Updated: Feb 15, 2021
Your values are guiding the way you make decisions - this is true for any decisions, also for money decisions. We tend to forget this fact and focus on the bare technical numbers when planning our money. However, a financial plan not aligned with our values is very prone to failure. So understanding and taking into account our personal values is a key for a successful plan for our money.
But how can we find our inner personal values? This term might sound abstract and difficult to define, let alone to apply to our money decisions. In this article, I will offer you an easy approach for exploring your values and apply them to your money management.
What builds our values?
Many factors are contributing to the formation of our values:
Family, mostly our parents: Those were the first humans teaching us in life. As a child, you watch your parents all the time. You learn from them in every aspect, also in money management.
The community in which we grew up: The culture in which we grew up reflects the expectations of the individual. It defines what we consider to be right or wrong.
Friends: This peer group impacts our life. We have common activities and plans. It impacts our definition of a normal lifestyle which relates directly to how we spend our money.
School: Another early peer group shaping our ideas on what is an expected and respected behavior. We cannot choose our schoolmates like we choose our friends, but we are shaping our ideals by observing the broad range of individuals.
Workplace: A later peer group, which we can choose up to a certain degree. It can create peer pressure. It might influence our spending if we want strongly integrate into that group.
But, what are values?
Values are the things that have the most priority in your life. Examples of common values are:
How can you identify your values and how do they connect with money?
The list above might seem abstract and is of little help when you are searching for your own values. Isn't it so that each of the values above has a certain impact on everybody? You can try to explore your priorities by answering some questions:
What matters most to you? Which persons, places, or things?
What have you learned from your parents regarding money?
What means success to you?
What word do you associate with money?
What was the best thing you ever spent money on?
What was the worst thing you ever spent money on?
By answering those questions, you will discover common patterns in your relationship with money and understand how you make decisions regarding your finances.
For couples, it is a good exercise discussing questions like this, as it can help you to better understand your partner's approach to money. And if you think those questions through for yourself, it might help you to distinguish between your real values and other external influences like peer pressure, media, or advertisements.
Applying your values when planning your finances
If you make a spending plan, aka budget, you should align it with your values. By this, you will be more likely to follow your plan. So if you have to make spending cuts, you should avoid heavily cutting spending for items that are very important to you. Instead, try to find other items for savings. A starting point for trimming a budget could be the following two questions:
If I have to save money: "Which three expense items would be most difficult to reduce for me?" and "Which three expense items would be the easiest to reduce for me?"
Usually, this list aligns well with your values and is a good starting point for making changes. Couples should answer the questions separately first and then check how well they align with each other.
By running through those steps, you become prepared for creating a personal plan and SMART (Specific Measurable Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals for your finances. Examples of SMART goals are:
Target: Build up emergency savings. SMART Goal: I will save $200 per month for the next 12 months.
Target: I want to get out of credit card debt. SMART Goal: I will pay down $300 per month over the next 18 months.
Target: Save for retirement. SMART Goal: I will invest at least $6000 into a retirement fund over the next 10 years.
The following tools and worksheets for setting SMART goals from the cfpb (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) might be a good help for you:
"Your Values and Your Money" will be the topic of our first zoom-meeting of the "Money Talk with a Daily Money Manager"-series hosted by Rita Kuehnis, SDS Smart Daily Services LLC. The meeting is scheduled for Thursday February 18th at 6 - 7 pm PST. Register here