How to make progress with your money


We all want to worry less about money, be able to cope with any financial shocks, to afford treats and fun things now and to be financially secure when we finally stop working and earning.

Conventional advice is that to achieve anything, you should have a written goal, a plan for achieving it and regularly monitor progress to check that your daily habits and actions are getting you nearer to your goal.

You might have heard that goals need to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound). But when it comes to money related goals, this approach is not that effective.

In his book Taming the Pound psychologist Kim Stephenson suggests an alternative way of setting financial goals, which is more effective.


Kim’s suggestion is to think about each key financial goal using the Mnemonic CHEAP SMART PLAN. This is broken down as follows:

Controllable (they control it, they’re not at somebody else’s mercy as to whether they reach it or not)

Happy (long term it will make them happy)

Exciting (short term it will get them out of bed)

Aligned (the long and the short term are in the same direction)

Positively worded (it aims at a good outcome, rather than starting out to avoid something unpleasant)

Specific (they know what it is, and will know when they’ve reached it)

Measurable (they know how far they’ve come and how far they have to go by outcomes)

Adaptable (if things go better or worse than expected, there is somewhere to go with the goal)

Resourced (it is achievable from where they are, but it might be a stretch)

Timed (we know when things, particularly actions, are expected to happen)

Planned (it is set out as a plan, not a vague wish list that something would happen)

Little steps (this fits with measurement of progress, it doesn’t leave yawning gaps)

Action based (it is about doing things, not waiting for stuff to happen)

Noted (it is recorded somewhere, shown to people as a potential source of embarrassment if not done)

Why not check your key financial goals against CHEAP SMART PLAN to ensure you are as clear and motivated as possible.

Staying Motivated

When trying to achieve or complete any goal or task, to stay motivated is it better to focus on the progress made, or the effort remaining?

According to behavioural scientists Minjung Koo and Ayelet Fishbach it depends on how much progress you make in the early stages. People are more motivated to complete a goal when their focus is directed to the smaller area, whether that’s progress made or the effort that remains.  

For example, if you have a goal of getting rid of bad debt of, say, £5,000 and you’ve repaid £1,000 after 1 year, it’s better to focus on the fact that you’ve reduced the debt by £1,000, not the fact that you still have £4,000 to repay.

But if you’ve repaid £4,000 of the debt and only have £1,000 left to repay, you’d be more motivated by focusing on the small amount of £1,000 left to repay.

This small change can have big results and is explained in this short video This idea is just one of 50 small changes that can make a big difference, which is set out in Steve Martin’s book The Small Big: Small Changes That Spark Big Influence.

Best of luck with your financial life goals and remember, you’re looking for progress, not perfection.

Warm regards


Jason Butler