It’s Your Money Column – Check Out this System to Work Toward Your Financial Goals

You made it through the holiday season without too much damage to your financial base, but you’ve vowed to do better in 2004. Marsha Goetting, a family economics specialist at Montana State University, has designed a way to make this simple: Save by using a checkbook register, and your job is easy.

The instructions are free at You can use any checkbook register or order a checkbook register from Montana State with printed headings for $2. This light and small-enough-to-fit-in-your-checkbook savings tracker helps you actually achieve your good intentions. Here’s how it works.

You and your family decide what you would like to accomplish in 2004 (or even farther in the future). In the beginning, make this process very simple by selecting one to four goals. Examples of goals include gifts, travel, vehicles, college and retirement. Decide when you need the money for your goal and subtract any money you have already saved.

Let’s say you want to visit family next December. You write the date and the estimated total amount you’ll need in your savings tracker. As you deposit money into your savings account, you keep a running balance of each goal plus the total as your savings grow. You can easily watch your progress toward your travel goal plus the other goals you are funding. You can always make changes if you’re behind, or you can pat yourself on the back if you are right on track.

One of the most important parts of the system is the ongoing opportunity to make high-priority decisions. Would you rather spend $100 on expensive shoes or buy less expensive ones and put away $50 toward your holiday trip?

Gifts are one goal that is a little more complicated, partly because we often spend more than we can really afford because we haven’t thought through the total cost for the year. It is also a goal that we are constantly adding to and subtracting from savings. Think carefully about all of the birthdays and other gift-giving occasions coming up in 2004, plan how much you want to spend on each, then total the amount. The planning page of the savings tracker provides a space to write in your entire year’s goal. However, as you withdraw from your savings for gifts, reduce the amount that you need to save for the year. This same process can be used for any goal that is funded and used several times during the year. At the end of the year, did you stay within the amount you planned?

It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you direct your money to work for you.

by Judy McKenna, Ph.D., CFP, Family Economics Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension,, 491-5772