Short-term goals increase planning success

By Stephanie Holmes-Winton | January 8, 2013 | Last updated on September 21, 2023
2 min read

The financial planning world loves long-term goals. We worry about helping clients prepare for retirement or ensure their loved ones will be taken care of in the event of an untimely death.

But short-term goals are the highest motivators for clients.

Read: Why some clients won’t meet their financial goals

Say your client is about to make a habitual purchase that consistently contributes to overspending, and negatively impacts his long-term financial goals.

After you lectured him in your last planning session, he now pauses before making a purchase. He thinks, “If I make this purchase I may not be able to retire in 20 years.”

What are the odds of him forgoing that purchase? Near zero.

Read: Goals often lead to success

While the long-term goal is important to both you and him, he doesn’t believe this one little purchase is going to jeopardize his retirement. Also, he’s not excited enough about a reward that won’t come for 20 years to give up one that’s two feet away.

Now consider the same about to make the same purchase. But this time he thinks about the short-term goals you built in as part of his written cash-flow plan.

Read: Goals are easy, execution is tough

He says to himself, “If I make this purchase I’ll either have to take it from another part of my spending money, or I’ll be jeopardizing my trip to Mexico in three months.” Or, “If I make this purchase I won’t meet my short-term debt repayment goal and we’ll have to put off the renovation,” or “If I make this purchase my plan to work four-day weeks starting next month will never work.”

From personal and professional experience, I can tell you short-term goals that support your clients’ passions are key to supporting behaviours that help them reach their long-term goals.

Tips for including effective short-term goals in your planning:

  • Start cash-flow planning, NOT budgeting. Clients with a cash-flow plan have a much easier time coping with day-to-day spending and are more likely to reach short and longer-term goals.
  • Figure out your clients’ motivations. Why do they want to get their money on track? What’s important to them? If money wasn’t a factor what would they do with their days? Find the why and tie it to the short and long-term goals.
  • Start debt management with your clients. Measuring debt repayment results with clients in order to ensure they’ve reached short-term goals is far more controllable than the market. It also helps you to ensure their overall net worth is moving in the right direction.

In 2013, make short-term goals a much more important part of your planning process and watch how your clients react. Heck, why not try it on yourself?

Stephanie Holmes-Winton

Stephanie Holmes-Winton is a Halifax based financial services educator/speaker who helps advisors find the money to help their clients fund their financial plans. She is the author of Defusing The Debt Bomb & $pent. Stephanie is also the founder and board chair of the Certified Cash Flow Specialist™ designation program. You can reach Stephanie at or