60 Motivating Seconds With a CFP: The “Quick Win” Guide to Nailing Your Money Goals

60 Motivating Seconds With a CFP: The “Quick Win” Guide to Nailing Your Money Goals

In our “60 Motivating Seconds With a CFP®” series, we’re bringing you simple tips designed to help you make progress on your money—in just a minute’s time.

This week, Tom Gilmour, a CFP® with LearnVest Planning Services, shares his favorite motivation-boosting strategy if you start to lose your money mettle.

“Six months.

If you set a major money goal at the start of the new year, then you’ve now been working on your resolution past the six-month mark.

But even if you’ve been thoroughly dedicated to achieving your goal thus far, I find that, for many people, money motivation starts to go M.I.A. this time of year.


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Money goals? What money goals? It’s the summer, after all!

But in all seriousness, losing steam after the six-month milestone isn’t uncommon—especially if you’re tackling big-ticket goals, like getting on track for retirement or shoring up a down payment for a home.

The reason? Even if you’re setting aside a significant amount of money each month, you likely won’t hit your goal for a good while longer—which can be a serious de-motivator.

That’s why I’m sharing a quick tip I often mention to clients struggling with motivation after the six-month mark: Reframe your goals into smaller quick wins—which give you something to celebrate along the way to your ultimate goal.

Why It Works Whether you’re plugging away at a work project or training for a marathon, it’s difficult to stay dedicated to anything for long if you don’t feel like you’re moving forward.

Researchers at Harvard dub this phenomenon the ‘progress principle.’ The idea is that the more people feel like they’re making progress, the more productive they’ll actually be in the long run.

Case in point: One recent Northwestern University study found that borrowers who paid down smaller loans first were more likely to pay off their total debt than those who tackled larger balances from the get-go. The reasoning is that paying off smaller loans gave them a sense of achievement early on—and kept them motivated.

“The quick-win strategy can be applied to more than just massive goals. You can set up even smaller targets—like completing a ‘$0 day.’”

How to Get Started I often recommend the “quick win” approach for two key money goals: paying off credit card debt and building an emergency fund.

I regularly see people struggling with these long-term goals, so I find it’s useful to break them down into mini milestones.

For instance, as the Northwestern University study suggests, when it comes to eliminating credit card debt across multiple accounts, paying off the card with the smallest balance first—often referred to as the ‘snowball method’—can help with motivation.

Of course, the quick win strategy is primarily meant to provide a behavioral boost.

If you focus on paying down your highest interest rate debt first, it will cost you less in the long run. But if this leaves you feeling stuck because you’re spending so much time chipping away at one loan, then switching to the snowball method might provide the motivational fuel you need to tackle all of your debt.

As for applying this method to emergency funds, I usually advise people to save three to nine months’ worth of take-home pay—but I recommend celebrating once you hit the one-month milestone, even if it’s just treating yourself to a dinner out. This will help keep you focused on then nailing your goal at the two-month mark.

Best of all, the quick-win strategy can be applied to more than just massive goals. You can set up even smaller targets, like successfully completing a “$0 day,” in which you resolve to go 24 hours without spending a single dime.

Hitting these types of mini milestones can give you that powerful feeling of making progress, which can help motivate you to take on—and achieve—even bigger goals.”

RELATED: How 'Gamifying' Your Finances Can Help You Reach Your Money Goals

LearnVest Planning Services is a registered investment adviser and subsidiary of LearnVest, Inc., that provides financial plans for its clients. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as investment, legal or tax planning advice. Please consult a financial adviser, attorney or tax specialist for advice specific to your financial situation. Unless specifically identified as such, the individuals interviewed or quoted in this piece are neither clients, employees nor affiliates of LearnVest Planning Services, and the views expressed are their own. LearnVest Planning Services and any third parties listed, linked to or otherwise appearing in this message are separate and unaffiliated and are not responsible for each other’s products, services or policies.


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