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Workout No. 1: Setting Financial Fitness Goals

This article is part of our Newlywed Financial Boot Camp series, designed to get new couples and their finances into shape. You can find the other articles in this series here.

Everyone knows that you're more likely to be successful at changing your diet and exercise habits if your significant other participates, too. The same holds true for improving your financial fitness. It's hard, for example, to track expenses for the household if one of you thinks it's a waste of time. Or if your beloved has a hard time telling the truth about spending, it will be a challenge to have an open relationship (think communicating, people!) with regard to your finances. It's just a fact: You need a partner to spot you during the heavy lifting.

If you're lucky, you and your partner are already "spotting" one another by dividing up the household tasks, including the financial decision-making. But even folks who communicate well about money matters can use some refreshing every now and again. Be sure to build financial updates into your financial fitness routine on a regular basis.

Likewise, if you're the planning type, your daily money tasks will fall under an umbrella of larger financial goals you and your spouse have outlined. For example, the small task of paying bills on time falls under the larger heading of "securing a good credit rating," which is an integral part of preparing to buy a home (the ultimate goal). Having that larger goal (or "dream," for you dreamy types) can help you to feel motivated to spend less and save more.

Making a list, checking it twice
So take some time now to brainstorm a list of possible goals. It's not time to evaluate the merit of each goal just yet ("Hey, why do you need LASIK surgery? Your glasses work just fine!"), so feel free to dream big. We'll force you to get practical soon enough.

Your list might look something like this:

  • Retire early and drive an RV around America.
  • Buy a boat.
  • Raise a child.
  • Buy a house.
  • Eliminate debt.
  • Start our own business.
  • Go back to school/change careers.

While these may all be worthy goals, the reality is that you won't be able to tackle all of them at once. So now it's time to identify the top two or three priorities that need to become the focus of your finances. Having both partners buy into the goals is critical to your success, so spend as much time as it takes to come to agreement.

Once you've prioritized your larger goals, you'll need to get much more specific about the goals themselves, as well as what you and your spouse plan to do to achieve them.

Take the goal of buying a house, for example. Does one spouse envision a luxury villa while the other is thinking a modest starter home in the 'burbs? Find out how big a mortgage you could qualify for right now, and then work from there to get to a goal that is mutual and realistic. For instance, you might set a goal "to save $20,000 for a down payment and buy a starter home within a 20-minute commute to work by 2010."

Time to get going
Now the goal is a bit more specific; so now what? You need to figure out what actions you and your honey will take in order to make your dream come true. Here's an example:

  • We'll cut back from eating out once a week to once a month and sock the extra money away in our down payment fund.
  • We will send an extra $50 a month to our credit card company to pay off the balance in six months.
  • We'll begin to learn the ins and outs of mortgage loans so we can ensure we're well-informed and ready when the time comes.

Once you've come up with a plan of your own, commit to it. Turning your lofty goal into very practical, action-oriented steps is an excellent start toward realizing your dreams.

Want to learn more about financial goal-setting with your honey? Give The Motley Fool's Guide to Couples and Cash a read; you and your beloved will get a heaping helping of great advice on your way to financial fitness, as well as a few giggles.

Next: Coping With Cash Crunches.

Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor who regularly talks money with her honey, Robert Brokamp, editor of The Motley Fool'sRule Your Retirement newsletter. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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