It takes a lot of hard-nosed work to fulfill your dreams. And we’re not just talking about the years of employment you put in to afford your dreams. We mean converting your dream into a plan to make those dreams come true.

The first step is to recognize the difference between a dream and a goal. A dream is a vision that inspires you to work hard, smart, or both. It’s what gets you up in the morning, keeps you on the job no matter how tough it may be. As pleasant as the dream may be, it lacks specificity. Specifics are for goals and plans of action.

A financial goal – and plan of action to meet it – sounds like this: I’m going to retire when I’m 65 years old, in a lifestyle that costs $150,000 a year in today’s dollars and maintain it, adjusted for inflation, for as long as I live. Of that amount, $120,000 is going to come from my personal savings, which means I need to save a total of $1.7 million. And that means I have to save $40,000 a year, and my savings has to earn 8% a year, pretax.

A financial goal consists of a date (1) by which time you need a specific amount of money (2) that lasts a specific amount of time (3).

The action plan calls for: 1) setting aside a specific amount of money, 2) investing it to achieve a specific rate of return, and 3) monitoring your progress and making the necessary course corrections to remain on target.

If you’re in business, you understand this implicitly: to reach a goal, you have to define it, create a business plan of action, execute that plan, and periodically review your progress. The personal corollary to a business plan is a financial road map.

While investment plans cover a number of topics and strategies, they revolve around two core goals: supporting a lifestyle and paying for education. Every other element of an investment plan — obtaining disability and life insurance, minimizing taxes, and planning the efficient distribution of your estate — is designed to support the two goals of lifestyle and education for you and your immediate family.

Good goal making comes down to making reliable projections of what your financial goals are going to cost in the future and when that future will arrive. The more expertise that’s applied to goal formulation, the better the goals will be. After that, the creation of a plan to meet those goals takes even more judgment calls: what is the rate of inflation likely to be between now and when your goal needs to be met; what kind of funding will the plan require; what asset allocation strategy is going to achieve the best balance between the rate of the return you need and the level of risk you’re comfortable taking?

The key to achieving your goals is adjusting to the unexpected. If the changes are significant enough, it may take you back to square one — restructuring your goals. Creating a financial road map isn’t a one-time exercise. It’s an iterative exercise that calls for steadiness of vision, calm reactions to new realities, market awareness, and flexibility.

Reesa Manning is Vice President and Senior Financial Advisor at Integrated Wealth Management specializing in retirement and income planning. For more information, call Reesa at (760)834-7200, or [email protected]. Integrated Wealth Management, Inc. is a Registered Investment Adviser.

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