Money Is a Tool (Part 2): How to Set Your Goals

In Part One of this three-part series, I talked about my own realization that money itself is not the goal–money is a tool.

When you make it the goal, you don’t accomplish anything meaningful, aside from accumulating more

Which is fine, I guess, but without a purpose, money is just paper.

What’s more, it’s hard to figure out how to reach that goal, because it’s vague.

If you want to learn how to manage your money, you should start with a goal that’s specific and meaningful.

For example, in Part One, I mentioned it was once my goal to simply keep my apartment.

I had a low-paying job, I had to pay tuition (I had a scholarship and a student loan, but they weren’t enough), and my finances were stretched to the max.

I could move back home, or I could crash on a friend’s couch, but I was determined to keep my apartment because I wanted my independence.

This gave me a specific amount to shoot for in my earnings, and it was meaningful, so I was motivated. 


My money had a purpose, and so did I.

Even when you’re broke, it helps to give your financial goals (or priorities) a purpose.

It makes them digestible.



But to get more out of your money and use it better, you first have to define what’s important to you.

Some priorities are obvious, but if you feel financially aimless or overwhelmed, here are a few strategies that can help you figure out what matters to you most.

Ask Yourself “Why”

If you want to learn how to manage your money, but you’re not quite sure what’s motivating you, specifically, this strategy is a good place to start.

Ask yourself why money is important to you, then keep asking yourself “why is this important to me?” until you reach a specific, clear goal.

For example, after I accomplished my goal of traveling to Europe, I didn’t know what else I wanted to do, so I just started saving money aimlessly.

My vague, meaningless goal was simply to try and save as much as possible.

Why was that important to me? calculator coin money save debt

• Because I wanted to get rich. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be rich. Why was being rich important to me?

• Because we were poor growing up, and money offered options. Why were options important to me?

• Because I wanted to do different things in life–I wanted to quit my job. I wanted to become a writer.


With that, I uncovered something specific that could motivate me to give a damn about my finances.

Once I realized writing was my motivating factor, I came up with a goal and a plan to make it happen.

Make an “Impossible List”

Maybe you’re not sure what you want out of life, though.

It happens. I have a friend who also loves money, but he’s less clear about what he wants to use it for because he’s less clear about what he wants from life.

Some of us have one big thing we want to do with our lives.

Some of us aren’t sure what that is just yet, and some of us just don’t have that “one big thing” at all.

That’s perfectly normal. 

A good strategy for figuring it out, though, is to create an “Impossible List,” an idea I first read about over at College Info Geek.

An Impossible List is like a bucket list, except well, completely different. list

Unlike a bucket list, it doesn’t get shorter–it gets longer.

It’s actionable, and it’s constantly evolving.

To start, you simply write down a few categories (fitness, career, travel, for example) then write down everything you want to accomplish in those categories throughout the course of your life, even if it seems impossible or silly.

As you cross experiences off your list, you add more experiences, inspired by your long-term goals.

If you change your mind, you can also delete things from your list.

It’s ongoing and ever-growing.

You can read more about how to create one in this post from founder Joel Runyon, and check out Thomas Frank’s video on it below.

An Impossible List can help you figure out how to use your money because it gives you a list of specific goals to shoot for.

It’s a simple way to see what experiences matter to you, and then come up with a plan to make those experiences happen, whether it’s skydiving, moving to a different city, or traveling.

Those experiences cost money, and if they’re meaningful to you, they’re worth the money.

Identify your Core Values

If you’re not sure what matters to you financially, it might help to consider what matters to you in general. Property News

Define the values that are most important to you in life.

For example, I have a thing for adventure and breaking out of my comfort zone.

Sometimes that means traveling where I experience new cultures and find new perspectives.

Sometimes that means going to conferences where I learn new things and meet new people.

Either way, I know that I’m going to get the most bang for my buck when I spend it on adventure and experience, which is something I value.

And if you’re not sure about your values, here are a few questions that can help you get started: 42086534_l

  • What are a few of your happiest moments?
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • When did you feel like you were most yourself?

Chances are, the answers to those questions hold some bold hints about what matters most to you in life.

It might be friendship, it might be career success, it might be family.

The point is, when you know what you value, you give your money, and everything else, really, some direction.


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Kristin Wong


Kristin Wong is a freelance writer who has written for MSN, Bankrate, and NBC News. She regularly contributes to Lifehacker and Mental_floss and is a recipient of the Society of Professional Journalists Northwest Excellence in Journalism award. Kristin chronicles her experiences as a full-time freelance writer at her blog. Visit:

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