Smart Money Podcast: Your Money in 2023: Use Your Values to Set Your Goals

Jae Bratton
Liz Weston, CFP®
Sean Pyles
By Sean Pyles,  Liz Weston, CFP® and  Jae Bratton 
Edited by Sheri Gordon

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Welcome to NerdWallet’s Smart Money podcast, where we answer your real-world money questions. 

This week’s episode is all about how you can use your values to set and keep your money goals in 2023.

Check out this episode on any of these platforms:

Before you build a budget
NerdWallet breaks down your spending and shows you ways to save.

Our take

It can be easy to lose enthusiasm and motivation for the financial goals we set, even the ones that we really want to accomplish. But there are strategies that can help us stick to our goals and ultimately achieve them. 

First, try to set goals that are tied to something you value deeply, such as family or continuing your education. Doing so gives your goal greater significance and can make it less likely that you’ll give up on it. Once you’ve established your financial goals, find ways to break them into smaller, actionable steps. In that way, the seemingly impossible — say, saving for a down payment on a house — transforms into something more manageable. Rewarding yourself after you’ve hit the smaller milestones along the way to that ultimate goal can keep you motivated, too. 

Recruit whatever tools and resources are necessary to support you as you work toward your goals. For example, you might use vision boards and progress trackers to make your goal, and the progress toward it, more tangible. An accountability partner can be another insurance policy that ensures you meet your goals. 

Our tips

  • Lean on your values. Connect your money goals to what you care about most. 

  • Give your goals structure. Once you know what you want to do in the new year, use a goal-setting framework to help you follow through. 

  • Don’t go it alone. Share your goals with your friends and family to find support in difficult times and keep you accountable.

More about money goals on NerdWallet:

Have a money question? Text or call us at 901-730-6373. Or you can email us at [email protected]. To hear previous episodes, go to the podcast homepage.

Episode transcript

Sean Pyles: Welcome to the NerdWallet Smart Money Podcast, where you send us your money questions, and we answer them with the help of our genius Nerds. I'm Sean Pyles.

Liz Weston: And I'm Liz Weston. To contact the Nerds, call or text us on the Nerd hotline at 901-730-6373. That's 901-730-NERD. Or email us at [email protected]

Sean Pyles: Follow us wherever you get your podcast to get new episodes delivered to your feed. And if you like what you hear, please leave us a review and tell your friends. This episode, Liz and I are kicking off a series about how you can make the most of your money in 2023. Over the next four weeks, we will talk about investing in 2023, what home buyers and sellers can expect and managing your finances in uncertain times.

Liz Weston: And to start this series, Sean and I are going to talk about how to set goals you will actually keep in 2023.

Sean Pyles: This is always the perennial problem where people start out the year with these great ambitions and they have all these things they want to do with their money, but then it's like, "OK, how do I actually do this?" Or maybe folks don't even know what they want to do with their money? And we've talked about this many times, Liz, pretty much every year we have some sort of conversation like this, and we're approaching it a little bit differently this year.

And I think that the key difference this year is that we're going to be focusing on how you can use your values to guide your goals. And by that, I mean, think about what brings you the most joy and meaning in your life, and also focus on areas where you want to make the biggest impact on your life and your relationships, and your community.

Liz Weston: And Sean, I know you just had a talk with a financial therapist about exactly this topic and why so many people can't make their goals come true.

Sean Pyles: Yeah, exactly. I was talking with this woman, Saundra Davis, who was one of the founders of the Financial Therapy Association, and we were discussing the concept of money goals. And she mentioned to me that she doesn't like that concept because goals, having a specific money goal, can feel really separate or maybe disjointed from the rest of the way you live your life and who you are.

But instead, if you focus on living your values through your financial ambitions, it can make the exercise of setting goals feel more real and connected to everything else that you have going on in your life. You can't compartmentalize what you do with your money versus how you live your life and structure your relationships and things like that.

Liz Weston: OK. I've heard a phrase, "knowing your why," or your motivation for your goals.

Sean Pyles: And that's basically it. You have to think about what is underpinning why you're doing everything in your life. And really, it does come down to your values. I think it might be helpful for us to talk through our values for this year and how they are, kind of, embodied through our goals. So, one that's really important to me is continuing education. And over the past few years, I've come to terms with the fact that there are certain limits on things that I can teach myself. And this started in part with my interest in watercolor painting. I've been dabbling for a while, and eventually my partner, Garrett, said, "Hey, maybe you would benefit from some formalized instruction instead of just trying to wing it by YouTube videos?" And I was like, "Well, that's a great point."

So I signed up for a class at the local community college, and I have learned a tremendous amount. And where this extends into my finances, I, despite working at Nerd Wallet, know that there are only so many things that I can do myself, and that is where having a financial planner comes in handy. Liz, you and I have been talking about this for so long, and you often mentioned building a team over time to help you manage your finances, and you have a team to do exactly this.

Liz Weston: Yes.

Sean Pyles: So one of the things that I'm doing in 2023 is establishing quarterly meetings with my financial planner, which I think will be life changing.

Liz Weston: Excellent. Yes. Oh, that makes so much of a difference. Just putting those things on the calendar will help you focus and will help you make progress. Those conversations can be so helpful. So, yay to you.

Sean Pyles: Thank you.

Liz Weston: What other values are you using to set your goals this year?

Sean Pyles: Another value that I am embodying this year is helping others. And I really like doing small, everyday things, to help my community. And one example of that is that I've had regular donations to the food bank in the Portland area for quite a while. But now that I am based in Ocean Shores, Washington, I really want to connect with organizations in Ocean Shores, which is a super tiny town. So that's going to be things like donating to the food bank there, because hunger is such a pervasive issue. And then also volunteering and connecting with people there.

Liz Weston: Oh, I like that.

Sean Pyles: And then, the last value that I have in 2023 that I'm going to be focusing on is self-reliance, in a way. So, it's going to be improving my financial and physical and mental resilience. So, I'm trying to put myself in the best position to weather whatever comes my way. And I know that it's important to rely on others, and I do that plenty, but I figured that I can't be in the best position to help those that I care about most if I'm not as well set up as I can be.

Liz Weston: Yeah. And "resilience" is the key word there. You want to be able to absorb whatever things happen to you and keep moving along your financial path and towards your goals.

Sean Pyles: Yeah. Because there will always be some new unexpected challenge. I think the last three years have really exemplified that, unfortunately, for better or worse.

Liz Weston: Yeah.

Sean Pyles: So that's what I'm thinking about this year. Liz, what are you doing to have your values guide your goals?

Liz Weston: Well integrity and sustainability, to me, are two really important values. So I'd like to get my 401(k) money into a sustainable investment option. Most of our other investments are currently in socially responsible and sustainable funds, and I was hoping for an easy option for a 401(k). I've kind of been pushing for that. We don't have that yet, but we do have a brokerage window, which allows you to choose essentially from whatever stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs [exchange traded funds] are out there. So I can create my own sustainable investing plan through a 401(k) using that brokerage window.

And as you mentioned, helping others is important. I want to connect with my family more and with our community. So, looking for ways to get back and connect through the air is important. And then the final, really important value for me, is personal growth. And we've got a lot of travel plan for this year, including an extended stay in Paris. So I am finally going to restart French lessons.

Sean Pyles: Oh, wonderful.

Liz Weston: Yeah, so "me talk pretty someday," as David Sedaris would say.

Sean Pyles: Aha. I think that's such an important thing to focus on, and it relates back to me continuing my education, the idea of personal growth being something that never stops. There's always more to do, whether it's learning a language or getting help from someone who can teach you things that you may not be able to teach yourself. I find that to be something that I am always trying to bring into my life.

Liz Weston: Oh, I like that, yeah. And as you said, YouTube videos, they could only go so far.

Sean Pyles: Well, listeners, I would implore you to go through the same exercise. Maybe have a conversation with someone that you love and trust and talk about your values and how you can have those be manifested through financial goals or just other types of goals like travel or learning a new language. And then once you know what you want to do, I think it's important to have a framework to help you meet your goals. And at the Smart Money Podcast, we are big fans of the SMART Goal framework, although I have my own twist on it, I call them "SMARTR Goals." So, SMARTR is an acronym which stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound and the R that I add at the end is Rewarded. Treat yourself as you're making progress and you are much more likely to follow through on your goals over the course of an entire year.

Liz Weston: Yes, treats are good.

Sean Pyles: Yes. And while you're setting up this framework, try to think about how you can break really big goals, like if you want to max out your 401(k) this year, into smaller goals; that can make them much more achievable. Another thing to think about is, say you want to move to a new city by the middle of the year. So in January, think about looking at new apartments, which is also just a fun excuse to browse Zillow, to get an idea of how much rent could cost in that city and how much you might have to save up for a potential security deposit. And then next month, set your plan for saving up to have the money you need to move into an apartment and have a security deposit set. That's just one example.

Liz Weston: Or you might have a goal paying off your credit card debt, which by the way, is an excellent goal to have in any year, but especially now. We've had a lot of interest rate increases. Credit card debt is always expensive, it's just gotten more so. So, now is a really excellent time to pay it off.

Sean Pyles: Yeah. And paying off credit card debt can be intimidating and scary. A lot of people I know that have grappled with credit card debt have felt pretty isolated, and like they're the only ones who have it. And the truth is that they are not. Lots and lots of people have credit card debt, so if you do have it, please don't feel ashamed, but also I'd implore you to take some steps to resolve it because it is so horribly expensive.

One of the first steps that can help you is simply knowing how much you have. And it can be really anxiety inducing to start, but you got to dig it all up. I would say physically write down your balances and current interest rates and monthly payments and then look into using a calculator like the one we have at NerdWallet to see when you could be debt-free and how much money you'll pay an interest with your current credit card payments. That can be a very eye-opening experience.

Liz Weston: Yes. And you can look for ways to pay your debt off faster and cheaper. There are a lot of options. If you've got a family member that you can ask for help, that's one way. If you have good credit, a balance transfer card can help you get your interest rates down. If you're really struggling, there are debt management plans at legitimate credit counseling agencies that can help you. Personal loans are another way to fix the interest rate, fix the payment and get that debt paid off over time.

Sean Pyles: And just to tie this back to a value, for me, I value my friends not paying too much in interest. And if you're listening to this podcast, I'm going to consider you a friend. But do what you can to not pay a ton in interest to a credit card company because that's money I would rather see you spend on other things in your life, like vacations or saving for retirement. And on your end, I'm going to bet that once you have a plan to pay off your debt or you completely resolve it, you will sleep better at night and have more financial freedom.

Liz Weston: Amen to that.

Sean Pyles: All right. Another thing that I think folks should focus on in 2023 if they are not sure where they should set their goals, is simply saving. Because like we talked about a little bit earlier, there's always going to be some new surprise just waiting to upend your finances, and saving as much as you can, can help you mitigate the financial sting of whatever ends up happening.

Liz Weston: Yes. And in addition, make sure that you are funding your fun. And that means setting aside money for the fun things. For us, it's travel. Making sure that you have those rewards scheduled in over the course of the year and to save up for them so you're not going further into debt could be really important.

Sean Pyles: Yeah. There can be a tendency some time in the personal finance space to focus on all of the arduous, boring, paperworky things that you can do with your money. But money is just a tool to let you live the life that you want. And fun is a very important part of life. So figure out how your money is going to enable you to have more fun with your friends. I've kind of fallen into this habit with my college pals, where we meet up a few times a year at some destination we've never been to and we are due to plan another such vacation. So that is how I'm going to be funding my fun this year.

Liz Weston: I like that. We should probably talk about how to follow through on all these goals and plans to make sure we actually do them.

Sean Pyles: Yeah. In addition to using the SMARTR framework to set your goals, I think folks should focus on the habits that will get them to achieve their goals. One thing that can be really great when it comes to saving is setting up automated deposits into a high-yield savings account. Liz and I are really big fans of what we call "savings buckets," and that's basically a different savings account for each financial goal.

I have one that is simply called "fence fund" for the fence I will one day maybe build on my house. It's been taking so long to build money for that because fences are quite expensive. But then, I have my “fun money” too, and I have my “life happens” money and my “emergency money” too. So that can be a great way to have that habit built in and not even have to think about it.

Liz Weston: Yes. And one of the habits that I'm going to create is, to regularly look over our transactions. We had a lot of credit card compromises this year, and sometimes these fraudulent charges kind of went right through without paying attention to them. If you use sites where you can charge a lot of different things, let's say Amazon or Apple or something like that, sometimes it's hard to see the real charges versus the ones that are bogus.

But, in general, just getting in the habit of looking over those transactions, to make sure that you're not letting your spending get away from you or over subscribing to things. You know the drill. But we're going to have regular reviews of all the transactions just to make sure that we're catching, either fraud or excessive spending, and doing it early.

Sean Pyles: Yeah. And with my strategy of paying off my credit card balance, maybe not every day, but about every other day or at least weekly, I go through and I review the charges that are on my credit card. And that's a regular way to have the habit of reviewing what's been charged and ensuring that it's totally correct and there isn't an instance of fraud.

Liz Weston: Yeah, that's great. Now, we've talked about accountability partners as well, having somebody in this fight with you or in this goal-setting and goal-achieving race with you. So how would you suggest people go about that?

Sean Pyles: Start the conversation with someone that you love and trust and maybe pester them by talking about this until they are invested in this narrative and can help you follow through on it. I am currently training for a 10-mile race, and I've become one of those people who won't shut up about running. And it's to the point where my partner, Garrett, kind of rolls his eyes and he is like, "OK, OK, go enjoy your 5-mile run, whatever." And I know he is cheering for me, but also, mentally, it helps me stay accountable. I feel like I owe it almost to him as much as I owe it to myself. And it helps you follow through in some ways.

Liz Weston: OK. Another good way to stay motivated is a little bit more introverted than the extroverted of telling everyone, it's journaling. It's a great way to get your thoughts out of your brain and onto something physical so you can really evaluate how things are going. This is a kind of mental offloading that really is effective. If you haven't tried it or haven't tried it recently, I'd highly suggest it because it can really help you get these things down in a way that you can look at it and be a little bit more objective. So, if you're having problems reaching a goal or you're not quite sure what you want your goals to be or how you want to meet them, journaling can be a great way to do that.

Sean Pyles: I'm a huge fan of journaling, and that's something that I started, actually, in the beginning of 2022. And I found myself, by the end of last year, having this habit of when I start the month, laying out what I want to do. Different things like, "OK, I want to practice painting a little bit more. Maybe I want to eat out less this month. I want to make sure I talk with these friends." And then at the end of the month, I go back and I see how I did on those various goals. And so, it's a way where I'm almost my own accountability partner, but through the practice of writing, you're able to really think through what's driving you to do this, what challenges you're facing, and then work through them on your own.

Liz Weston: Excellent. I like that idea.

Sean Pyles: Another thing I want to talk about, which is something I will admit I've never done, but people love to do, is vision boarding. And it's a wonderful way to, if you are a very visually minded person, have the image of what you want to accomplish. Like going back to paying off debt, say you map out how much you have, a thermometer is a classic image here, and you can fill in the thermometer as you're paying off your debt. And then you are seeing how much closer you're getting every time you make a payment on what you owe.

Liz Weston: Yeah. And obviously, you can do that for savings, as well. You can set your goal at the top of the thermometer and color in the sections as you save the money. OK, well, we've talked about our goals and a little bit about how we plan to implement them, and we would love to hear from you, what are your goals for this new year and how do you think you're going to achieve them? So, let us be your accountability partner.

Sean Pyles: Yeah, you can leave us a voicemail on the Nerd hotline at 901-730-6373. You can also text us there or just shoot us an email at [email protected]

Liz Weston: And we'd love to hear from you, so please let us know.

Sean Pyles: All right. Well, with that, let's get on to our takeaway tips. And Liz, will you please start us off?

Liz Weston: Yes, indeed. First, lean on your values. Connect your money goals to what you care about most.

Sean Pyles: Next up, give your goals structure. Once you know what you want to do in the new year, use a goal-setting framework to help you follow through.

Liz Weston: Finally, don't go it alone. Share your goals with your friends and family and Smart Money to find support in difficult times and keep you accountable.

Sean Pyles: And that is all we have for this episode. To send the Nerds your money questions, call or text us on the Nerd hotline at 901-730-6373. That's 901-730-NERD. You can also email us at [email protected] Visit nerdwallet.com/podcast for more info on this episode. And remember to follow, rate and review us wherever you're getting this podcast.

Liz Weston: And here's our brief disclaimer. We are not financial or investment advisors. This Nerdy info is provided for general educational and entertainment purposes and may not apply to your specific circumstances. This episode was produced by Sean Pyles and myself. Kaely Monahan edited our audio. Jae Bratton wrote our show notes, and a big thank you to the folks on the NerdWallet copy desk for all they do.

Sean Pyles: And with that said, until next time, turn to the Nerds.