This is the time of year when people start falling off the New Year’s Resolution wagon. As life continues to happen, so do the daily struggles and challenges that got us here in the first place. No matter how bad we wish we could, we simply can’t hit a reset button on life every year.
In EMS, it’s easy to get stuck in the never-ending cycle of overtime and debt. Especially when we continue to live beyond our means and not stick to a written budget. Overtime is one of the best and worst parts of our job. It’s nice because we have it available when we need or want extra cash, but it also works to our detriment as we quickly become dependent on it. Most other career fields don’t have the hours available that we do, so people hit their “rock bottom” quicker. For us in EMS, we just keep piling up the shifts and extra jobs until we run out of hours in the week or our sanity collapses.
To me, a resolution is nothing more than a wish. Instead of wishing that your life would get better, seriously make a plan and take action. Waiting until next payday, next month, or even next year to improve your situation just means that you aren’t really that serious about the change that you want. In order to really make change, you have to set measurable and achievable goals. You have to be realistic but at the same time not settle with where you are. In this article, I’ll take you through some steps to help set and achieve money goals, or any goals for that matter.
Set Goals That Can Be Measured Daily or Weekly
Setting a resolution to “lose weight” or “be better with money” is just a failure waiting to happen. How do you measure that? You have to be specific. Instead of saying “I want to be better with money”, try saying “I want to write a budget every time I get paid” or “I want to save $100 a month”. See where I’m going with this?
You should be able to go to bed every night and ask yourself: “Did I stick to my budget today?” It’s a simple yes or no question. Asking if you handled your money well is too subjective and nearly impossible to measure.
Start at the End and Work Your Way Back
When setting goals, it’s important to know where you want to be in 5 years, 10 years, etc. For example, I want to pay cash for a house in the next 7 years and retire from full-time EMS work by the time I’m 50. When I set these goals, I knew I had to accomplish the following things:
- Get out of debt
- Save up a 6-month emergency fund
- Start putting away at least 15% of my income into retirement investments
- Reduce my monthly income as much as I reasonably can
- Commit to a monthly savings amount towards a home purchase once I’ve paid off debt and built up my emergency fund
- Save up 10-times my average annual income for retirement
Everyone’s goals are different, but the principals are the same. If you plan to save $10,000 to put down on a home in 2 years, then you need to divide that number by the amount of months or pay periods until your goal date so you know how much money to set aside every payday. Do you see how knowing where your ending point is can be so important? It would be hard to make a savings plan if you didn’t know how much you wanted to save.
Be Reasonable With Yourself
We never want to sell ourselves short on our goals. If you want it, go out and get it, but be realistic about how long it’s going to take and what you’re going to have to do to accomplish it. It’s important to know your limitations and your challenges. Also, it’s important that you don’t set yourself up for failure by leaving no room to enjoy life while you’re working towards achieving your goals (at least for long-term goals). For example, I have some pretty major goals that I want to accomplish, but at the same time, I don’t want to live my entire life by the time-clock either. One thing I really pushed myself to do this year is to set aside money to travel and enjoy life a little bit more. By setting up sinking funds and being smart with airline miles, I’m able to accomplish this by setting aside less than $50 per pay check into my “travel fund”. Little things like this allow you to reward yourself without guilt and without derailing or delaying your goals.
Make a Commitment Today and START!
If you’re not happy with your situation, then start making changes today. Sure, you might not have money at the very moment or even in your next paycheck to start saving, but you can start writing down a plan and doing whatever it takes to accomplish your goals. Just ask yourself: “If I had started this last year, where would I be today?” Once you have that visual in your head, then commit to making the changes now so that you don’t have to repeat that question next year.
Nothing is impossible, not even on an EMS salary. Quit making excuses and start making results.