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SMART Strategies for Financial Success

SMART Strategies for Financial Success

by Dr. Nicole B. Dhanraj
January 19, 2017

As we embark upon 2017, I wish you much success in all aspects of your life. I know many of you are seeking ways to improve financially so I would like to share some basic financial tidbits that I used to stabilize my finances and achieve some major goals. If you are already steering your course, great for you!

First, nothing works without commitment. With commitment comes the mindset that sets you up for success. Success then brings the peace of mind that you wanted to achieve. Commitment can sometimes be scary, but as the saying goes, to eat an elephant; you have to bite one piece at a time. So my first piece of advice is to start small and pace yourself. As you a hit a milestone, make the next milestone bigger. This applies to both saving and spending.

So where do you start? Let’s begin by establishing your goals, i.e, goal setting. The main teaching is that your plan of action  should be setting “SMART” goals. These are goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

Specific and Measurable.

What are your goals for this year? It shouldn’t just be to pay off debt, or save for a car. It should be very specific. I want to save $5000 for my Paris vacation. Your goals don’t have to be lofty. It could be as simple as I want to save $500 but also, don’t limit yourself….dare yourself to make your first million by December of 2019! If you  are not  specific, then it is more difficult to realize your success. How would you know if you attained your goal if you can’t measure it? How can you track your progress?
Once your goals are specific and clear, you have a better idea of what it takes to get you there. It urges you to do things that are aligned with my goals that I have set. As opportunities came up, I didn’t get caught in the battle of should I take it or shouldn’t I? All I did was question whether this was in alignment with my goals and that made the decision process easier. As wants arose, it was easy to walk away from the “unnecessary” expense if it didn’t help meet the financial goal I had in mind.


You have set your goals, now how do you attain your goals? Well we don’t typically build a house without a plan, right? Well technically it’s possible but we are not guaranteed an optimal outcome! I have had general goals with no real plan. Honestly, my goal planning was like enjoying a Sunday evening drive. I had a general idea of how to get there but really wasn’t actively navigating my way there. I was on cruise control with my goals.  If you want to take the scenic route, this may work well, but it may take a lot longer to accomplish your goals. For a more concrete plan, you can begin with the end in mind and work backwards. What does it take to get you there? Map your destination and include the tools, and actins to ensure you reach your destination.


My dad always preached to me in a Trinidadian Chinese accent, light it down, so you no forget. However, like a rebellious teenager, thought my Pentium brain processor was enough. Even with the gurus emphasizing the importance of writing your goals, I never took that advice until recently and boy did that change my life! I wrote down every goal that I could think of. I made a map only for the ones I wanted to achieve the soonest. I prioritized them and tried to assess which was relevant to my current life situation. For example, though the tax free job in Saudi Arabia seemed appealing, it would keep me away from my family for a year. Though it would fulfill my financial goal, it wasn’t relevant to my current situation. I also looked at how each goal supported each other. For example, I wanted to progress my career and study for my radiology exam. Since the two blended well together, it seemed appropriate to make a plan for accomplishing each.

Time Bound

Setting a timeframe was probably the hardest for me. I was fierce, I set a few impossible timelines and some more realistic ones. I just wanted to see how much I can push myself…only because that excites me! However, when you evaluate your current life situation, you can better determine what works for you. I think it’s important not to make yourself too comfortable and set lengthy timelines as you are apt to become complacent. 
Some goals need some creativity in how you track progress. One year, I designed a financial thermometer that I placed on my fridge and watched the gauge rise as I saved. What an accomplishment when I hit my goal! Other times, I didn’t get as close to my goal as anticipated. However, I had to acknowledge that either my goal wasn’t in alignment with the stage of life I was in, or perhaps I needed to regroup and reconsider my plan to achieve the goal.


Ok, so what next? With my plan is in hand, I then lived and breathed those goals. I posted them where I can see them every day. I placed my goals on my vanity mirror and on the steering in my car. I even became a bit obsessed. Every morning when I go to the bathroom I stand in front of the mirror, recite my affirmations and read my goals out loud. This isn’t crazy behavior. Actually engaging in this allows your goals to sink into the subconscious mind but remain at the forefront of the conscious mind. Writing my goals solidified them in so many ways. They weren’t just random thoughts or goals I had to pause and think about if someone asked. They were clear, and focused. I imagined how I would be once it was achieved, the emotion, the exhilaration, the relief. Seeing your goals often also helps when faced with difficult days.

So here are some ideas on how goal setting has helped me achieve some of my financial goals thus far.

  1. Cutting out simple things help save money like you would not believe. Have you ever thought about the amount of money that people spend on breakfast and lunches every day? Brown bagging it can save each person almost $1,000 annually according to statistics. It may mean spending  an extra 45 minutes to prepare the night before, it is absolutely worth it, and think about the health benefits of making your own fresh nutritious food. A great idea is to do a fast workout while preparing your meal. Choose simple, power packed meals that are easy to prepare. Plan your weekly menu and have fresh ingredients on hand. Try multiuse appliances, crockpot, grill with steamer, etc that allows you to cook multiple items at the same time. I became a fan of Rachel Ray, if it wasn’t prepared and cooked in 30, then forget it!
  2. Make your priorities right. Have an emergency fund and do not touch it unless you have an absolute emergency. Financial guru Dave Ramsey has been advocating the debt snowball which I totally believe in and I have had success in using this method. Thank you, Dave Ramsay. This method show you how to list total payoff balances form smallest to largest and to tackle the smallest first, then keep going, using the amounts you would have “saved”   till you hit the largest and then go after it with a vengeance till it disappears. You will find that an albatross has been removed from around your neck when this is achieved. It is not easy but it is definitely doable.
  3. Call your insurance agent and see if you can get a discount on your car insurance. If not, look at other companies to save on your insurance. If you have been an existing customer, call and let them know how loyal you have been and see what they can offer you.
  4. If you use credit cards, have a credit card that gives you cash back or other rewards. Use it to get your rewards but pay if off every month so that you do not get charged interest. Unless you use the benefits the annual fee allows, check into the ones that offer no fees and lowest interest.
  5. Around the house: Declutter. It makes the house look, organized. You will find things that you no longer need. They range from books to trinkets. Sell you stuff  to make money:(Yard sales, eBay, Amazon, offer up, craigslist to name a few) No time? Teach your kids do it and let them pocket the money. Teach them wise money habits so that they will use money wisely. You can also donate your items and take advantage of the tax write-off.
  6. Save money on utility bills. Consult with the utility company or check online to see what is the ideal temperature to have in the house during the winter months. It can save you money on heating bills. In the summer save on air conditioning by opening your windows. This allows fresh air to circulate around the house, preventing musty smells; it saves you a bundle on cooling costs. Use your dryer less in the summer months.  Set up a clothes line in your backyard and hang out your clothes to dry in the natural sunlight. You will be rewarded with fresh smelling clothes, a lower electric bill and a longer lasting appliance.
  7. Look for better deals with your cable, internet and telephone. Do you really need all those TV channels that you do not watch? Are you able to access online? Via NetFlix, Hulu, Amazon Prime? So many alternative options out there. Shop around for better deals on your phone and internet services. Even if you receive one month free, its one month of funds you get to save!
  8. Save on grocery bills by creating a menu for the week or month if you like. Use what you have in your pantry and only shop for what you need. Perhaps you can consider planning your menu around the sales. I have never paid full price for anytime, but also was willing to eat fish or chicken when steak wasn’t on sale.
  9. Don’t forget to use coupons. It saves you plenty. There used to be a social stigma with cutting coupons, but hey, do you care much about that or that you got two for the price of one, or better yet saved several bucks? I was a big coupon clipper and many times got loads of groceries for pennies and in a few instances had the grocery give me pennies in change when all I used were coupons. Coupon use has improved these days. There is not much need to cut coupons nowadays Use your Smartphone to find lower prices as m any stores do price match, not only on groceries but many other items from big ticket items like TVs to even the smallest items. There are many websites that compile where the savings are and have a list of coupons also. That makes it much easier to get the items you want at the best prices without wasting a lot of time looking at different websites.
  10. Shop sales. There is always a lot of end of season clearance sales. Buy bigger sizes so that next year kids will have new stuff at old prices. Things like hats, mittens, scarves,, stockings , thermals,  underwear, pajamas, coats, boots  Shop mid season, end of season and ongoing to stocks are gone. The same goes for all the other seasons Swimwear are at rock bottom prices at the end of the summer. Scoop up beach towels, flip flops, shorts, outdoor gear and so much more. Shopping end of season clearance gives you enormous savings for each member of the family.
  11. Look for side jobs that allow you to work from home. Or better yet, start a small business. Not only will you generate some income, but you are able to make use of some valuable tax deductions.
  12. Automate as much as you can with your savings, starting directly out of your paycheck.
  13. Try saving one salary if your household has multiple incomes, and adjust your lifestyle to live off the other income.
  14. Use sites like Pintrest and Google to find ways of making an extra few bucks.
    Maintaining your finances is not for the weak, but once you start with baby steps, it becomes easier. It takes some effort to get started but a lot of it can be put on automation such as you retirement, emergency, and college funds. Check with your local CPA to see how you can take advantage of certain tax deductions. Engage a financial advisor to get you started. You can also take advantage of the many financial gurus out there. Listen to a few of them and then decide which is aligned with your overall philosophy.
    Don’t be disappointed if you don’t have your family support. It is important to communicate your reasons and show them the potential outcomes. It may take some time for them to be on board with your plans, but they will come around.
    Though I provided you with some good advice, five key things I want you to remember:


  1. Always celebrate your successes no matter how small they are
  2. Don’t lose sight of the outcome/final destination
  3. As your pursue, persist, and endeaur to achive your gaols ensure that you maintain a balance, and live in the present moment.
  4. Find your purpose and align with your goals. Develop your personal mantra. Mine was delayed gratification.
  5. Don’t be afraid to not keep up with the Joneses.