Suze Orman is looking pretty hot these days.

Suze Orman is looking pretty hot these days.

(image credit)

I’m not sure I hate anything in this world more than SMART goals.

Okay, that’s a lie. I hate plenty of things more — like entitled people, the lazy, whiners, mustard, sunshine, The New York Yankees, people polluting my Twitter feed promoting their latest post 19 times, when I miss a spot trimming my beard, the dark, bullets (but not guns), drunk people, WHOO girls, the Chicago Cubs’ starting lineup from 1989, feelings, showering, that time I fell down, and 37% of the people from Denmark. I’m onto you, you filthy bastards.

Wow. That was excessive.

As inevitable as death, taxes, and Argentina defaulting on its debt, each January 1st (or thereabouts), the world will be making goals for the upcoming year. Some will be audacious, like quitting smoking, losing the last 15 years worth of fat, or saving 50% of one’s income. Others will be less noteworthy, like being more positive, or less judgmental. Whatever the goal, you can be sure a full 90% of us pledge to do something.

(Fun fact: When asked, I used to say my New Year’s resolution was to make fun of people who made New Year’s resolutions. That usually ended the conversation pretty quick.)

There’s no better example of this than when I sold potato chips. December was a great month, since everybody always made sure they had enough food on hand to feed their family 2.9 times over. Even leading into New Year’s was good, since people would buy for their parties and for the football games the next day.

And then? Nothing. It was so dead.

I went through it three years, and it never ceased to amaze me. My sales would be down close to 50% overnight. Nobody warned me about this either, so I almost got caught with too much inventory my first year alone on the job.

They say the average New Year’s resolution gets broken about three weeks in. This is true. I’ve seen it happen. Sales of chips would start to pick up around that point, thanks to that and because of Super Bowl.

We all know goals usually end up failing worse than guys hitting on porn stars on Twitter. So at least on the internet, we’ve tried to make them better. Enter the SMART goals, as identified with the attractive version of Ms. Orman above (Note: that is not actually Suze Orman).

Aside: That time I was invited on the Suze Orman show.

At the beginning of each year, the PF-o-sphere is awash in goals for the upcoming 12 months. Most want to increase savings, whether they be in a RRSP, TFSA, or my personal favorite, the emergency fund. There’s usually other stuff thrown in there as well, like blog goals, exercise goals, getting a promotion at work (because, hey, that’s 100% something a worker can control), and so on.

These goals are generally well thought out, realistic, and actionable. These people have looked deep within themselves, and determined what they value the most, choosing to make goals based on those values.

And yet, they still (mostly) fail miserably. The success rate is probably better than the hungover guy who pledges to never drink again on January 1st, but not by much.

There are a few reasons for this:

  • Goals are hard.
  • We make too many.
  • We don’t have the patience for year long goals.
  • Priorities change.
  • Life throws us a curveball (which mostly gets used an a convenient excuse).
  • We forget about them, especially when we spread goals out too thin.
  • We pledge to do things we ‘ought’ to do, instead of things we want to do.

Let’s talk a little more about the biggest reasons people fail at this, even though they do everything right — at least, according to the experts.

Too audacious 

How does that expression go? Don’t be afraid to shoot for the moon because even if you fail you’ll still be in the stars? Sure, let’s go with that.

That sounds all fine and good in theory, but reality is a much different beast. Most people give up their crazy goals very quickly, after realizing they’ll need to work really hard at getting there. These people don’t end up in the stars. They barely jump off the ground.

Spread ourselves out too thin

I understand that there are people out there who like planning things. I’m like that with my holidays. I spend hours figuring which hotels were the best combination of close to public transit and affordable for this cheap bastard. Vanessa can attest. But there comes a point when we’ve got to realize that planning everything out so much is detrimental to actually getting those things done.

So what happens? We start out with a bunch of goals that seem achievable, and then we throw up our hands in frustration. Nothing gets done.

The same thing happens when we make goals not because we really want something, but because we’ve been conditioned by our peers to think certain things are important. Maybe you don’t *need* to lose those last ten pounds.

Plans change

Sometimes they change for the better, and sometimes they change for the worse. But plans have a way of not staying the same.

Again, I’m hardly one to talk. A year ago, I was still a chip guy who was about to move to Calgary. In my wildest dreams I didn’t think I’d have the balls to pull off a year abroad. But things changed, and so did my attitude. And here I am, in a cramped Japanese hotel room.

So what, don’t bother?

What’s my solution then? Am I saying you shouldn’t bother with financial goals?

Well, yes. Sort of.

When I was a younger man, I very much wanted to be wealthy. I knew part of the solution to my lack of wealth was spending less, so I did my best to hold onto every nickel. I lived in my parents’ basement. I ate a lot of breakfast cereal and pasta. I worked a ton, and didn’t have a very active social life. And when I did go out, I wouldn’t want to go to expensive places.

And so on.

My point is that if you truly, passionately, and desperately want something, you won’t need to make it a New Year’s resolution, or one of your ‘x’ year financial goals. You’ll already be doing it.

It’s why I cringe so much whenever I hear people talk about how their finances need balance. I didn’t have balance when I didn’t take more than a weekend off work for 7 consecutive years. And I certainly didn’t when I went without a car until I was nearly 24. It was easy, because today I’m reaping the benefits of my first decade of saving nearly everything. This was always the goal, and it feels good to have accomplished it.

I never wrote it down. I never pledged to do it drunkenly at 12:02 am. I never checked in on it throughout the year. I just did it. Because it’s what I wanted.

Whether they’re financial or otherwise, we collectively stink at making goals. My advice? Keep it simple. Concentrate on just a couple of things, and spend time on them at least weekly. Instead of saving $20,000 annually, focus on putting away as much as you can each week. Instead of doubling your blog readership over a year, do three things a week that you know will result in more readers. And so on.

Figure out what’s the most important thing and put everything you can behind it. And if you fail? Maybe it’s time to question your passion toward the goal. Rather than looking at it as a failure, realize it’s your subconscious telling you what you want isn’t so important in the first place. Adjust your plans accordingly. And once you figure out what it is you’re really working towards, accomplishing those financial goals will get a whole lot easier.

Tell everyone, yo!