How to Set a Time Frame for Your Financial Goals

Goals are specific and measurable targets that create a roadmap for you to follow and can ultimately help you:

  • Stay focused
  • Remain motivated
  • Achieve more than you would by default
  • Grow your wealth

Setting goals with different time frames helps break down large and possibly overwhelming tasks into more achievable increments. While defining meaningful objectives is the essential component, adding time frames for your financial goals is crucial in keeping yourself accountable.


For example, setting time frames can help you navigate a changing economy versus reacting in fear.

Do You Know Your Financial Goals?

Some people keep their financial goals top of mind and can list them off when asked. However, most people may have a few general financial goals in mind but will not take the time or make the effort to define them unless they engage with a financial planner.

As experienced financial advisors in the D.C. area, we understand that life is busy, and it can be enough of a challenge to meet your business, work, and family obligations. That is why we take our role in helping clients with financial planning seriously. If you want to get a sense of your financial goals, sit down at your computer or with a pad of paper. 

Start with big or prominent ones like retirement or creating a college fund. Don’t worry about how you will achieve these goals initially. The first step is to get them down on paper and see them in the light of clarity.

Your next step is to organize them into three general categories: short, mid, and long-term. Here is how to identify the time frame for your financial goals.

Short-Term Goals

Short-term goals are anything you’d like to accomplish in the next three years. Examples of short-term goals may include:

  • Paying off credit cards
  • Purchasing a new car
  • Saving for a vacation (taking the kids to Europe or to tour theme parks in Southern California)
  • Purchasing a luxury item (jet ski, designer purse, jewelry, new TV with sound system)

Depending on your specific circumstances, some of these may be mid-term goals. Anything you could reasonably expect to accomplish in the next three years is a short-term goal.

The first step is more of a brainstorming process where you get everything down on paper. Don’t edit yourself at this stage of the process. You can prioritize and further organize your financial goals later.

One critical reason to identify different timeframes for your goals is that your investing strategy will vary considerably depending on how long you have before you need the money. For short-term goals, you want lower risk and more liquid investments. You probably won’t experience as much growth, but the cash will be available when you need it.

Mid-Term Goals

Graduates wear a black hat to stand for congratulations on graduationMid-term goals range from about three to seven years. Suppose you happen to be making your financial plan during market volatility or a changing economy. In that case, you can adjust short-term to include everything within five years and mid-term to encompass five to ten years. 

A conversation with your financial advisor in the D.C. area will help narrow down the best margin for you.

Examples of mid-term goals might include:

  • Starting a business
  • Saving a down payment for a house or investment property
  • Paying off your student loan
  • Saving for a wedding
  • Funding a college savings account
  • Getting a graduate degree
  • Taking a sabbatical or a dream vacation

The money you invest for mid-term goals does not need to be highly liquid or invested in the most conservative option because you have a few years before you plan to withdraw it. However, you want to balance any investment risk with your timeline.

Choosing the best investments for mid-term goals is more complex than for short or long-term goals. You want growth but don’t have enough time to wait for recovery after a market correction.

One strategy we sometimes recommend is to start in stocks, mutual funds, or exchange-traded funds (depending on the market conditions at the time). Then you can move your mid-term investments into more price-stable investments as you approach your goal.

Long-Term Goals

It’s time to keep your long-term financial goals on track!

compartiendo la vidaLong-term goals cover any objective you expect to achieve seven or more years in the future. Some investors only have long-term goals but have trouble staying disciplined and investing consistently because of how distant the target seems. Establishing different goals with a mix of time frames helps to keep you motivated and moving forward.

Examples of long-term goals might include:

  • Creating a retirement fund 
  • Paying off a mortgage
  • Becoming financially independent
  • Making an end-of-life plan
  • Establishing a legacy for your family or community

Long-term goals can only be achieved through consistent effort over an extended period. They also tend to have far-reaching impacts.

For example, your retirement may last almost as long as your working career. If you retire relatively early and enjoy retirement for 30 or more years, your retirement savings will have a monumental impact on your daily experience for decades of your life.

Another example of the far-reaching impact of long-term goals is your legacy. If you leave assets or money to your family or community, the impact of those gifts can change the course of individual lives. 

Suppose you help one person get an education that they otherwise would have struggled to secure. That single legacy can act like a snowball of positive effects. It can go on to affect their family and everyone they encounter during their career.

Long-term goals can seem nebulous or challenging, but they can be game-changers for your life and the lives of others. Could financial discipline be stifling your success?

When investing for truly long-term goals, you can unusually accept higher levels of risk than you can for short and mid-term goals. This is primarily because your portfolio has more time to recover from market fluctuations. While past performance is no guarantee of future results, the best investment results come from time in the market.


Setting a Time Frame for Financial Goals Drives Success  

Goals with time frames help you create positive momentum in your life. Nothing is set in stone. As you establish your goals and the investment strategies to achieve them, your life circumstances and priorities may shift. Having solid investment strategies targeting different time periods will put you in a stronger position to adapt.

Naturally, no mid or long-term goal is that way forever. As you approach your established timeline, objectives that were once in the distant future become imminent. You will want to adjust your investment strategy as you get closer to your goals.

At Brown | Miller Wealth Management, our CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERs™ use a three-step approach to holistic wealth management. We call it Discover, Design, Deliver because before we can help you design an investment portfolio, the most important first step is to get to know you and the goals you find meaningful. You can find out more on our website or contact us to speak with a member of our team.


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Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only, and not to be a client-specific suitability analysis or recommendation, an offer to participate in any investment, or a recommendation to buy, hold or sell securities. Do not use this report as the sole basis for investment decisions. Do not select an asset class or investment product based on performance alone. Consider all relevant information, including your existing portfolio, investment objectives, risk tolerance, liquidity needs, and investment time horizon. This report is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to predict or guarantee the future performance of any individual security, market sector, or the markets generally.
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Author: Christopher W. Brown, CFP®, CIMA®

Christopher W. Brown is the Founder and Managing Principal at Brown | Miller Wealth Management.