What's your financial goal for the new year?

Is it something tangible, like getting out of debt, saving enough for that new car or changing the investments in your 40l(k) plan? Or is it just a big "number" -- making a million, getting a huge bonus or winning the lottery? Maybe your goal is to get a family member to do a better job managing money.

Well, here's the first rule of goal-setting: Set no goal you can't control.

There's a big distinction between goals and wishes. You can hope for those lottery winnings or for your spouse to change his or her money personality. But in my opinion, those are long-shot probabilities. Why not concentrate on the things you can control -- your own money decisions?

What you can do is set up a plan, and the systems to back it up, so you're less at the mercy of fate or someone else's behavior. A goal without a plan is just a dream.

It's fine to dream of success, of riches, of vacations or retirement. But you'll never get there without a plan of action. And the hardest step in making that plan is to define your goals.

Defining Goals

As we move into the New Year, the first step is to write down your goals. Some may be for this year, and some may be for the long term.

Each step along the way is important, so don't be afraid of literally making a list that includes things like "pay an extra $50 a month on my Visa" or "sign up at work for an extra $50 for the 401(k) plan." Every little step helps you reach that longer-term goal of financial freedom.

In fact, no matter how you define your goal in terms of numbers, for most people the goal is simply to not have to worry about having "enough" money. How you define "enough" is up to you. And so is how you get there.

It's important, of course, to make sure you have "enough" for retirement.

If your excuse is that you can't afford right now to contribute to a retirement plan, take a quick look at your paycheck stub. Every week there's a deduction for Social Security. If you're under 50, there's a very small chance that it will provide anything meaningful for your retirement. Yet you don't complain when that money is whisked away, leaving you less to spend.

A great goal is to set aside an amount equal to that Social Security deduction for your personal retirement plan.

Not having enough money to get started is no excuse. Two mutual fund companies, AARP Funds and U.S. Global Investors Funds, let you open IRAs with as little as $100, if you commit to an ongoing and automatic monthly deduction from your checking account.

Spouses and Goals

You married for better or for worse, but not for money arguments! If you and your spouse have different goals, or your spouse has no goals at all, this is the week to sit down and talk about it. Otherwise your finances will be a constant source of frustration.

Since you can't change your spouse's money personality, change your system. Take money away as an issue by putting the checkbook online and closely monitoring activity. But if you can't agree on this basic process for shared financial goals, then you need counseling on a much higher level.

Money doesn't bring happiness in itself. But the freedom from financial worry does bring peace of mind -- and the opportunity to enjoy the nonmaterial things in this world, which are far more important. That state of mind will just be a dream until you set some goals and make a plan to achieve them. That's The Savage Truth.

Terry Savage is an expert on personal finance and also appears as a commentator on national television on issues related to investing and the financial markets. Savage's personal finance column in the Chicago Sun-Times is nationally syndicated, and she released her fourth book, The Savage Number: How Much Money Do You Need? in June 2005. Savage was the first woman trader on the Chicago Board Options Exchange and is a registered investment adviser for stocks and futures. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Michigan, Savage currently serves as a director of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Corp. She also has served on the boards of McDonald's and Pennzoil.

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