As a financial coach, keeping clients accountable to work towards the goals they set forth is part of what I do on a regular basis.

What do you want to do?  Where do you want to go?  Where do you want to be in five years from now?  All of these questions and more get answered in our initial session, and they help to form the long-term goals and short-term action steps folks need to accomplish.

Anyone who has accomplished something difficult will tell you a key to success is accountability – knowing that you have to answer for your progress.  That’s part of what keeps people productive and moving forward.  There’s something in the human psyche that will push itself towards greater success when it knows you will have to answer for what you’ve accomplished.

For married couples, there’s some built-in accountability of sorts.  As you establish the budget, you each have a built-in standard to which to hold each other.  For single individuals, outside accountability is vital.  This could be a good friend, a family member, or mentor; someone you trust, and who can understand and support your goals.

A few things to look for in a good financial accountability partner:

– NOT a shopping buddy.  This isn’t someone who’s going to encourage you to, “Buy two!” when they’re on sale.
– They need to be at least decent at managing their own money.  They don’t have to be perfect, but you don’t want someone who is constantly struggling to be speaking into your financial life.
– Someone who cares about your success.
– They don’t need to have all the answers.

Once you’ve identified them, and they’ve agreed to help you, they don’t need to be a financial guru.  You just need to clearly and specifically outline your goals, and what you’re going to do to get there, in writing

Once they understand those goals, they can help hold you to them.  If you give them the list of questions below, just about anyone who  understands your goals and cares about your success can help you keep making progress over time.  Make sure you have contact with them at least once a month specifically for this purpose, and have them ask the following:

1) How are you progressing towards your goals?
Your goals will be big things like paying off a debt, establishing your emergency fund, getting retirement in order, setting up your estate plan, etc.

2) Have you completed the action steps you planned for this month?
Examples of action steps would include having a yard sale, selling something, getting insurance in place, cutting cable, destroying a credit card and closing the account, etc.  These are smaller things that can be done within a month’s time or less.

3) Have you been able to stick to your budget this month?  What categories/areas were a struggle?
This means they need to have a copy of your budget and understand how you hope to use your cash flow for, and that you have to have the budget reconciled by the time you meet.  It’s your plan before you execute, and your “scorecard” to see how you did.

4) What are you going to do differently in your budget this month? 
Describe what changes are in the budget this month, because you need to do a different budget every single month.

5) What action steps are you going to accomplish this coming month to help you keep moving on your goals?
What things are leftover that you didn’t accomplish this month, and what do you plan to do this month to move you closer to your goals?

6) Is there anything else that I need to be sure to ask you about next month?  
This would include other specific things you want to be held accountable on that might not be budget related.  Maybe you need them to ask you if you were able to keep a strong financial boundary with a manipulative member of your family.  Maybe you need them to ask specifically about one credit card or one challenging budget category.

If you ask better questions, you’ll get better questions.  With these questions I think that you would be able to build in accountability to your life, or help keep someone you love accountable (if they want it).

It’s key to remember: the person being held accountable has to want to be held accountable.  Together, with someone who understands your goals and cares about your success, that desire for accountability will help make some incredible things happen!