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Money-do list: Your guide to financial goals

Key takeaways

  • Create financial goals and then give your money the job of helping you achieve them.
  • Follow this framework for creating, prioritizing, and tackling your goals.
  • Remember to set specific, attainable, and quantifiable goals.

Your money might have a to-do list a mile long: pay off debt, save for retirement, build emergency savings, cover gas and groceries.... And that's before you've even gotten to what you want to do with your cash (think: vacations, dinners out, upgraded computers). With so many jobs to do, it can be hard to tell exactly which should come first.

Here's our framework for how to create, prioritize, and then tackle your financial goals.

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Financial goal examples and roadmap

Saving for 1 financial goal by itself may not feel hard. The trouble is you probably never have just 1 goal competing for your money's attention. Here are some of the most important financial goals to put on your radar and how to attack them.

1. Understand your essential expenses, your take-home pay, and your interest rates

It sounds basic—just getting a grasp on the actual numbers involved in your financial situation. And yet, when was the last time you pored over your paystubs and monthly account statements? You should know what you have coming in and going out each month before you can optimize reaching bigger financial goals.

2. Make a budget

To reach your financial goals, you'll have to make sure you're spending less than you make, and 1 of the easiest ways to do that is to make a budget. A good place to start is with the 50/15/5 framework, where you allocate 50% of your monthly take-home pay to essentials, 15% of your pre-tax income to retirement savings, and 5% of take-home pay to short-term savings or emergency savings. The rest? It's up to you—and your financial goals. Because life and finances change over time, check in on your budgetLog In Required regularly to make sure it's still working for you.

3. Maintain at least minimum insurance coverage through your employer

Insurance helps protect you from life's what-ifs. Ensuring you have enough coverage should be a high priority as you create your financial roadmap. So opt into the health, life, and disability plans available to you. These types of insurance are often easier (and cheaper) to get through employers, and while they're a crucial part of any financial plan, they're especially vital if you don't have enough emergency savings to cover the types of catastrophic events they protect against.

4. Fund eligible medical expenses with pre-tax dollars

Health savings accounts (HSAs) and flexible spending accounts (FSAs) let you pay for eligible medical expenses with pre-tax dollars, effectively raising the value of your medical dollar by whatever your current income tax rate is. Which of the 2 accounts you're eligible for depends on your health plan—only those with HSA-compatible high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) can contribute to HSAs; those in other plans and those who opt out of HSAs can contribute to FSAs. Because these accounts are such valuable tools, you may eventually want to contribute up to their max. When you're just starting out, aim to add enough money to cover your usual expenses, like doctor copays, and then if you’re able, the amount of your deductible or out-of-pocket max.

5. Begin building an emergency savings of $1,000

If you don't have any emergency savings yet, work on this goal next. Like insurance, emergency savings is part of the financial safety net you should prioritize building to protect yourself from life's surprises. A helpful first goal is to stash $1,000.

6. Get your 401(k) match

When you're trying to make ends meet, saving for retirement might not be a top priority. But if you have access to a workplace retirement plan—and any sort of employer match—don't miss out on an easy way to instantly increase your investment. (If you're not contributing up to the employer match, you're leaving free money on the table.) As you get the rest of your financial house in order, you can boost how much you contribute to your 401(k).

7. Pay down credit card debt

With credit card APRs averaging nearly 25%,1 credit card debt is some of the most expensive debt out there. It's roughly 4.5 times the going rate for federal subsidized student loans.2 Make sure you're at least covering your minimum monthly payment, but work toward paying more than that every month until you've zeroed out what you owe.

8. Save for something special

Saving for certain goals can seem like eating your financial vegetables. While it's important to plan for retirement, it's also helpful to include moments of more instant gratification. Maybe you want to go on a big anniversary trip or plan a reunion. Work to find ways to include these fun goals through the various pitstops on your financial goal roadmap to reward yourself and keep up your motivation.

9. Flesh out your emergency savings

While $1,000 is a great place to start, it may not be enough to completely shield you from an unexpected turn of events, such as a layoff. That's why as soon as you can, you should work to save 3 to 6 months' worth of basic living expenses. And don't forget: You should prioritize replenishing your emergency account after you've tapped it.

10. Pay down other high-interest debt

Not all debt is created equal. How you prioritize paying it off often depends on the interest rate. Fidelity recommends targeting paying off debts with interest rates of more than 6% as soon as you can. It may seem counterintuitive not to chip away at all of your debt, but money you'd spend getting ahead on lower-interest-rate debt may be better spent on investments that historically have returned more than 6% each year on average. Individual situations vary, so be sure to read our guide on whether to invest or pay off debt.

11. Maximize your tax-advantaged account contributions

Now's the time to flip your investment contributions into high gear. Aim to put the most you can into the tax-advantaged accounts you have access to. That includes everything from your HSA to your workplace retirement plan to your individual retirement accounts (IRAs). These accounts can help give your investments an extra leg up by avoiding paying taxes on either what you put into them or what you take out—or, in the case of an HSA used for eligible medical expenses, both.

Tips for hitting your financial goals

Whether you've got a financial goal you hope to meet tomorrow or in 40 years, keep the following tips in mind to up your chances of being successful.

Set specific, attainable, quantifiable goals

Make sure you can clearly articulate how much you need to save for each of your goals, as well as the path you'll take to get there. Consider the difference between "save for a down payment" and "I'd like to have $24,000 for a down payment in 4 years, so I'll save $500 a month." With the second, you know exactly what it's going to take to get from point A to your new home.

Consider separate accounts for each goal

This approach is known as "bucketing," and it helps you keep a clear tally of how much you've saved toward each goal. Not only does this keep you from having to figure out what part of your slush fund is earmarked for what, but it also may motivate you to save more. Think about the jolt of dopamine you'll get each time you deposit more cash into your wedding or vacation fund. Or the one you'll get from helping your kids save for their own goals.

Pick the right account types

There's no 1-size-fits-all account when it comes to financial goals. You'll want a range to meet your goals efficiently. For short-term goals, you want your money to be safe and “liquid,” or easily accessible as cash. That's when you'll probably want something like a money market account or a high-interest savings account that can almost assure you'll have your money when you need it. For retirement savings goals, though, you might prefer to position yourself for greater potential returns—and oftentimes that means putting your money in the stock market. That's where retirement accounts, like the 401(k) you have at work or an individual retirement account (IRA), can come in handy, for tax advantages in addition to compounded returns if invested appropriately and given time to grow.

Automate contributions whenever you can

Nobody wants the headache of having to ferry their cash between their various accounts. Instead, set up automatic contributions from your paycheck or recurring transfers from a main checking account to other goal-based accounts. The less you have to think about, the easier it is to save.

Get organized, hit your goals

Create a flexible plan you can adjust to your life.

More to explore

Help me budget

Categorize expenses to help reach saving goals.
1. Matt Schultz, “Average Credit Card Interest Rate in America Today,” LendingTree, March 13, 2024. 2. Department of Education, Office of Federal Student Aid. "Loan Interest Rates and Fees," accessed April 2, 2024.

Keep in mind that investing involves risk. The value of your investment will fluctuate over time, and you may gain or lose money.

This information is intended to be educational and is not tailored to the investment needs of any specific investor.

The information provided here is general in nature. It is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal or tax advice. Because the administration of an HSA is a taxpayer responsibility, customers should be strongly encouraged to consult their tax advisor before opening an HSA. Customers are also encouraged to review information available from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for taxpayers, which can be found on the IRS Web site at They can find IRS Publication 969, Health Savings Accounts and Other Tax-Favored Health Plans, and IRS Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses (including the Health Coverage Tax Credit),online, or you can call the IRS to request a copy of each at 800.829.3676.

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