11 Steps To Financial Freedom – Step 4: Compare Your Spending To Your Goals

After reading an article called 11 Steps To Financial Freedom in the latest MoneySense magazine, I thought it would be interesting to go through each of these steps one-by-one and share my results on this blog.  Each week I’ll go through one of the 11 steps to financial freedom, with the intention of creating a complete financial plan by the end of the series.

Over the past three weeks I have prioritized my goals, determined my net worth and recorded my cash flow.  Now it’s time for step 4: compare your spending to your goals.

Adjust Your Spending

According to the MoneySense article, this step is not about punishing yourself or laying blame.  If you would rather go out for dinner four times a week than buy a cottage in ten years, that’s your choice.  But you owe it to yourself to be honest about what you’re doing so you’re not wondering why you can’t reach your financial goals.

Before our daughter was born my wife and I decided we would make a few financial sacrifices in order to have one parent stay home to raise our kids.  This goal was very important for us but the reality was that we needed to adjust our personal budget as well as our expectations for the kind of lifestyle we would be living.  Over time we found that we were able to live quite comfortably on a single income, and now that we’ve finally upgraded our house it’s time for us to re-think our financial goals and start a new plan going forward.

Action Step #4: Compare Your Spending To Your Goals

We needed to take another look at “Worksheet 1-Prioritize your goals” and “Worksheet 4-Your spending and savings.”  The idea here is to look at how well your current spending habits mesh with your goals.

If you have a cash flow deficit you won’t be able to meet your goals, so you’ll have to see if you can free up cash by cutting back your spending in areas that are less important to you.  If you have a cash surplus, congratulations.  You can start allocating money to meet your goals right away.

Identify Priorities

As I mentioned last week, we have been tracking our spending for over two years and have a fairly good grasp on our spending habits.  I also track my personal rate of inflation to see where our expenses have increased each year.  The good news is that after all of the bills are paid we have a cash surplus of about $1,900 each month.

We’ve already determined that we’re going to allocate an extra $500 a month towards our mortgage, which will help pay it off in 16 years instead of 25.  But before we divide up the rest of the surplus, we’ve identified 3 priorities that need to be looked after in the short term:

  1. Landscaping and fence – $2,500.  We moved into our new house in August, but our neighbours have yet to move in on either side of us.  We’ve already met the owners though, and we’ve agreed to split the cost of building our fences in the Spring.  We’ll also need to set aside some money for landscaping the front and back yard.
  2. Student loan – $3,500.  We’ve just been paying the minimum payments on my wife’s student loan.  With interest rates so low (and tax deductible), we weren’t in a hurry to pay off the loan.  But enough is enough now and it’s time to eliminate this debt from our lives, which will also free up an additional $150 a month in cash flow.
  3. New (used) car – $10,000.  My ’98 Hyundai Elantra has seen better days and we’ll need a newer vehicle if we plan on growing our family in the near future.

Unfortunately, taking care of these priorities in 2012 means that we’ll be putting some of our savings goals on hold for another year.  At least we’ll have a head start on our mortgage pre-payments, and by the end of 2012 we’ll have just over $1,500 a month to start allocating towards my RRSP contributions, our tax free savings accounts and our daughter’s RESP.  That should allow us to catch up on the extra contribution room available in our taxable accounts, and maximize our RESP contributions.

Next week we’ll look at our financial goals with Step 5: Set Your Top 3 Goals.

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  1. Grady Pruitt on October 12, 2011 at 7:39 am

    Taking a look at what we’re spending money on can really be a wake up call. I recently realized I had to cut back on some of the things I had been spending money on because I could not afford to do so if I wanted to reach my goals. Thanks for sharing!

  2. My Own Advisor on October 12, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Nice post Robb.

    Goals are great, I just wrote a post about ours, but if you’re not comparing or monitoring how you’re working towards those goals, you might be surprised to find out that reality does not match them.

    We’re all guilty of that now and again, I think the key is to be aware of it! 🙂

  3. The Wealthy Canadian on October 16, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    Nice job Echo.

    It certainly seems like you have your spending under control.

    Great idea to discuss your vehicle. A lot of people don’t plan ahead for a vehicle until it’s no longer working. Realizing that it will be an unfortunate expense you will have to endure can be a hard one, but forcing yourself to highlight these new priorities certainly seems like a good exercise.

    Getting the mortgage paid off within 16 years instead of 25 is a huge difference. It really shows the difference increased payments can make. That’s good discipline if you ask me.

    Keep up the great work. Looking forward to the rest of the series. 🙂

    • Echo on October 16, 2011 at 8:10 pm

      @TWC – thanks! We weren’t really sure how we would handle living on one income, but we’ve made goals and have been able to reach our objectives so far. Saving up for a new house was our top priority for the past two years and now that we’re settled in I think it’s important to identify new priorities so we don’t just end up spending the difference.

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