Put Your Money Where Your Values Are

People value money and the myriad of things we can do with it. Most of us aren’t burning stacks of cash or rejecting society; even in trends such as minimalism, the rejection is of an excess of material possessions, not money itself. Many minimalists emphasize choosing experiences, such as global travel, over possessions. Experiences cost money. Unless you’re living in a convent or monastery and have sworn off all monetary relationships, (I daresay that’s not the case for most choosing to read this) money means something to you.

What is that meaning for you?

That said, the depth of the value of money runs deeper than the number on a banknote; money is priority number one for some, but less emphasized for others. No two people have identical relationships with money because no two people have had identical life experiences. We all come from different beginnings, have sought different education, worked different jobs, etc. Despite this reality, many people try to mimic the way others handle their finances. It’s as true with your money values as it is with personal values: there is a tendency to default to the habits of the people you frequently spend time with. Here’s the deal. When you default to someone else’s money values, you’re failing no matter how much you are “winning” in other people’s eyes.

Does your spending match your values?

In our previous blog, Be Your Best Self, Know Your Values, we discussed the importance of identifying priorities where your relationships, career, spirituality, and health are concerned.  After doing the values exercise, consider if those values are reflected in the way you spend.

I recently had to face the music on realigning my values with how we spent our money as a family. A few years back, we moved to Scarsdale, NY because we valued education for our children and the school system is really strong. Truth be told, moving there also struck my ego in that my wife and I were able to afford to live in the prestigious zip code by our early 30s. The issue, however, is that it is also important for us to be close to our extended family… who all happen to live on Long Island. We literally spend every weekend there! So, this year we sat down and hashed out our plan of attack to align our values better by selling our home in Scarsdale to move to Long Island.

Is the decision without compromises? Definitely not. The work commute will not be as easy, we will leave Scarsdale’s school system and I won’t be able to say at cocktail parties “I live in Scarsdale” and complain about the high local taxes as a badge of honor. BUT, in return, we will have a stronger support system, be closer to our parents and our kids will get to play with their cousins and grandparents more often… and that makes us feel really excited about the realignment.

Comparing your spending to your values can help you identify what you can improve or change

How do you get started in this type of process? Start by taking stock of how you spend your money by checking your credit card statement or by using Mint. The obvious big items tend to be housing, child care, food, and transportation. In the first exercise about personal values, did you write down that you value your children’s education, but spent a much larger portion of your income on a Ferrari than their 529 Plan? Time to reevaluate what you thought you valued or your spending habits!!

An example in which personal values are aligned with money decisions, is a couple in their 30s saving up to purchase a home together; their relationship values are related to their financial values in that they have determined it is a priority to live together in a home that they own and they are setting aside some of their savings to make it happen. Other examples include those with spiritual convictions. Whether religious, humanist, or somewhere else on the spectrum, they tend to donate money to churches, charities, and community organizations. And many people with children opt to save up for future college tuition.

Just as we discussed in Part 1, comparing the way you spend your money with your personal values, is great in ascertaining whether you are spending your money in the right place (just like we did with how you spend your time). Are you using your money to achieve your personal values, or are you haphazardly deciding where it goes?

Tell me, how does that make you feel?

In a similar vein, consider your emotional connection to money – do you tend to go on spending sprees when you are sad to fill the void? Or do you donate some of your savings to feel part of something larger than yourself? Hey, not judging, we all have our habits, the important thing is to build self-awareness around those habits so you can control them or develop new ones.

How do you spend your money? Do you save it? What motivates you to spend or to save? Do you spend a significant amount of time working to earn money? Know your personal values and know your money values. Once those are aligned you’re on the path toward higher life satisfaction and it’s time to start setting, and achieving, your goals.

Next up, in Part 3 of this series, Transform Your Values Into Achievable Goals, we’re going to discuss some practical ways of transforming your values into goals – it’s all about taking action!

To start at the beginning of this Wealth Is Personal blog series, click here.

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