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Long Term Goal Setting Beyond 5 Years

Each year I write about our yearly goals around the new year.  It’s a valuable opportunity to review progress around short and middle term goals, one that I do continuously throughout the year even if I only write about it annually. 

But honestly, these are just as written, my short and medium-term goals.  For the more astute you might be wondering by now what about my long-term goals?

Well, I wrote many moons ago about my methodology for setting goals.   Particularly it is important to set goals in bite-size chunks.  That way positive feedback reinforces the behavior, eventually leading to not only better performance but positive habits.    In that same post so long ago I highlighted a need to align those bite-size chunks with the bigger picture.  Ultimately you are trying to build to something.  You can’t succeed after all if you don’t understand what success is.    

The Big Picture, Beyond 5 Years

So what am I building too long term, what is the picture?  Well, we’ve already established a retirement goal of 55.  That is currently 18 years away.  That is a good start.  But there are many more long-term goals.  Raising my kids well, including to respect and be able to manage their money, might be another.    Continual happiness as the years progress might be a third.  

Generic Goals Beyond 5 Years

You’ll note something though, with the exception of the retirement goal year these are all sort of generic.  Honestly, that is on purpose due to a learning I have had in my 37 years on this planet.  

Things Change Over 5 Year Periods 

That is, no matter where you foresee yourself beyond 5 years, some significant aspect of that expectation is wrong.  Something, good or bad, will change your trajectory over that period.  Now I still believe it is important to set goals for 5+ year time periods.  I just believe setting those goals too specific is a recipe for failure since things change.

Goals Should be Attainable

If you recall from our Smart Goals Post I believe goals should be attainable.  They should be stretch goals of course, but you should be able to reach them or they will become discouraging.  Well, given I believe the future beyond 5 years is unpredictable, specific goals are out as it is impossible to determine if they are attainable.  

Looking Back 5 and 10 Years

Don’t believe me?  Consider all that’s changed to you in the last 5 years?  In fact, I will do you one better, I’ll highlight how different my life is from 5 years and 10 years ago.

10 Years Ago

Ten years ago I was 27.  I had just recently (like a few weeks ago) met my now wife.    I worked as a process analyst in a logistics organization for a pay rate half of what I make now.  My net worth was hovering somewhere around $40K.  I lived in an apartment about 30 minutes from my current location and was 2 years into my current and second employer.  I spent most of my time enjoying my car hobby and working.    There is no way I could have foreseen my life 10 years later.

5 Years Ago

Fast forward five years to when I was 32.  I had one child.  We were getting ready to close on our second and current house.  My net worth was $200-300K. My paycheck than was 25% higher then it was 10 years ago.  Meanwhile, my wife worked a full time job with her employer.  My car hobby was less but still alive and kicking.  

Reviewing the Changes

So in that first five year period I got married and had a child.  2 major financial changes.  I’d also managed to purchase, live in, and sell a home during that five year period.  My hobbies were in the process of shifting.  My pay and net worth were way up.    Do you think I foresaw where I was going to be at 32 when I was 27?   No way.  Specific goals would not have survived such a drastic change in my life.

Even With a Stable Family Things Change

But what about these last five years.  Surely as someone living in the same house already married I foresaw my specifics today?  Well, no.  I did foresee the second kid as a future possibility at least.   But much of the rest of my now life was unexpected.

My wife stopped working to be a stay at home mom.  Then six months later changed directions to become a part-time entrepreneur.  Today we mostly live off her profits.  Conversely, my pay alone roughly equals what we both made at 32, 5 years ago.   This indicates the bulk of my pay increases were in the last five years.   When combined with her business income our household income is much higher then I would have expected for essentially a stay at home parent family.    

Even my own job position is different than where I had expected to be at this stage.  If you had asked me 5 years ago I would have said I’d be at least a director by now.  Instead I have stepped away from that career path.  What about hobbies?  That has changed as well as we consider selling the Corvette to buy a travel trailer.

Long Term Life Changes are Unpredictable

Anyway, enough about me.  I’m sure if you take the time to review the changes over 5 years to your life you’ll note much the same thing.  The simple reality is 5 year life periods are extremely unpredictable.  But not setting goals even over such a fuzzy period is a bad idea.  After all 5 years is a significant period of time to otherwise go through aimlessly.    The balancing point is to set specific enough goals over the long term to be measurable, but fuzzy enough that when life throws you a curve ball you still can achieve your goals.

How do you set goals beyond 5 year periods?


  1. Xrayvsn
    Xrayvsn December 13, 2018

    It is amazing how looking back in 5 yr increments can show some dramatic changes. We don’t notice it because it is so gradual (akin to a frog in a pot with the water slowly raised versus one dunked into boiling water analogy).

    I too have some long term goals (retire around the same age as you want to (53-55) but I know there will be a lot of unexpected stuff that makes the path different from the one I envision

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance December 14, 2018

      It certainly is a fun thought experiment to try and guess where you will be in 5 years. As you noted though the changes seem to sneak up on you.

  2. Mr 39 months
    Mr 39 months December 16, 2018

    I typically set goals for the next year, 5 year and 10 year goals. I agree that it is always interesting to go back 5+ years and see how you did.

    God article on how you set goals. I will link to it in my goal post as well. Always great to read your stuff

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance December 16, 2018

      Thanks Mr. 39 Months. I always appreciate the feedback.

  3. Simple SEG
    Simple SEG December 25, 2018

    I usually set one year and 10 year goals. It seems though that my 10 year goals are nothing more than a crap shoot. My aspirations change so much that I am often way off the mark. But it is still a worthy exercise.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance December 25, 2018

      What type of things do you set in your ten year goals?

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