(photo Credit: Lael Oldmixon)

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.” – Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Closing the final chapter of another year is a time to look forward to the light and opportunities of a new year with optimism and fresh eyes. It is a time of new beginnings and a renewed focus on goals. As a goal-oriented person, I’d like to suggest a few tips for achieving your 2023 goals.  

Set and share your intention. Whatever your goal, state it or write it down and then share it with others. Expressing and sharing your plan is the first step of progress toward completion. Goals can be big or small. 

  1. I want to spend less on lattes. 
  2. I want to assess my financial plan to ensure I’m on target with my college savings goals and make necessary adjustments. 
  3. I want to travel more. 
  4. I want to run a marathon. 

Make a plan for achieving the goal. There is no wrong way to make a plan, but most quality goal setting involves the goal and tactics for achieving it. Breaking the goal into manageable milestones can be an effective way to make progress, especially toward big goals. Some people use vision boards or mind mapping, while others simply list goals and get started. In my family, no goal or project starts without a spreadsheet. 

I’m in the process of planning to run a marathon this spring, and I’ve dusted off my trusty spreadsheet to set a weekly running plan to ensure that, when the time comes, I’m ready to run 26.2 miles.

If your goal involves saving for a loved one’s future, you may want to start by researching 529 plan options and using a cost calculator to consider what you can afford to save each month. You can find these and other tools at collegesavings.org. I remember doing the cost calculation for myself and realizing that saving to fund 100% of the costs to attend the out-of-state, four-year, private college of my dreams would require twice my mortgage in savings each month. 

Big goals are great, but reasonable and attainable goals are more likely to come to fruition. As a result of my research, I modified my personal goals to something I could afford, including modifying the type and location of the school. Goals can be modified, adjusted over time and restarted.

Seek strategies for accountability. Accountability is a powerful tool for success. When you have stated your goals and written them down, it’s essential to identify ways to keep yourself accountable. 

As I prepare for this upcoming marathon, I’ll seek running buddies, and join online running groups where I can post and share my completed runs. The kudos from other runners working toward their goals are motivating, and I can look back to review my progress over time. 

The college savings journey also doesn’t have to be done alone. Let friends and family know that you are saving for a loved one with a 529, and invite others to help you save. Gifts from relatives can go a long way in helping to save for education. I’ve also found that using systematic savings tools like payroll direct deposit or scheduling automatic bank payments to my 529 account is an easy way to keep my savings goals on track. The set-it-and-forget-it tools are a built-in accountability lever.  

Stay the course. Take each hill as it comes. Let’s be honest; sometimes, the unexpected happens, and your perfect goal goes sideways. Preparation can help with navigating setbacks. 

The last time I trained for a marathon, the pandemic hit, and it was canceled. Did I still run a marathon? Yes. I trained and ran 26.2 with friends. And this year, I’m training again for the marathon I missed in 2020. My training always includes hills. I used to avoid them, but now I take them head-on. In my circle of friends, we look at the hill in front of us and say, “HILL, YEAH!” It makes us stronger, helps with overall training objectives, and builds mental resilience. It can take a lot of mental resilience to reach the top of a particularly difficult hill. Preparing for the challenges you might encounter in any goal is a smart step. 

When they invest in a 529 plan, savers are presented with lengthy disclosures about the risks associated with investing. An important part of the process is to read the disclosures and consult a professional if you don’t understand what you’re reading. As you monitor your savings goals, you might see peaks and valleys in market performance and start to get nervous. If your goal goes sideways, it’s important to step back, make adjustments, seek advice (this might be professional advice), and stay the course or restate your goal. 

Focus on the journey and not the destination. Consider the milestones of your journey as wins toward your goal. 

The training plan for 26.2 miles involves a lot of time, effort, and tenacity. Breaking my marathon goal into micro goals has been a strategy I’ve used when planning for a marathon. During the marathon, I think about the mile in front of me. What do I need to get through that one mile? How will I celebrate when I get through that mile?

Your savings journey might start with a finish line that is 18 years away. What can you build into your plan to help you celebrate each year or each month that you’ve saved for a loved one? What are your micro goals? I want to save 50% of my goal in 9 years. I want to increase my savings every time I get a pay raise. My child finished daycare, and now I have $20,000 a year to put into college savings. I’ll put $100 for each holiday and birthday into my 529 account. 

The new year is a blank page. Set your intention, make a plan, seek strategies for accountability, stay the course, take each hill as it comes, and focus on the journey, not the destination. There’s no one but you writing your story and setting your goals. Get to the start line and take the first step! May the trails ahead be smooth as you set and reach your 2023 goals. Happy New Year. 

About the author:

Lael M. Oldmixon, M.Ed is the Executive Director of the Education Trust of Alaska, which offers Alaska’s three 529 plans, Alaska 529, the  T.Rowe Price College Savings Plan, and the  John Hancock Freedom 529. She lives in Alaska with her spouse, two children, and two dogs.