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Monthly Archives: January 2024
How to set financial goals
New year, new you! Every January, people follow the same pattern of setting resolutions—usually to lose a few pounds and save a few dollars—and by the second or third week, those dreams have already been dashed. Sound familiar?
What if this year really was different? Maybe this “new you” would resolve to learn HOW to set reasonable financial goals, instead of randomly picking an amount to save. The biggest issue with resolutions is they often seem so grand in theory but harder to execute or stick to long-term. This year, we’re here to help you better understand how you should be setting your goals, so you can continue meeting them month after month.
It’s important to remember that financial goals are always ongoing. You may have a short-term to-do list, like saving for a vacation or building your emergency fund, but you’ll also want a long-term strategy to ensure your future needs will be met. With that in mind, let’s dive into how to set financial goals.
1. List and prioritize goals
As the famous Julie Andrews said, let’s start at the very beginning! Start by listing out the things you want to accomplish, including things you’re already working on and things you haven’t yet started. While you create this list, you should also think about your reasoning behind these goals.
For example, maybe you want to save up for your first international vacation to visit a bucket-list location. You’ll want to include as much detail about the goal as possible, including how much money is needed, what your current situation is, and what kind of timeline you expect. Including all this information can help you prioritize your financial goals.
2. Work SMART
With your intentions and purpose in mind, it’s time to fully develop your goals. You may have heard of SMART goals, but if you’re not familiar, SMART is an acronym to help set goals, and stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound.
Let’s go back to the idea of your bucket-list vacation—maybe you want to visit Japan in the spring to see the famous cherry blossoms—specific. You’ve done the research and have an estimated cost in mind, plus a few added dollars for cushion—measurable. You also know you have enough PTO saved up to go on vacation—achievable. Lastly, after looking at your income, savings, and budget, you realize you will have enough money in your travel fund to go on this vacation in six months—realistic and timebound.
Overall, SMART goals aim to create specific and doable goals that you can accomplish or adjust as needed. Having all of these details can help you better visualize your plan—not just the goal, but the steps you’ll take to reach it.
3. Plan it out
Once you’ve fully developed your goals, you’ll want to write them down. This helps you keep your goals clear, while also creating some accountability. If you’re a paper-and-pen kind of person, dedicate a special notebook to your financial planning. Prefer digital options? Create a spreadsheet you can access on your computer and phone to help keep your goals top-of-mind. You can even use an app to help create specific savings goals.
As you’re writing them out, you may start to see an overarching plan come into view. Be sure to review your current financial situation, and examine what you need moving forward so you can better understand how your goals and timelines work together in your overall plan.
If you feel comfortable, you can do this on your own, but you can also work with a financial professional if you’d like more guidance.
4. Get to work on the basics
Wherever you are in your financial journey, make sure your basics are covered. For some, this may start with general financial literacy to help you get a better grasp on the different options available, and what all the terms mean. Or, you may be already be working on some of these financial building blocks, like your emergency or retirement funds. Whether you’re just starting on these goals or feel comfortable with your progress, it’s always a good idea to revisit them to make sure you’re still on track. Plus, these basics can ensure you have the right foundation to accomplish your bigger financial goals.
So what kind of financial building blocks are we talking about?
Build your emergency fund
It’s hard to plan for the unexpected, but an emergency fund can do just that. It’s most often recommended to have three to six months of your living expenses in your emergency fund, but even $500 could keep you from being in debt during a small emergency like car repairs.
Save for retirement
It’s never too early to start saving for retirement. If you haven’t started yet, look into an employer-sponsored plan, plus additional options like a Roth IRA. Or, if you’re self-employed, look for SEP IRA, a Simple IRA, or an individual 401(k). Most importantly, remember to be as consistent as possible with your contributions and be sure to understand the fine print of your accounts.
As mentioned in the beginning, it’s crucial to remember that financial goals are always ongoing. Mistakes can happen, and you may need to adjust your goals to get back on track. Or, you may change your priorities, so you want to be sure you are regularly checking in with your goals and the motives behind them. And, since we know you’ll be successfully setting your financial goals this year, you’ll want to set new ones as you make progress along the way.
- Attaching motives to your goals can help you better prioritize them
- Make SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timebound
- Be sure you’ve got your basics covered, like an emergency fund and retirement plan
Hitting your financial goals won’t happen overnight—and it’s not a one-and-done situation, either. Be sure to regularly check-in on your goals and progress and remember that you can adjust as needed. If you find you’re successfully hitting some goals but struggling with others, evaluate your motives for setting the goal in the first place and consider resetting if you no longer feel aligned.
Phishing vs. smishing: What’s the difference and how can you protect yourself?
Our phones, tablets, and other technology are a constant presence in our lives—our personal information is on there, from photos and contacts to bank accounts and social media. Because of that, hackers are constantly attempting scams like phishing and smishing. Although they have a few differences, they have one common goal: to steal your personal information. We’re breaking down the differences between phishing and smishing, how to spot the signs, and how to protect yourself.
What is phishing?
Phishing is when criminals use fake emails, social media posts, or direct messages with the goal of luring you to click on a bad link or download a malicious attachment. If you click on a phishing link or file, you’re handing over your personal information to cybercriminals. A phishing scheme can also install malware onto your device.
Signs of a phishing attempt
The signs can be subtle, but once you recognize a phishing attempt, you can avoid falling for it. Before clicking any links or downloading attachments, take a few seconds and ensure the email looks legit. Here are some quick tips on how to clearly spot a phishing email:
- Does it contain an offer that’s too good to be true?
- Does it include urgent, alarming, or threatening language?
- Is it poorly crafted writing, riddled with misspellings and bad grammar?
- Is the greeting ambiguous or very generic?
- Does it include requests to send personal information?
- Does it stress the urgency to click on unfamiliar links or attachments?
- Is it a strange or abrupt business request?
- Does the sender’s email address match the company it’s coming from? Look for little misspellings like “pavpal.com” or “anazon.com.”
What to do if you see a phishing email
You’ve already done the hard part—recognizing that an email is fake and part of a phishing attempt.
If the email came to your work email address, report it to your IT manager or security officer as quickly as possible. If the email came to your personal email address, don’t click on any links—even the unsubscribe link—or reply back to the email. Delete the email entirely.
You can take your protection a step further and block the sending address from your email program.
What is smishing?
With the increased use of mobile devices to manage so much of our lives, it’s no surprise scammers have moved to this medium to target your sensitive information. According to the 2023 State of the Phish, phone-oriented attack delivery attempts increased to 300-400K daily.
If you have a mobile phone, you’ve most likely experienced smishing. Smishing is a phishing message received via text message. Just like an email phishing attempt, the scammers are targeting your sensitive information.
Scammers choose smishing over phishing particularly because people are more inclined to click texts than emails. SMS click-through rates are between 8.9%-14.5%, whereas emails have an average click-through rate of only 1.4%. Our phones are glued to our hands, and people often check notifications instantaneously.
How does smishing work?
Similar to what you might experience in your email, these messages use emotional triggers to entice you to interact with the links. The themes typically target your personal information, such as your username and password, bank account information, credit card information, or Social Security number.
Signs of a smishing attempt
Like phishing attempts, the signs can be subtle (and similar), so recognizing them is key. Below are a few ways to spot a smishing attempt:
- Phone numbers and area codes may be spoofed, making them look like they’re from a trustworthy source, like your financial institution.
- Texts appear concise and urgent, eliciting an emotional response.
- You’re urged to click on a link or call a phone number to resolve the problem.
- Texts contain unusual greetings or generic salutations, such as “Hi sirs” or “Dear customer.”
Some common smishing scams include fake package delivery alerts, “wrong number” text scams, account verification scams, or scam surveys—just to name a few.
What to do if you receive a smishing text
Make sure you have multi-factor authentication turned on for your accounts. This ensures scammers can’t access your accounts unless they physically have your device.
Don’t click on links or reply to the message—delete the text altogether. Report spam texts to your phone carrier and the FTC at reportfraud.ftc.gov.
You can take your protection a step further and block the sending phone number from your cell phone. On iPhones, go to Settings > Messages > Message Filtering > Filter Unknown Senders. On Androids, go to Settings in Google Messages > enable Spam Protection.
Ensuring your device’s software is updated is also crucial. Enable automatic updates if possible. Software updates are an easy way to stay one step ahead of hackers—they provide new security patches where criminals previously may have been able to access your information.
What to do if you accidentally click a smishing link
If you accidentally click a link, don’t enter personal information, like usernames or passwords. Disconnect your device from the internet and scan your device for malware (if you’re not tech-savvy, leave that to a professional).
Contact your financial institutions and freeze your credit. Set up fraud alerts with one of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). Once you’ve notified one bureau, they must notify the others.
You also want to change your credentials (from a different device that’s not infected), so your personal or financial information can’t be compromised. If you don’t already, use different passwords across accounts so it’s more difficult for hackers to access your credentials or account numbers.
These scams aren’t going away anytime soon, especially with our reliance on technology. It’s important to stay aware and be cautious when opening emails and texts from unknown contacts. Continue to educate yourself with blogs and security articles, and inform your friends and family, too. By working together, we can all protect our personal information from hackers and scammers, and minimize the risk of being a cybercrime victim.