January is the perfect month to determine what you want to achieve this year. Let’s talk about the 3 things you’ll need to make real progress — a dream, a plan and the right resources.

Welcome to 2016, everybody. Because my money personality is The Architect and I love all things related to organization and order, I’m excited to share this month’s theme for Payoff Life and The Brew: Planning Pays Off.

To help you achieve your best, most productive year yet, we’re sharing articles on:

My very favorite planning-related article this month is contributed by Payoff’s licensed clinical psychologist, Ryan Howes, who weighed in on a highly debatable topic — is being organized actually better? — after recently visiting an artist’s studio that was messy and orderly at the same time.

Planning and organization go together (sometimes)

I enjoyed Ryan’s article because it made me think twice about the roles organization and disorganization play in my life. Maybe there’s a time for order and a time for controlled chaos too, just like in the artist’s studio Ryan writes about.

The same article reminded me that taking the time to build a solid plan for the work ahead of you can make a person feel like real progress is being made. And if you’re anything like me, you probably appreciate that feeling of empowerment.

Maybe there’s a time for order and a time for controlled chaos too.

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Without a plan, without a roadmap to progress, my hopes and wants to end up stuck in the dream phase. And the problem with that is, it’s way too easy to play it safe and keep an idea locked as a dream indefinitely instead of evolving it into an actionable plan. Usually, a clear sign that this is happening is when I find myself starting sentences with “Someday …”

The truth is, dreams are easy to, well, dream up and describe. Plans, not so much. You need both. But you also need to know how to tell them apart.

Is it a plan or is it a dream?

If there’s something I want (to take a trip, to run a half marathon, to save a certain amount of money) and I want it to actually happen, I have to ask myself: What do I have right now — a plan or a dream?

Today the TV show Cheers is pretty dated, but one of its famous lines about dreams still circulates widely on the internet. Halfway through the third season, postman Cliff Clavin has a heart-to-heart with accountant Norm Peterson. They discuss the grand schemes they once had for their lives — neither of which has turned out the way they believed they would.

In the face of his friend’s disappointment, the postman offers encouragement. “Having a dream isn’t stupid, Norm,” Cliff says. “It’s not having a dream that’s stupid.”

Cliff is right, dreams are important. But dreams will amount to nothing without a plan in place to serve as a ladder. It’s easier to say, “I want to start my own business” than it is to determine sources of startup capital, draft a business plan and persuade partners and manufacturers to come on board.

But dreams will amount to nothing without a plan in place to serve as a ladder.

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Or what about “I want to own a home”? That’s a terrific dream. But the plan to take you from renter to homeowner — or to any dream — requires looking at your whole financial picture and breaking it down into the good, the bad and the ugly. Only after creating a concrete plan that lists your hurdles and then jumping over them, one by one, can you begin to make real progress toward making your dream a reality.

As businessman Harvey Mackay has said, “A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.”

Gather the necessary resources and tools

It’s likely that whatever your plans are for 2016, they’ll benefit from a healthy bank account. If you don’t already know your money personality, give Joy a try.

Once you know which of the 10 money personalities best describes you, you’ll better understand:

  • Which of your general habits and preferences tend to creep into your finances
  • What some of your financial pitfalls are and how to avoid them
  • Why you spend more money on certain things over others

And speaking of better financial health, as of this month Payoff is the first marketplace lender to provide monthly access to FICO Scores for free to its Members who have refinanced their credit cards with a Payoff Loan.

… To execute a solid plan you need the right information at your fingertips.

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If you’re already a Payoff Member, this means it will be that much easier to chart your credit improvements this year. Whether you have a Payoff Loan or not, you’ll still want to check out these tried and true ways to improve your credit score.

Having a good credit score probably isn’t your dream or overall endgame. But maybe raising your credit score is one of the items in your concrete plan to reach your dream.

The point is, whatever your dream, give it the attention it deserves and takes the time to build it into a real plan. Then begin gathering whatever resources and information are necessary to help you on your way. Because a dream will remain a dream without a plan, and to execute a solid plan you need the right information at your fingertips.

Having a dream isn’t stupid. But not building a plan to power that dream might mean missed opportunities and regrets.

Written by Marie Look, director of content at Payoff

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