How to Align Your Budget With Your Goals (Free Worksheet)

August 10, 2015


For the past year, I’ve been saving an average of 31% of my income each month, and dividing that between my goal to max out my TFSA and trying to contribute just enough to my RRSP to counter having to pay income tax on my freelance income. At this point, those are my only long-term financial goals, which ultimately fall under my “retirement” plan (although I’m sure I’ll use some of what’s in my TFSA for a down payment one day). But I have lots of short-term financial goals that I try to tackle each year, too, and I’m constantly adjusting my budget to make them happen.

One of the questions I’ve been asked a lot lately is how I stay motivated to tackle so many financial goals at once – i.e. how do I save for retirement, travel as much as I do and still have fun. The short answer is: I’m on a shopping ban. No, I’m just teasing! (Although, it obviously helps.) The longer version of that answer is I set aside time every few months to outline what my goals are, and figure out how my budget needs to be adjusted in order to tackle them.

When I put together the Mindful Budgeting Program, I was so focused on just helping you start tracking your spending and getting into the swing of this budgeting thing, I didn’t think to include anything on how to decide what your goals are and figure out how to adjust your monthly budget accordingly – so, here’s an extra template to help you do just that!


You can download this worksheet for free.

How to Align Your Budget With Your Goals

Step 1: Set a Timer and Write

The first step is my favourite, because it takes the shortest amount of time and is actually fun! Print off this template or grab a piece of paper, then set a timer for 2 minutes and write down all of the top priorities in your life right now. You don’t need to focus on what your financial goals – think about the most important people in your life, the places you want to go and things you want to do. Just write write write until your timer tells you to stop.

Step 2: Set Your Goals

When you’re done, take a few minutes to look at your list and start to think about how some of these things could be turned into financial goals – both big and small. For example, maybe you want to treat your family to a nice meal out soon, or you and your partner want to go to Europe in 1 year’s time. Make a list of up to 5 goals that need to be incorporated into your budget, and be as specific as possible, so you can move onto Step 3.

Step 3: Analyze Your Spending

Now that you know what your financial goals are, look at your last 3 monthly budgets (or at least log into your online banking and analyze your spending) and write down how much you’ve allocated to those goals recently. Sometimes, you might think you know what your goals are, but your spending will show you what your priorities have really been lately… and it might not add up to what you want to be working towards. So, have you been allocating enough money to them? Be honest with yourself.

It took months of analyzing my spending for me to finally see my savings goals were going nowhere, because I was spending too much at restaurants or on books and random “things” for my home, which ultimately led to my decision to do this shopping ban!

Step 4: Make a Plan

Finally, since you just finished analyzing your spending, it should be (at least somewhat) obvious where you could cut back, in order to make your new financial goals a top priority in your budget. For example, if you’ve been spending $30/week on takeout coffee but still haven’t started putting even $100/month aside for retirement, maybe you can start there. Cut out takeout coffee for 3 months and setup an automatic withdrawal to your savings account, so you don’t even miss the money!

The next monthly budget you write should include amounts for all of your goals, even if it means you have to sacrifice something you were spending money on before. And if you don’t want to sacrifice anything, you may need to bring in more money to do everything you want (which could be one of your goals). Make sure you do this exercise every few months, so you can see how you’re progressing, and figure out if you need to readjust your budget for any new goals you have.

Want to see it in action? I printed off a copy and did this exercise last night…


Step 1: My People/Places/Things

The first step was fun because it showed me where my heart is right now: in Victoria, surrounded by the people I love most (no surprises there!). My niece’s 6th birthday is coming up in a few weeks, and I’ve been trying to think of something we could do together vs. just buy her a gift. And I still want to pick up a used paddleboard, but found out most won’t go on sale until late September/early October, so that’s sort of on hold.

I also wrote down a few business/financial goals. I’m travelling to North Carolina for a conference in September, and it won’t be as cheap as many of the other trips I’ve been on recently, so I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. I want to finish up my book proposal this fall, and get it into the hands of my agent. I want to finish two courses I’m currently enrolled in, one of which will help me invest more. And then I need to send a new product to the print shop next month…

Step 2: My Financial Goals

Obviously, not everything I wrote down in Step 1 could be turned into a financial goal – but from that list, I was able to pick out 5 things I need/want to spend money on in the next couple of months:

  1. I want to take my niece out for a day of birthday fun (maybe swimming, lunch and mini golf?).
  2. I’ve paid for my flight to Charlotte but I still need to pay for my hotel + food costs.
  3. I want to buy a used paddleboard + roof rack for my car.
  4. I want to (finally!) open a Questrade account and dive deeper into investing.
  5. I need to send my next product to the print shop by mid-September.

Step 3: My Spending

Since most of my goals are short-term, I can already tell you I haven’t been “saving” for them all, in the past 3 months… but here’s what I have been doing:

  1. I don’t expect this day to cost more than $60, so it will just be part of my regular budget.
  2. I already have $300 set aside for the hotel, so that’s covered. Now, I just need money for food!
  3. I’ll be pulling money from my shopping ban account for this. :)
  4. I still have ~$5,000 in cash just sitting in a regular TFSA that I’ve been wanting to invest, so I think I’ll start by pulling $1,000 from that and going from there.
  5. I’ve saved all the money (-35% for taxes) I’ve made from product sales, so I can pay for this.

Step 4: My Plan

Since I’m already doing a shopping + takeout coffee ban, there’s nowhere I can really cut back per se; that means I need to make more money (which I want to do, anyway). I also want to sell a few pieces of furniture I brought over from Vancouver I’ve decided I don’t need. And then I want to get better at meal planning so I can eat out a bit less (I used to be so good at it, but my new routine has thrown me off).

And I didn’t write this down, because it’s technically not a financial goal, but I want to finish Bridget’s investing course, Master Class Money, so I can learn more before I dive into the world of Questrade!

So, that’s that – all the goals that will be squeezed into my budget over the next few months. Print off the worksheet, do the exercise for yourself and let me know what some of yours are!

  • Rob August 10, 2015 at 4:52 am

    Excellent blog post this morning, Cait! I’ve more or less followed your example over the years. I might add one further suggestion that I followed to help me determine what I needed to achieve my various financial goals and that was to set a realistic achievable target date for each goal. Depending on one’s financial situation, ability to save, spending needs (vs wants), ability to earn income, etc., at times one has to adjust one’s target date a little bit further into the future in order to successfully accomplish the goal. That way, if it’s properly set down on paper (and that’s important to do too), then one can stay motivated and not get discouraged. That was how I gradually paid off our mortgage, month by month, over ten years from the time that we bought our house. All great tips that you have provided us this morning. Thank you.

  • Tara August 10, 2015 at 5:06 am

    This is a great exercise! Also, you definitely will accomplish your goals. I did want to suggest: what makes meal planning the easiest is investing in some high quality glass snap ware. You might have to spend between $30-$60 but you’ll get something that lasts and makes storing leftovers and making multiple meals in one go easy.

  • Giulia August 10, 2015 at 5:31 am

    Great post it is very helpful, thanks for sharing!

  • Ali @ Anything You Want August 10, 2015 at 6:17 am

    This worksheet is great! So simple but seems really effective. I think I generally do a pretty good job of saving money for my goals, but working through this template might help to confirm that!

  • Alyssa @ Generation YRA August 10, 2015 at 6:18 am

    This is perfect Cait, thank you! A one page sheet to align your goals is great consolidation to get me organized. Now that my fiance & I are moved into our new apartment, it’s time to get back to our regular routine! Also, so excited that you will be diving deeper into investing – make that money work for you. :) Great goals, and all incredibly realistic. You’ve got this girly!

  • Kate @ Cashville Skyline August 10, 2015 at 6:21 am

    This is awesome, Cait. I like how you’ve filled out the worksheet with your own goals! I’m saving up for my FinCon expenses too :)

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach August 10, 2015 at 7:41 am

    I kind of do this but in a different way. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day expenses, but in life there are things that are either unexpected, or planned fun or purchases, and it’s important to come up with some kind of plan so you have the cash on hand to do that. I sold my beach cruiser this weekend to have cash for fincon. I was kind of sad, but at the same time I wasn’t using it, so why not have that money go towards something productive in my life, yeah?

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2015 at 8:47 am

      Yep! I felt that way when I sold my juicer. Why did I spend $150 on something I only used for a few weeks!? Oh well. Got $100 back and just had to move on from it. Go you :)

  • Danielle August 10, 2015 at 7:44 am

    This is just the thing I needed to read this morning. I’ve been wanting to really dive into my goals short and long term and I think this will really help define what I want. Maybe I will get my fiance to do it at the same time as me and we can come up with combined goals as well! Thanks!

  • Amanda @ My Life, I Guess August 10, 2015 at 7:56 am

    I think I’m going to borrow from this idea, and use it to help determine my career goals – that is related to money, too :) I honestly think that my lack of goals is contributing to this “stall” my life is in, so it’d be interesting to use your template to set some short-term goals.

  • Maggie @ Northern Expenditure August 10, 2015 at 9:30 am

    Cait – This is so fabulous and makes it so simple! It’s a great resource for couples as well. I plan to print off two of them for my husband and I and fill them out separately and then regroup. I love it!

    • Cait Flanders August 10, 2015 at 9:37 am

      Whoa, that’s a great idea! Thank you for sharing, Maggie! :D

      • Katelynne August 10, 2015 at 11:17 am

        I was actually going to post this that this will help me approach my boyfriend about being more specific about our goals because we have goals but I’m the master of the paper/spreadsheet/numbers. In this form, it will be super helpful to have him look at the numbers too and do checkins because it’s so super simple. Thanks for the worksheet!

  • Kristen August 10, 2015 at 9:38 am

    Thank you for sharing your thought process on this, it is very helpful to see how others plan it. I am going to be sharing this with my hubby as a discussion point!

  • RM3 August 10, 2015 at 10:39 am

    Hi Cait, this approach is great for any goal, I think. Like Amanda@My Life, I Guess, I’m planning to use this for my life goals (list top 5, list what I’m doing/I’ve done to contribute to reaching each in the past 3 months, then write a plan for how I continue/will start working towards each in the coming 3 months). I think that having it in writing will really help me to focus my time and energy on what I value vs. what I don’t.

  • Sarah Westphal August 10, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    Thank You! I’ve been wondering how to go about this for months.
    I love budgeting and we are usually pretty accurate with ours (except when family comes to stay for a visit. You spend a lot more on food as we are finding out this summer– with plenty of visitors from Victoria and Toronto–we live in Hampton, New Brunswick.) However, I am really aggressive with paying down any debt (all we have is our mortgage left now-Thank you Dave Ramsey!) leaving us little margin for “fun”. So it’s nice to see how it can be managed. I’ve wanted rainboots for 2 years! Lol
    So time to have a closer look…it’s not eating out (we have 4 kids, 5 and under), not clothes/toys/stuff shopping as I have been doing your shopping ban for years it seems. Nothing obvious anyway…which is why it’s under our radar. It has to be something! Time to investigate…
    I love your blog and look forward to every post! Thank you for your vulnerability and transparency.
    Take care,

  • Lisa August 10, 2015 at 5:54 pm

    Cait, this is awesome! You’re awesome! Making a date with myself to do this.

  • Carolin August 11, 2015 at 10:19 am

    Thank you for sharing this, Cait! This is exactly what my husband and I needed and it will really compliment what we’re trying to do using your mindful budgeting program. While we’ve been budgeting together for almost 8 years now and have paid off debt and saved quite a bit doing so, we still seem to be so far away from our goals (or just plain unclear about what they are!) I can’t wait to give this a try!!

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2015 at 8:48 am

      Step 1 could be the most useful part! Can’t wait to hear what your clear goals are, Carolin (hopefully they bring you closer to me!).

  • Niki August 12, 2015 at 12:03 am

    Thank you for putting this together. Super helpful! :) Glad to also see you’re into paddleboarding. Me too!

  • MJ August 18, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    Well, I printed it off and I filled it out and yowza do I have my work cut out for me. It made me thoroughly examine the numbers, and I’m going to have to make more money, too. The hustle don’t stop, I suppose.

  • Connie August 20, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    I love your site! I have spent much time pondering the idea of downsizing, minimal living, consumerism, environmentalism, upcoming federal election, etc, etc, etc… I felt like I didn’t know my place or my people. Until recently. What if we all went the step further and questioned “Why?”. Every time you walk by the magazine rack and see the too thin, too perfect, too organized, too buffed, too much – all tweaking that inner feeling of “lack” – too fat, too flawed, too chaotic, too messy, too little – why do we all of a sudden – after feeling fine moments before the magazine rack – feel like going home, closing the blinds ands lamenting all my shortcomings. So, along with living with less, challenge your deep rooted beliefs!! Why? Who makes these big global decisions about my life? I ran out of makeup and didn’t replace any except sunscreen, use my clothesline instead of my dryer, make my own cleaners. Challenge status quo. I love the uniqueness of various cultures, why do we want to become so homogenized? Celebrate your uniqueness, your passions. Don’t buy into a life- that at your very core- feels like someone else’s. Live life on YOUR terms. Live life, no regrets.

  • Janeen October 23, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    Saw how Maggie over at Northern Expense used this and had to hop over and say “hi!”. I can’t wait to try this out with my hubby. We’ve dreamed of our financial future and set goals, but tend to skip #1, first setting our priorities. Scheduling this for our next date night :)