Setting goals is perhaps the best way to motivate yourself to achieve the life you desire — whether it's advancing your education, growing your family, or improving your finances.

By setting goals that are short-term and long-term in nature, you give yourself a timeline for success. This allows you to focus your attention on the exact, actionable steps you need to take to see something through to the finish line.

With finances specifically, having smart goals in place can help you make the most of every penny you earn. These goals can range from perfecting your budget to starting your own medical practice, but each is only going to be as achievable as they are realistic.

How to determine what’s realistic

Any goal that you set for yourself needs to be realistic. Ambitious, sure — but within reason. Otherwise, you're just setting yourself up for failure. In order for a goal to be realistic, you need to be able to feasibly fulfill its requirements within the period of time you set.

For example, if you’re a fast reader and have time you can set aside to dedicate to reading, finishing ten books in a month might be a perfectly reasonable goal for you. But if you struggle to make the time, starting out with a goal of reading half as many may be the best way for you to approach that goal. The same is true for accomplishing financial goals.

Let’s take a closer look at what realistic short and long-term financial goals look like.

Setting realistic short-term financial goals

Setting realistic short-term financial goals for yourself is one of the best ways you can see immediate improvements in your financial situation. By setting these goals, you can improve your sense of accomplishment and satisfaction as well as your overall mental health and attitude.

Track your spending

Tracking your expenses over the course of a month can give you new insight into how you spend your money. It can help you identify areas where you perhaps overspend, as well as where you can save more to put towards your financial safety net, from emergencies or retirement. Because this goal only requires one month of concentrated effort and attention, it’s a very realistic one to achieve.

Establish a monthly budget

Creating a budget is the easy part. Creating a budget you can actually stick to is oftentimes another story. Budgeting is one of the most common short-term financial goals that people will set for themselves, and with good reason. Budgets help you stick to predetermined limits so that you don’t spend beyond your means. This is especially helpful for doctors who want to avoid the trap of lifestyle inflation.

Learn More: How to Avoid Lifestyle Inflation & Live Within Your Means

Build an emergency fund

Another realistic short-term goal that more people should pursue is building an emergency fund. Your emergency fund play a crucial role in your financial health. It provides a buffer between your bank account and any unexpected expenses that may crop up. This can include anything from medical bills to car repairs, vet bills to home repairs. That's why building a solid emergency fund of at least three months’ salary is an excellent short-term financial goal to have.

Learn More: How to Build the Perfect Emergency Fund for Your Needs

Setting realistic long-term financial goals

Long-term goals usually take at least two years to achieve, but most tend to extend well beyond that. Given their longer timeline, long-term financial goals can be virtually any objective that will take a significant amount of time and planning to complete.

Repay student debt

Repaying student debt is a goal of most college graduates today, and physicians are no exception. With the mountains of debt they accrue between undergrad and medical school, doctors may be paying off their student debt for upwards of ten, fifteen, or twenty years. It’s important to recognize the importance of developing a game plan for reducing and repaying that debt, and long-term goal setting is one of the best ways to stay on track and accomplish it.

Oftentimes, a good place to start is refinancing your medical school loans in a new loan with a lower interest rate and more flexible repayment terms. When done right, it can help save thousands of dollars over the life of your new loan and defeat student debt once and for all.

Get Started: Refinance Your Student Loans Online With Credible

Start your own private practice

Many doctors today aspire to venture out on their own and open their own practice. But doing so is no simple task. It takes years of planning, licensing, designing, and developing to even begin to bring that dream to life. Setting a long-term goal and measuring the steps you take to work toward it is a great way to avoid discouragement as you work toward your goal.

It also typically requires financing. Once you're ready to get started, explore your options for medical practice loans.

Pay off your mortgage

Owning your own home is something many Americans aspire to do. But paying off mortgages takes years of dedicated payments and financial planning. In fact, after student debt, one of the most significant financial leeches on your bank account is your monthly mortgage payment. This makes paying off a mortgage a very common long-term goal for prospective homeowners.

If becoming a homeowner in the first place feels like a long-term goal, there are special mortgage programs for doctors which can help you get started. Physician mortgage loans offer jumbo loan balances with low to no downpayment financing and relaxed debt-to-income ratios — a perfect combo.

Get Started: Find a Physician Mortgage Loan Online

Build a retirement fund

Perhaps the longest-running goal you'll ever have is that of building a retirement fund. Most people set this goal in their early twenties and keep working at fulfilling it for the next forty to fifty years of their lives. Building a retirement fund is not a short, easy endeavor, and without the proper planning and goal setting, it becomes much more challenging.

Because it's so far down the road, it's easy to fall behind on saving for retirement. This is especially true for doctors who start their careers later in life than their peers.

Learn More: The 2021 Ultimate Physician Retirement Planning Guide

Key takeaways

Goal-setting is the best way to motivate yourself to achieve great things. With the right mindset, timeline, and motivation, you can accomplish any financial goals you set before yourself. Just remember to make sure to give yourself all of the time and resources you need to make sure that your goal can realistically be achieved.

Hannah McCall
Physician FinancePublished June 21, 2021