How to use Lists to Set Goals & Help Make Smarter Financial choices

Lists for Goals

Set Goals

What Are Your

What are your top 3 financial goals? How do you think your goals could change after doing one simple exercise? Any of us can answer that first question pretty easily. That’s because goals off the top of our heads isn’t really a productive way to choose our investment strategies or make financial plans. And it’s certainly not the best way to prioritize our goals to keep them in focus.

The truth is, one very simple exercise can help us set better goals. With that, we’re far more likely to be successful in achieving them. What exercise can help us? Simply by using a “master list.”

Lists for Goals

6 Reasons to Use Lists for Setting
Financial Goals

#1 ) Lists can change our top goals

What’s your number one financial goal right now? Retiring or buying a house may be the answer to that question. At least 1 in 4 people changed one of their  top goals, though, after they look at a master list. And nearly 3 in 4 changed one or more of their top three goals after seeing a master list.*

Benefit: Lists can help us see our main objectives and big-picture goals more clearly.

#2 ) Lists can refine our goals

How specific are your financial goals? Many of us don’t set the most defined goals right out of the gate. And unspecified goals can sometimes sabotage our success. But after looking at a master list, more than 1 in 4 people will end up clarifying their top goal, moving away from a generic goal, and setting a more specific goal. A list can elaborate on generic goals and reveal more of the intent behind them.*

Benefit: Lists can bring specificity to our goals. That can keep us motivated and help us see better ways to achieve our objectives.

#3 ) Lists correct our misconceptions about our goals

How much does a limited understanding of finance factor into your financial goals? Lists can help you answer that question and see what those misconceptions may be. That’s because any of us can be misled by common misunderstandings about money and finance. A clear example of that shows up in the area of paying down debt. More than 1 in 4 folks whose top goal is to pay down debt change that goal after seeing a master list.

Benefit: Lists can inform and educate us about our options. Lists can also set the record straight when our thinking or facts are off base.

#4 ) Lists can reveal the emotions behind financial goals

How much do your emotions factor into your financial goals? They could be a bigger factor than you realize, and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, even though emotional decisons aren’t always the best in finance, the can help with goal setting. That’s because our emotions can get to the real purpose behind the goals, answer the “why” of it all.

And that becomes really clear when we see how many people end up changing their top goal after looking at a master list. At least half will revise their top goal to be an emotion-based goal, like “feeling more secure with finances” or “not feeling like I’m a financial burden to my family as I grow older.” Plus, the emotional rewards we get from achieving our goals can be just as valuable as an financial returns.*

Benefit: Lists can show us how emotionally rewarding our financial goals can be – and how it’s not all just about the numbers and bottom line.

#5 ) Lists can help us see our cognitive blind spots

What biases could be limiting your goals? No matter how smart we are, we’re all working with limited knowledge. After all, no one knows everything. On top of that, any one of us can be swayed by biases without even realizing it.

That could mean something like the “present bias” gets in our way. If that happens, we could overvalue the short-term rewards over bigger, longer-term gains. That can all change just be looking at a master list of goals. How? Well, master lists can put things into perspective and open our eyes to things we’ve assumed or overlooked before.*

Benefit: Lists can help us recognize our biases and blind spots, giving us a better perspective on our goals.

#6 ) Lists can help us prioritize our goals

What do you really want out of your financial goals — and life? How will that make you happy? Believe it or not, many of us don’t really know what we want. We don’t truly understand our preferences, and we may not even know what makes us happy. With that, it can be challenging to prioritize our goals. Lists can turn that around, though. They can help us dial into what we want and better understand where our happiness lies.

Think about this on a smaller scale, like when you’re going out to eat and you don’t know what to order. That “Aha!” moment when you see something that sounds great — and that you didn’t know you wanted — until that exact moment you saw it on the menu is a little moment of self-discovery. And those discoveries can happen with lists in your financial life and goal setting too.

Benefit: Lists help us learn more about ourselves, what we want, and what’s really going to make us happy. Lists can also help us sort out our priorities and set goals that are truly important to us.

Take Action

Build your list

It’s time to see what a master list could do for you and your financial goals. Think about your top three financial goals again. Better yet, write them down if you can. Now, take a look at the master list of goals below. Keep your goals in mind as you read through each option.


To be better off than my peers


To pay for personal self-improvement (go back to school, learn a skill)


To relocate in retirement


To experience the excitement of investing


To start a new business


To buy a house


To help pay for my kids' college


To stop working and do something i love


To go on a dream vacation


To care for my aging parents


To give to charity or other causes I care about


To feel secure about my finances in retirement


To feel secure about my finances now


To leave an inheritance to my loved ones


To retire early


To pay for future medical expenses


To note be a financial burden to my family as I grow older


To buy a second home

Take Another Look

Did Anything

How many of your goals changed after reading that list? How did your goals change?

This exercise can be wonderfully eye-opening, whether any of your goals change after looking at a master list. Why? Because many of us are strangers to ourselves and simple lists can help us figure out what’s really going on in our heads.1 In fact, lists can work better than open-ended questions and sophisticated techniques when we’re setting goals. That’s because a simple list can open our eyes, helping us see the big picture and what we want from it.

Lists can also make our goal setting more effective, motivating us and keeping us on track as we work towards our goals. So can the knowledgeable professionals we trust.