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USAA Tips: How to set financial goals for the new year

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Content provided courtesy of USAA.

The end of the year is a time to reflect — to listen to your most-played songs on Spotify, watch your Facebook year-in-review and purge the list of people you follow on Instagram — but it’s also an ideal time to set financial goals for the year ahead.

While many New Year’s goals involve money (for example, a “healthy eating” resolution can include eating out less, cooking more and spending less money overall on food), other kinds of goals are solely focused on financial readiness. These are the kinds of goals that will get you on the path to financial wellness and can lead to building wealth!

Matthew Angel, Advice Director of Personal Finance at USAA, reminds us that achieving goals starts by “breaking your goal down into its smallest components — like playing a video game. With a game, you don’t start with the hardest puzzle. You start with the easiest, celebrate your win, and then move on to the next level.”

Ready to set financial goals for the new year, but not sure where to start? In this two-part series, we’ll first help you figure out how to create financial goals that hit the sweet spot between “pie in the sky” dreaming versus the kind of task you might find on a daily checklist. In part two, we’ll explore how to set financial goals tailored to your age or stage in life.

What Makes a Good Goal?

The best goals are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. It’s a simple acronym to turn what might otherwise be vague goal-setting into an actionable plan with real results.

Specific goals should be well-defined and focused so they not only address the what, but also the why. This is one of the most important ways to set financial goals that can be broken down into clear next steps. For example, “Start a college tuition account for my eldest child” is more specific than “send my kids to college,” because it’s easier to see how the first goal can trigger a clear next step (visit a financial institution to start a college savings account) than the second.

When it comes to setting specific financial goals, don’t just use your words: get visual! As Angel suggests, “Print out a picture of where you want to go or what you want to do, and put it on the refrigerator as a visual reminder of the goal you want to achieve.” Plus, a high-traffic spot like the fridge will issue a constant reminder, keeping your goal top of mind and boosting motivation to help you stick to it.

Measurable goals are trackable goals, meaning they include metrics that will indicate how you will measure progress. And tracking your progress helps you feel more in control, which is especially important when you set financial goals, which can often feel intimidating. When setting financial goals, think about how you might measure progress, like: exactly how much money are you going to set aside each week, or month, to save for a future college fund, new home, or retirement? Think about it — achieving a goal without a measurable outcome is like tracking weight loss without a scale. The numbers simply won’t add up!

Here’s an example from Matthew Angel on goal measurement: Say you’re a 24-year-old single, enlisted male with a dream of visiting Europe in the next year. Angel advises that one way to make your goal measurable is to “…attach a number and then work your way backward toward the amount you need to save. So, if your trip will cost $5,000 and you want to travel in the next calendar year — do the math! $5000 divided by 12 months equals saving about $420 per month. Want to speed things up? The more money you save each month, the sooner you get to go on your trip.”

Attainable goals are achievable. Set yourself up for success by creating motivation momentum through pinpointing small (but regular) milestones along the way toward a larger change. Modest successes can have a big impact on confidence, which can be the fuel you need to keep going, especially if your financial goals are long-term in nature. One example of an attainable goal? Eliminate or reduce one spending habit in January, then start contributing that amount to your 401k in February. Even if the amount is not huge, the impact this has on developing new behavioral habits is definitely big and may help you challenge yourself to find another spending category to cut down in March to increase contributions in April.

Another way to set financial goals that are attainable is through accountability: communicate your goal to someone else. “If you have a spouse or significant other, it’s so important that you share your goal with that person,” says Angel. “And even if you’re single, it can be helpful to tell someone. Because one, it helps you stay honest; and two, it’s someone you share financial responsibilities with, you’re going to have to work together to achieve whatever your goal might be.”

Relevant goals are based on the current conditions and realities of your life: the right here and right now. Goals that don’t take into account the factors that directly and indirectly impact your life today (like your current job, family situation and financial status) might require major lifestyle changes to even get started, which can impede your momentum and seriously derail your confidence.

Over the years, Angel has learned that, “If you go really fast without thinking about what you’re doing, or how you’re going to do it, often times that won’t lead to the profit or the success that you’re looking for in the long term.” In other words, it’s more important that you accept and observe the reality of your current situation to set financial goals that are relevant to when you’ll make your first step.

Time-based goals have deadlines. If your goals are too open-ended, it’s likely they can drag on indefinitely, especially if you’re prone to procrastination. Of course, it’s important to have flexibility (because life happens), but make sure when you set financial goals that you’re giving yourself a specific period of time. That way, you can break up a time range into beginning, middle and end stages so you can schedule milestones to accomplish certain tasks, check in to make sure you’re still on track, or if life throws you a serious curveball, deciding whether your goals should be revised or reworked altogether.

For example: if you are trying to save $5,000 for a vacation by December, but suddenly lose your job in March, it might be better to put that savings plan on pause in case you need those funds to go towards paying essential bills while you find another job.

Check out this example of a SMART goal to get started: "Starting in January, I will automatically deduct $500 each month into a savings account in order to build a $6,000 emergency fund balance by next January.”

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Watch Legion testify Dec. 13 on pre-discharge programs for separating servicemembers

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American Legion Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division Deputy Director Gerardo Avila will testify before the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs on Dec. 13 at 10 a.m. The hearing, “Pre-Discharge Claims Programs: Are VA and DoD Effectively Serving Separating Military Personnel?,” will be streamed live. Watch the testimony here.

This oversight hearing will examine how the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are managing the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) and VA’s pre-discharge programs for separating servicemembers.

The American Legion continues to focus on the many challenges facing today’s transitioning servicemembers. The IDES program, while not perfect, has been helpful in reducing the number of days it takes to complete the medical board process, which has drastically reduced the gap from separation date to receipt of benefits. The American Legion supports the idea of having one compensation & pension (C&P) exam and rating decision with the results being accepted by both VA and DoD.

While improvements have been made, The American Legion still has concerns. These include DoD rating individuals placed on the Temporary Disability Retirement List, and a lack of available resources by members of the National Guard and reserves undergoing the IDES process at their home station.

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Bipartisan support for legislation expanding caregiver benefits

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The American Legion and several other veterans service organizations (VSOs) recently delivered more than 180,000 signed petitions to Congress that urges lawmakers to pass bipartisan legislation that will expand caregiver benefits for all disabled veterans under the Department of Veterans Affairs Comprehensive Caregiver Assistance Program. The bill, which the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs passed on Nov. 29 by a 14-1 vote, would help improve existing health care and services provided under the VA by expanding eligibility for veterans of all generations, including Vietnam-era servicemembers. It would also provide permanent, streamlined access to health care and services with a new Veterans Community Care Program.

The petitions were delivered during a press conference on Dec. 6 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. VSO representatives spoke about the importance of ensuring equal benefits to veterans of all generations. House and Senate leaders, including sponsors of the Caring for Our Veterans Act of 2017, were also present to voice their support and celebrate the bill’s passage last week in the Senate VA committee.

“Far too many veterans and their caregivers have been denied access to VA’s comprehensive caregivers benefits for the wrong reason,” said American Legion National Legislative Deputy Director Derek Fronabarger. “The American Legion believes eligibility for veterans’ benefits should not be based on when a veteran served, but rather how they served and their physical and mental condition upon returning home.” 

“As the daughter of a World War II veteran who visits with veterans in my home state of Washington, I have seen firsthand the vital role that caregivers fulfill,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a senior Senate VA committee member who is the bill’s lead sponsor. “It is impossible to overstate the value of having a family member or a loved one, by your side, while overcoming an illness or coping with an injury.

“The sacrifice that many caregivers make to provide vital day-to-day care for our wounded veterans often goes unnoticed. Taking care of our veterans means taking care of the caregivers who help make their recovery possible.”

Under VA’s current Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers, only veterans who served on or after 9/11 are eligible for enhanced support. The Caring for Our Veterans Act seeks to provide caregiver benefits to veterans injured before May 7, 1975. Veterans who were injured between 1975 and 2001 would be eligible two years after this bill is enacted.  

“We made a promise to care for our brave men and women when they return home from war – that includes supporting our caregivers,” Murray said. “We cannot stop until we get this done.”

Fronabarger said the nation should not and cannot treat veterans differently based only on their service. He said that withholding caregiver benefits of those who served before 9/11 is not giving them the respect and dignity they deserve.

“It is our hope to correct a serious flaw in the original caregiver legislation by removing the discriminatory barriers that prevent some of our nation’s most deserving veterans, and their caregivers, from receiving the comprehensive assistance they have earned,” he said. “The American Legion supports any responsible legislation that expands caregiver support to all veterans.” 

“Caregivers are true partners in the delivery of health care to veterans and they deserve quality support,” said Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Penn. “It is time that we expand this program to veterans of all generations.”

The Caring for Our Veterans Act is now awaiting a vote in the full Senate. If passed, the bill would provide about $4 billion for the Veterans Choice Fund and create standards for timely payment to community care providers.

“Often, caregivers put their lives on hold to provide full-time assistance to the veteran. This can take an immense toll on families, relationships, bank accounts and the health and well-being of caregivers,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., SVAC’s ranking member who introduced the bill. “We cannot rest easy until our efforts to expand the VA’s caregiver support program comes to fruition. Republicans, democrats and independents must continue to work together to get this legislation across the finish line and signed into law.”

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National Wreaths Across America Day is Dec. 16

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On Dec. 16, remembrance wreaths will be laid on the graves of America's fallen veterans throughout the country and overseas as part of National Wreaths Across America Day. The mission of the program is to "remember our fallen U.S. veterans, honor those who serve, and teach children the value of freedom."

This year, 1.2 million wreaths will be laid on veterans' gravesites in more than 1,200 locations. This includes the more than 200,000 wreaths that will be placed at Arlington National Cemetery.

American Legion posts and Legion Family members will participate in this annual wreath-laying program. Posts can share their wreath-laying stories on the Legion's web page

For more information about Wreaths Across America, visit For all social media postings, use the hashtag #WreathsAcrossAmericaDay.

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Legion Baseball alums Morris and Trammell elected into HoF

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Former American Legion Baseball players Jack Morris and Alan Trammell became the 73rd and 74th Legion Baseball alums elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

In the last five years, 11 American Legion Baseball alums have been inducted into Cooperstown.

The longtime Detroit Tiger teammates earned the honor on Dec. 10, through the 16-member Modern Era Committee, which held deliberations and balloting this weekend at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Morris had the most wins of any pitcher in the 1980s, 216, and made five All-Star appearances in his career. He also won four World Series rings, including three straight from 1991-1993.

The right-hander played Legion Baseball for St. Paul, Minn., Christie de Parcq, competing against fellow Hall of Famers Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor.

Morris was the 1991 World Series Most Valuable Player for his hometown Minnesota Twins.

Trammell spent his entire 20-year career as a member of the Detroit Tigers, amassing 2,365 hits, 185 home runs and 1,003 RBIs.

A six-time All-Star, Trammell led the Tigers to the 1984 World Series title, earning the World Series MVP in the process. Known for his stellar defense, Trammell earned four Gold Gloves.

Trammell was named the 1989 American Legion Baseball Graduate of the Year and played Legion Baseball in his hometown of San Diego.

The two players will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 29, 2018, along with any additional inductees voted upon by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in January.

For a full list of American Legion Baseball players in Cooperstown, click here.

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Did you know?

Military Funeral Honors ceremonies must be scheduled in advance.

The law requires that every eligible veteran receive a military funeral honors ceremony, which includes the folding and presentation of the United States flag and the playing of “taps,” upon the family’s request. This Department of Defense program calls for the funeral director to request military funeral honors on behalf of the veteran’s family.