We all face times of uncertainty, difficult challenges, and instability. Whether we like it or not, it´s just part of life. We have a choice of how to respond – we can either become destroyed by the uncertainty we face or, alternatively, we can focus on how we react and what steps we can take, no matter how small they may be, to improve the situation.
If we choose the second option, clear financial goals during uncertain times can provide a helpful guiding light to work toward. They can give us a direction to swim in if we are drowning, a path to walk, a guide to follow. Financial goals in particular can be great ways to work toward improving life and building some stability and confidence during an uncertain time.
As a public interest, nonprofit lawyer who has never been very money oriented, I have been surprised to discover how powerful financial goals can be, both for my clients and in my own life.
One of the reasons I love my job as an immigration lawyer doing deportation defense work is that I get to learn from some of the strongest and most resilient people in the world. My clients have shown me the meaning of what strength is during the most difficult of circumstances. And many of them have found solace and a way to keep fighting through goals that have to do with money.
Many of my clients have young U.S. citizen children and families to take care of. They are often the breadwinners of the family, and having to hustle for money is a key aspect of their daily lives. In the process of deportation, they are facing one of the most terrifying situations imaginable: banishment and exile from the only place they know as home, often to countries they face persecution and torture, and worst of all, permanent separation from their loved ones.
The Power of Goals When Coping With Uncertainty
I have seen people react in various ways. But there have been a few clients in particular who have blown me away with their resilience and strength during these dire circumstances. One man, Christopher*, did so in a way that underscores the incredible impact that clear financial goals can have on your life.
Christopher, a long-time green card holder, had lived in the U.S. legally since he was 8 years-old. He had two little daughters, all born in the U.S. and U.S. citizens, who he loved more than anything. The rest of his family members were also U.S. citizens – he had just hadn´t gotten around yet to naturalizing. After getting a couple minor misdemeanor convictions, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained him and placed him in deportation proceedings, asserting they could take away his green card. He had a strong argument that legally he could not be deported based on his misdemeanors. At the first level of the case, we won, but ICE appealed. We were able to get him released from detention, but he still had his pending deportation case on appeal, and the possibility of still being separated from his daughters, hanging over him.
Back at home with his daughters while the case went on, Christopher threw himself into caring for his family. He decided a clear, single goal that he would do everything possible to work toward: make and save as much money as he could for his daughters.
Not knowing what the future would hold and surrounded by uncertainty, he chose not to flounder into depression and focus on all the terrible things that had happened and could continue to happen to him. Instead, Christopher chose to focus on what he could do, what actions and steps he could take within his circumstances to improve the situation.
Christopher zoomed in on what mattered the most to him – being able to protect his daughters and care for them. And working hard to save up an emergency fund for his children, in case he did get deported, was a clear way that allowed him to do that.
Although his plan was to save as much as possible for his girls, it didn´t come from a mindset of scarcity, fear, or desperation. Instead, Christopher had sat down, prayed, and thought hard about the terrifying situation he was facing and his love for his children. He realized he did not have a choice. If he lived in fear, he would go crazy. He wouldn´t be able to do what he needed to do for his family. That route was just not an option because he honestly didn´t think he would survive thinking that way. He loved his daughters too much to let that happen.
So Christopher dreamed that the source of money that he could save up for his daughters was endless. He embraced an abundance money mindset.
With a single-minded focus, Christopher worked two jobs, and started a side hustle fixing up old used cards to resell. In a short few months, his side business was booming. Christopher was able to store up enough money to make sure that for at least a couple months, his daughters would be able to eat and have other basic necessities.
Having that emergency fund gave Christopher a little piece of security and peace of mind in a time when he had none whatsoever. He had taken action to make sure the situation he worried most about, his children´s survival and well-being, would be a little better off. It gave him some confidence and hope to keep going, keep fighting. He started to sleep a little better at night. He felt a tiny bit less anxious. Although he was still facing the scariest and most uncertain time in his life — the outcome of his immigration case — Christopher had done something to empower and prepare himself and his family.
Although relatively few people will ever face the situation of possible deportation that Christopher faced, we all have so much to learn from Christopher. We each face times of grave uncertainty, when things can feel completely out of control. It´s part of life. We have a choice: to flounder and get destroyed by the challenges we face, or to set goals and make the best of the situation.
Setting Clear Goals
Goals give us direction. They give us something to work toward. When we are drowning in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight, goals help us pick a direction — any direction — to swim. We may not reach land swimming in that direction, but we have a better chance than if we never swam at all and drowned.
They also allow us to measure our progress. A clear goal gives us the chance to see we are improving, helping us build confidence and stay encouraged.
However, goals are not very helpful unless they are clear. If we don´t have clear goals, we cannot really take steps toward meeting those goals. We may not have any idea how to start. Or our goals might be too vague – we may not really understand precisely what they are. Worst of all, if our goals are unclear, we screw ourselves in a way, because we won´t have clear action steps available to follow to reach our goals.
In addition to making sure our goals are clear, we need to pick a goal itself. Sometimes we don´t even know what goal to pick. We don´t know where to start. As we saw with the story of Christopher, financial-related goals can be a great goal to focus on.
Although at first it may feel superficial to have a goal about money, financial goals can actually have highly impactful effects on all areas of our life that affect our happiness. At the end of the day, money really is nothing more than a concept humans made-up. It´s a way to express what we value.
Almost all things in life get impacted by money, even if we don´t realize it. To be honest, until I sat down to write this post, I had never thought about Christopher´s story as a financial goals story. I had seen it as a story about the resilience of the human spirit, the deep love for family, the tragedies caused by the broken immigration system, and the profound strength that some people have during the worst circumstances. And it is all those things. But Christopher´s inspiring story also reveals the incredible impact that clear financial goals can have for us.
An important reason why we recommend picking goals that are about money is that they are relatively easy goals to identify and work toward. Instead of being about something ambiguous like ¨learning how to be happy¨, financial goals can be very precise. For example, if you choose a goal such as ¨saving up 6 months of living expenses for an emergency fund¨, there are immediate steps you can start taking today. You can commit to saving something as simple as $20 a week, or setting up an automatic transfer to a savings account for $50 each time you get paid. Another example would be if your goal is ¨starting a side hustle to increase my income¨. Your next steps could be researching side hustles to see what you might enjoy doing, thinking about what skills you already have could be used to make extra money on the side, and experimenting with one of your skills to see if it leads to some extra cash.
What financial goal you pick will depend on your values, goals for life, and, as with the case of Christopher whose priority was to care for his daughters, what matters most to you. Financial goals can range from saving up or increasing income to more long-term goals like buying a home, sending your kids to college, having flexibility to transition careers, reaching financial independence, or planning for retirement. To learn more about financial goals, check out our favorite personal finance books.
Clear Financial Goals Can Give You A Way to Tackle Uncertainty
If you are facing a time of uncertainty, setting a goal to work toward can give you a piece of security, stability, and peace of mind when you might otherwise have none. It can give you a direction to swim when you feel like you are drowning. That goal needs to be clear, so that you can have action steps available to take toward meeting it. Financial goals are a great goal to pick because they are easy to identify, there are clear steps you can take to meet them, and they can have significant impacts on the quality of your life and happiness.
*A pseudonym has been used for confidentiality purposes.