June 4, 2017

Stewardship Transformation pt. 3: Designing the Future

In our previous newsletter we talked about completing the past, which helps us to understand why we are where we are – financially or in life in general. This month, we’re looking at the next step: Designing the future.

For the believer, designing the future is a balancing act between faith in a God who is ultimately sovereign on one hand and taking responsibility for the resources he has given us and for our place in his kingdom on the other. As a result, as with other steps in the process, designing the future must be done in a context of prayer – not just a quick “Lord, please guide me” prayer, but concerted prayer over our goals and plans.

In business, a common practice in planning is to set goals referred to as SMART goals, where each letter in the acronym describes an aspect of the goals. Michael Hyatt has adapted this acronym into one he refers to as SMARTER goals.

First, SMARTER goals are Specific. As we think about financial freedom, this means avoiding vague goals like “I want to be in better financial shape” or “I want to have more financial freedom”. These goals don’t push us in a direction. On the other hand, a goal like “I want to reduce debt” is specific enough to suggest actions (using cash instead of continuing to use credit cards, paying more than minimum payments, etc.).

Second, SMARTER goals are Measurable. A goal such as “reduce debt” is specific, but not measurable because it doesn’t have a target. Reduce by how much? Is a $10 reduction in debt over the period of a year success? We’d probably agree that it’s not. So setting a measurable goal means setting a criteria, such as “I want to reduce debt by $10,000” or maybe “I want to pay off credit cards X, Y, and Z”.

Third, SMARTER goals are Actionable. They’re written in such a way as to indicate actions to be taken, using active verbs rather than passive verbs. So a goal like “Be more disciplined in spending” doesn’t suggest any specific action. But a goal like “Establish a monthly budget” gives a specific action step to take.

Fourth, SMARTER goals are Risky. This is where Hyatt differs from the typical SMART goals, where the “R” stands for Realistic. Our goals should be difficult enough that they are worth celebration when we meet them. They should be goals that push us, not goals that we would accomplish just through normal living. Risky goals require faith. They should drive us to our knees in prayer, dependent on God for his strength and provision. At the same time, they shouldn’t be delusional. They should be difficult, not impossible, to attain.

Fifth, SMARTER goals are Time-bound. They have a target date. “Reduce debt by $10,000” needs a deadline date in order to encourage action. If the date is far enough out, we tend to procrastinate. But we take action when there’s a challenging date.

One of the keys to setting deadlines for goals is not to stack deadlines too close. For example, it might not be wise to set a goal for building an emergency fund and another goal for retiring all debt for the same date. In some cases, it will be necessary to prioritize goals, setting the deadlines far enough apart so that they can all be met.

Not all goals are “achievement” goals that have a specific deadline. Some goals can better be thought of as “habit” goals – objectives that describe patterns rather than specific achievements. An example would be, “I will write down my expenses for the day every night when I get home.” This defines the frequency and the time when the action will be taken. The more specific the definition of the habit, the better chance we have of meeting the goal.

Sixth, SMARTER goals are Exciting. They’re goals that motivate us and keep our attention. They’re goals worth celebrating when we accomplish them – which is one of the reasons they need to be a bit “risky”.

Note that part of the excitement can be generated by setting milestone goals, helping us to stay motivated on the way to the larger goals. The “debt snowball” is a good example of this, where we set goals for retirement of individual credit cards and loans on the way to being completely out of debt.

Finally, SMARTER goals are Relevant. They’re meaningful in our current financial situation. For example, it may not make sense to set a goal for investing while we’re still in debt.

Specific. Measurable. Actionable. Risky. Time-bound. Exciting. Relevant.

Do you have financial goals for this year? Are they SMARTER? How about the members of your congregation as you’re training them in Biblical stewardship?