You’ll want to keep at this for a month or two before committing to your budget. Over time, you’ll start to see patterns and may identify areas where you’re spending more than you want.

There are some great online apps that can make tracking your expenses even simpler. Check out the BECU Money Manager. Other great resources include and Quicken.

Set attainable goals

Creating realistic goals means creating spending rules you can actually live by. It all starts with asking yourself some key questions:

  • What do I want? And how much will it cost? The more specific you can be, the better.
  • When do I want it? Set a time frame. Is this a short-term, medium term or long-term goal?
  • How will I stay on track? Create some accountability for yourself.

A short-term goal (less than 3 years) might be paying off existing debt, like credit cards. Medium term goals (3-5 years from now) might include starting a small nest egg for retirement. Long-term goals (5+ years from now) could include saving money for a car or a down payment on a house.

If you’re part of a couple, it’s important to make sure your spouse or partner is on the same page, so you can work together toward your shared financial goals

Cut back, not out

When you take on the challenge of creating a spending plan, you want to feel positive about what you’re working toward, not sad about what you’re giving up.

Cut back, not out. You don’t want to feel deprived, or become frustrated if you’re not feeling immediate success. When possible, give yourself a break. Maybe the answer is to cut back on certain expenditures, not cut them out altogether.

Also, stay focused on your goals. Reminding yourself what you’re trying to achieve can go a long way to helping you stay strong and make better decisions every day.

Pay off debt

A great method to use is the “debt snowball” approach. Look at all your debts, focus on the loan with the lowest balance, and pay it off first. Then repeat. It may seem counter-intuitive to start small, but as those small successes continue adding up, you’ll feel energized by the momentum — and confident, too.

Maintain your budget

Once your goals are set, and your spending plan is in place, continue to track your spending. The BECU Money Manager, available through Online Banking, makes it easy. You can review your monthly statements, and even see your checking account transactions in real time.

Try to stay close to your spending plan. If it doesn’t seem to be working, you may have to revisit and tweak some areas. The point is to make your budget work for you.

Money Management Tips

As you start living within your budget, you may feel motivated to do even more. Here are our money management tips.

1. Create an emergency fund

You can’t predict the future, so it’s important to have money set aside. When the dishwasher breaks or the car goes on the fritz, the unexpected cost won’t blow your budget. Start with at least $1,000, and over time build up to 3-6 months’ worth of income.

2. Automate your savings

Move money out of your checking account without lifting a finger by setting up automatic transfers from your checking account to your savings. Put your money in a place where it can help you the most, whether that’s saving to reach a goal or paying down debt a little faster.

3. Give every dollar a job

By allocating every dollar you earn into a budget category, including paying down debt or saving for that vacation, you’ll make your money work for you in a way that aligns with your goals and priorities. That adds up to financial success.

4. Think about needs vs. wants

Do you need that new pair of shoes? Or just really, really want them? Either one is a fine answer. It’s just good to recognize the difference, so you can make conscious spending choices that reflect your goals.

5. Comparison-shop

It can be worth your time to shop around for better deals on everything from cellular rate plans to groceries and entertainment.

6. Pay more than the minimum due on your credit card

Interest, particularly on high rate credit cards, can be a killer in your attempt to maintain your budget.

7. Avoid impulse purchases

Shop with a list. Try not to be tempted by things that aren’t on it. Those little purchases that seem like nothing can add up to a whole lot before you know it.

8. Visualize your goals

Finally, remember what you’re working towards. Picture your goal. The more you can visualize what it feels like to be in control of your spending and working toward a goal, the better chance you have of making it a reality.

This article was written and provided by our partners at BECU