The first step in planning for long-term goals is actually determining how much you spend on short-term expenses. Once you know how much money is spent on the here-and-now, you can assess how much money can be put into investment vehicles for the future.

Regular monthly expenses such as cable or cell phone bills should be easy to assess, but what about less frequent expenses like yearly insurance premiums? You can take these large lump sums and pro-rate them over the number of months from the time that you start the budget to when the event occurs. For example, if its is currently December and your $2,000 insurance premium is due at the end of next October, you should put aside $200 per month for the next 10 months (January-October). This will take care of uneven expenses like holidays, birthdays and insurance premiums.

After you determine your monthly expenses and pro-rate annual expenses, subtract them from your monthly income in order to figure out how much income you have left to contribute toward your long-term goals.

Long-term goals can be considered anything longer than one year into the future. This includes buying a car or home, sending the kids to college or planning for retirement. Your long-term goals should come with a solid estimate of their costs. Start by writing down several long-term goals along with your best guess on how long it will be before money would be needed. An example list may look something like this:

  • College expenses - Child 1 (current age 8); $20,000/year beginning in 10 years
  • College expenses - Child 2 (current age 3); $24,000/year beginning in 15 years
  • New car purchase - $30,000 in two years ($4,000 upfront + $400/month for seven years)
  • Vacation to Europe - $10,000 for a three-week vacation within three years

Afterward, you should use a spreadsheet or other software program to figure out how much must be be put away for these future events. Suitable investments can then be determined according to time frame and your overall risk tolerance. Historical asset returns can be used to estimate how much the investments will hopefully appreciate over several years. (To learn more, see Projected Returns: Honing The Craft.)

The goal is to determine if the amount of money that you have remaining after paying your short-term expenses will allow you to meet your goal. If it doesn't, you need to adjust your goals, cut expenses and/or earn more income. It's important to regularly update the status of you long-term goals and short-term expenses. New regular expenses can emerge, and if you don't make changes to your plan, you'll come up short.

For more on creating a budget that you can live with, see Enjoy Life Now And Still Save For Later and The Beauty Of Budgeting.

  1. How soon should I start saving for retirement?

    The best answer to the question, "How soon should I start saving for retirement?", is probably, "yesterday," and the second ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. How are spousal benefits calculated for Social Security?

    The amount of your Social Security spousal benefit depends on a number of factors, including your age, the maximum amount ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Are Social Security benefits adjusted for inflation?

    Social Security benefits are adjusted for inflation. This adjustment is known as the cost of living adjustment (COLA). For ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. What is the difference between passive and active asset management?

    Asset management utilizes two main investment strategies that can be used to generate returns: active asset management and ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. How does a bank determine what my discretionary income is when making a loan decision?

    Discretionary income is the money left over from your gross income each month after taking out taxes and paying for necessities. ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What is the range of deductibles offered with various health insurance plans?

    A wide range of possible deductibles are available with health insurance plans, starting as low as a few hundred dollars ... Read Full Answer >>
Related Articles
  1. Professionals

    Charity or Retirement Saving: Which to Prioritize?

    Financial planners need to help clients with their financial goals but also support them in their philanthropic endeavours.
  2. Retirement

    What Does It Cost to Retire in Panama?

    Learn how much it costs to retire comfortably in Panama, and why it has become one of the most popular retirement destinations in the world.
  3. Budgeting

    How To Save Money When Moving

    Moving doesn't have to be as expensive as you think. Here are some great ways to save money on moving costs.
  4. Budgeting

    The Hard Way We Pay For Convenience

    Convenience is a luxury. However, any cost-conscious individual should be aware of these ridiculous ways we pay for convenience and how to avoid them.
  5. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    The 4 Best Buy-and-Hold ETFs

    Explore detailed analyses of the top buy-and-hold exchange traded funds, and learn about their characteristics, statistics and suitability.
  6. Retirement

    5 Ways to Use Your Home to Retire

    Retirement is going to cost a lot, and for homeowners who face a shortfall, their home can be a source of income. From downsizing to renting, here's how.
  7. Investing

    10 Ways to Effectively Save for the Future

    Savings is as crucial as ever, as we deal with life changes and our needs for the future. Here are some essential steps to get started, now.
  8. Retirement

    What Does It Cost to Retire in Costa Rica?

    Tally up the costs associated with taking your retirement in Costa Rica, and determine whether you have what it takes to live in paradise.
  9. Budgeting

    How to Cost Effectively Spend on Baby Clothes

    Don't let your baby's wardrobe derail your budget. These top tips help you to save money and spend wisely on baby clothes.
  10. Personal Finance

    College Students are Failing Financial Literacy

    Financial trends among college students are a cause for concern, prompting a renewed emphasis on financial literacy.
  1. Cost Accounting

    A type of accounting process that aims to capture a company's ...
  2. Passive Income

    Earnings an individual derives from a rental property, limited ...
  3. Internal Rate Of Return - IRR

    A metric used in capital budgeting measuring the profitability ...
  4. Dynamic Updating

    A method of determining how much to withdraw from retirement ...
  5. Possibility Of Failure (POF) Rates

    The likelihood that a retiree will run out of money prematurely ...
  6. Safe Withdrawal Rate (SWR) Method

    A method to determine how much retirees can withdraw from their ...

You May Also Like

Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!