Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, and catch the trade winds in your sails. – Mark Twain

Fifty-seven percent of Americans say they have less than a thousand dollars saved. More than a third have saved nothing. Half of American families live paycheck to paycheck, and, not surprisingly, more than half of us are “anxious or fearful” about our financial well-being.

If any of that describes you, don’t panic. It’s not too late, but it’s imperative that you develop a simple and S.M.A.R.T. plan — a roadmap — for how you are going to achieve financial freedom.

Here’s what S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, Timely) means:


Be Specific

Hopefully you’ve determined your specific financial goals.

You’ve calculated specific numbers to help you with your planning. You’ve looked at specific strategies to reach your desired goals. And, you’ve learned specific principles to solid investing. (If you haven’t done these things, you should.)

Now write out your next steps, making them as succinct and specific as possible. An action item such as “I will balance risk and return for maximum results” is too vague and broad.

A more tailored approach would be to say, “Given my age, I will invest in higher yields for growth, because there is time to recover from adverse results, should they occur.”

Even better, your step could be, “At my age, and with limited available cash for investment, I will get into an aggressive growth exchange traded fund (ETF) with regular contributions of $200 per month, beginning next month.”

(ETFs are popular financial instruments that bundle a number of assets together to give investors a great way to diversify their portfolios. ETFs can comprise stocks, bonds, commodities, real estate investment trusts, or many other assets. Like stocks, ETFs trade daily on stock exchanges, making them a liquid investment.)

The point is to make every item in your plan a specific statement that clearly spells out what you will do, the reason for doing it, and when you will do it.


Make it Measurable

In every step of your plan, set up how you’ll measure results. You can’t make future income, investing, or saving decisions without knowing what’s working and what’s not.

In the above ETF example, you should check on the return of the ETF in three months, six months, or a year. Knowing the performance of your current investment will help you decide how to allocate additional contributions.

Making it measurable also applies to setting mileposts along the road to reaching your ultimate retirement goal. For example, setting a milepost to grow your initial 401(k) balance from its current $38,000 to $62,000 within four years is a measurable goal.

Just make sure to look at every line item in your retirement plan and assess whether or not it is moving you toward your goal of achieving financial freedom.


Make it Actionable

Plans are simply statements of where you want to go and the steps you need to take to get there. Make those steps actionable.

A step such as, “Learn more about growth versus income stocks,” is more of a reminder. It lacks specific steps. Consider that reminder as a header and then develop action items under it like:


• Read a growth stock newsletter

• Look up the top income stocks and read their annual reports

• Compare the risk profiles of the top three growth and income stocks


You’re getting the idea. Those three steps require identifiable actions to complete them. They’re not vague “need-to-dos.” Making tasks actionable is the best way to ensure you will take action.


Keep it Relevant

Your retirement roadmap is probably the single biggest plan you’ll ever make. It will span decades.

Admittedly, it’s a major project, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Along the way, you’ll have distractions that may tug you away from your course, but you can’t allow that to happen.

Keep all the actions you are taking relevant to the goal of becoming financially free. Whenever you find your commitment to your roadmap diverting, drag it back on course.

Once you set out on the journey to retirement freedom, wandering off the roadmap could prevent you from reaching your goal. Stay in your lane!


Keep it Timely

Even the best long-range plan must adapt to variables. Financial plans, especially those spanning years, will need regular periodic checkups.

Economies ebb and flow, stock markets fluctuate, bond interest rates vary, inflation rates shift, and global influences change. Your business will likely have periods of growth and contraction. It’s just part of the deal.

As such, adjust your portfolio accordingly as you tread along your path.

This habit will protect your assets in a downturn and augment them in an upswing. Such adjustments are not optional, and adaptation is critical. Rebalancing at the right time is key, as there is no second chance once you hit retirement.

Don’t fear it. Don’t dread it. Embrace it. Pay close attention to it. Put the same focus on all of this as you do on building your successful enterprise. You and your family will be glad you did.

Most importantly? Start now.


Scott and Jill Carter are entrepreneurs and the authors of the book You Got This! To learn more, go to

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