Money Values: How To Align Your Priorities With Your Spending

Grandparents with grandkids practicing money values

Do you know what your money values are?

Everyone has values that are formed and shaped over many years through relationships, experiences, and education. You could probably claim common values for yourself, such as integrity, faithfulness, honesty, respect, etc.  You may also have values for your spiritual beliefs, physical health, and close relationships, among others.

But, what about money values?  Have you ever defined your values surrounding your finances?  And, even more important, do your actions reflect those values?

Many people can struggle with finding contentment in their lives, simply because their actions and values are not in alignment.  They look at money as a vehicle to get what they want.  Instead of using their money for the things that truly matter to them, they end up spending based on their feelings or external circumstances.

This happens all the time and under a variety of circumstances.  Such as, the person who values a healthy and fit body and yet continues to overeat and not exercise.  Or, someone who places importance on being productive and yet spends *way* too much time on YouTube at work.

This, of course, also applies to money and personal finances.  You may value the idea of a debt-free life, and yet you keep charging new clothes on your credit card.  Or, perhaps you place a high value on being financially independent in retirement, but you’re not making the effort to save sufficiently.

Essentially, the life you create around you will be in conflict with the values you have within you. Psychologists call this phenomenon cognitive dissonance, which has the capacity to bring about mental and emotional distress.

This is why it’s important to understand your relationship with money. If you want to feel in control of your money and be able to build wealth, it’s important to focus on your financial values. Once you define and stay connected to what your own values are, you can be intentional about choosing behaviors that align with them.

Positive and productive money values can shape your financial decisions in effective ways that lead to wealth and financial security.  Poor money values will negatively affect your ability to stay out of debt and build savings for retirement.

Of course, the resulting consequences of each of these scenarios greatly affect more than just your bank balance.  If you don’t operate out of a healthy money mindset, practically every other area of your life will suffer to some degree.

So, figuring out how you want money to add value to your life is significant. Knowing how money and values are related, how to determine your money values, and how to put it all together will help you get on the right financial path.

How money and values are related

Money and values should go hand-in-hand because your values can act as a guide for your financial habits. Think of your values as your priorities. The things that are most important to you are what you should be spending your money on.

For example, if you have positive money values, you’re more likely to save money for important things like retirement and an emergency fund. You value feeling financially secure versus spending money on material items.

But, if you’re not mindful of what your values are, you may spend on things that aren’t that important, such as shopping for new clothes, dining out, or spending money on entertainment.

This isn’t about right or wrong, it’s about your financial goals and achieving what you want while staying aware of your mindset.

If you discover through the steps outlined below that you spend too much money on things that don’t matter to you, you can decide to change.  By adopting better habits and being intentional, you can learn to align your values with your money.

How to determine your money values

Too many of us live life thinking we *should* live a certain way. Whether it’s the way you were brought up or through societal influences, you have developed predetermined notions about whether you should or shouldn’t do something. (You may even feel like others judge you and the way you spend your money.)

This is not the right way to live within your money values. Spending your money the way others think you should will only create a divergence between the decisions you make and what’s important to you.

There isn’t one way to manage your money or reach your financial goals. It starts with understanding your own personal thoughts and desires with money. Take some time to focus on YOU and your thoughts and not what anyone else thinks.

With that said, here are 3 steps to determine your money values.

#1  Make a list

Money touches practically every area of life, so spend a few minutes writing a list of all the categories where money has an impact.

Some examples could be:

  • Lifestyle
  • Marriage
  • Parenting
  • Career
  • Friendships
  • Health
  • Hobbies & fun
  • Education
  • Giving
  • Retirement

Then, write down some goals you’d like to achieve in each area.  There may be a few where money is irrelevant, but most will affect your finances in some way.

A fun way to do this exercise is to envision your future self in 5 years when you’ve achieved your goals and you’re living your best life.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • What does my best life look like?
  • How have my relationships improved?
  • How do I feel about myself?
  • How have I grown as a person?
  • What is important to me?
  • What goals does my future self have?
  • How have my finances improved?
  • How has money added value to my life?

Your answers will reveal a lot about what’s important to you.  Imagining your future self living out your best life is a great way to discover your highest values. Your goals are indicative of what you value, and your financial decisions are a big part of achieving them.

#2  Prioritize

Once you’ve defined some goals for each area, place them in order of importance.

If you’re like most people, your income is limited so you can’t allocate an unrestricted amount of money to every area. By prioritizing your goals, you can distribute both your time and money toward those that are most meaningful to you.

Maybe you want to downsize your home, go back to college, and learn photography as a hobby.  Decide which one you value the most.  This way, you can be intentional about developing spending & saving habits that help keep your goals and values in alignment.

#3  Know your why

Now that you’ve prioritized your goals, dig a little deeper to identify the reasons these goals are important to you.

It’s one thing to have a direction to move in.  But, knowing *why* you want to arrive at a certain destination will help keep you on the right path.

Recognizing the deeper emotional reasons connected to your most important goals will naturally reveal the purpose that you want money to have in your life.

And, that’s when you’ll discover the values that will faithfully guide you through every fork in the road.

For example, maybe your best life includes moving closer to your grandkids so you can see them more often.  This is likely important to you because you value your relationships with them and want to invest in their lives.

So, the purpose of money in this goal isn’t just to have the finances to move and buy a different house.  On a deeper level, you want money to give you the opportunity to foster those relationships and the freedom to choose where you want to live.  These are your money values.

As another example, perhaps you want to start traveling extensively in the next 5 years.  What purpose does money have in reaching this goal?  It’s more than just buying airfare and hotel costs.  Your money would ultimately allow you to enrich your life and create lasting memories through your travels.  These are the values that motivate you to stop spending on frivolous items so you can save the money to reach your goal.

Here is a list of common values that money can serve a purpose in supporting:

  • creating a sense of security
  • having peace of mind
  • having more freedom in your decisions
  • having more choices available to you
  • experiencing enrichment & fulfillment in life
  • gaining knowledge through an education
  • giving your children more opportunities
  • improving physical and mental health
  • creating a comfortable lifestyle
  • building relationships
  • maintaining independence
  • being responsible
  • being generous

The key to a healthy and productive relationship with money is knowing which values are important to you, and aligning your actions and goals with them.  This way, money is the tool *you* control to maximize its benefits in your life.

Once you’ve identified your money values, take steps to uncover the obstructive patterns and habits that are creating an imbalance.

How to align your values with your money

Bank statement and calculator

Now’s the time to get real with yourself.  If you’re struggling with progress, guilt, or control with your money, then you’re likely not making your values a priority in your financial habits.

Here’s how you can find those barriers holding you back.

Look at your bank statements

Look at your bank and credit card statements over the last year. This will give you a birdseye view of how well your spending is aligned with your money values.

When you look at them, do you feel like there is an imbalance between your values and your spending? Do you wish you made different decisions or are you happy with how you used your money?

If you feel disappointed looking at your spending, don’t make yourself feel bad.  Instead, use it as the driving force to make positive changes.

Look at your budget

A budget is a spending plan for your money.  So, a quick glance at your budget categories and how much money you allow for each one will tell you a lot about what you’re prioritizing in your finances.

Compare your list of values to your budget.  Is your money serving the purpose you want it to have?  Are you using your money in a way that creates more fulfillment in your life?

You might look at your budget and decide that you want to reduce the entertainment and clothing allowances because they don’t support your values for improving your health and being financially independent.

If you don’t currently have a budget, I highly recommend starting one.  It’s a smart way to track your money and get in control of your finances.

Look at your lifestyle

Do your current living circumstances reflect your money values?  Consider the home you live in, the vehicle you drive, the groceries you buy, the hobbies you have, etc.  All of these things require some degree of your money to be purchased and maintained.  Ask yourself if these expenses align with your values.

Maybe you’ll decide that spending $2,000 on a mortgage isn’t supporting your money value for financial freedom in retirement.  By downsizing your home and moving to a lower-cost neighborhood, you’d be able to put more money in your 401(k) so you’d have enough to retire on time.

Create a plan

After setting some goals, determining your money values, and identifying your current financial habits, create a plan that will align all three areas.

Perhaps you realize you’re spending too much on new clothing.  You can make adjustments to your budget so you’re intentional about using your money for things you value more, like financial independence in retirement.

Or maybe you want to align more of your spending with your value for strengthening your marriage.  You can start a new budget category for date nights so you’ll have money set aside to support this value.

Once you have a firm grasp of your money values, you’ll start to be more mindful of how your money is supporting your priorities.  With each spending decision, you can ask yourself how does this expense reflect what I truly value?

As you begin to align your money values with your money habits, you’ll discover that even trivial expenses will take on more significance.  This shows that the changes you make don’t have to be anything drastic. Making small, consistent adjustments will help you stay focused on your goals without getting discouraged.

Living out your money values

Once you have a plan, it’s time to put it into action.

Think of your values as the map and your financial decisions like the vehicle. When you’re not sure which way to turn, refer to the map.  Sometimes you may veer off or get lost – it happens to everyone. But, if you have a reliable map to guide you back onto the right road, you’ll inevitably reach your desired destination.

With your plan in mind, ask yourself the following before you spend money:

  • Does this align with my money values? Will this expenditure bring me peace or will it make me feel guilty?
  • Does this expense get me closer to achieving my goals or is this just an emotional purchase?
  • Am I on track with achieving my goals? Why or why not?
  • What changes can I make to reach my goals and align them with my money values?

In conclusion

Determining your money values and aligning your goals with them will help you achieve financial peace. Today, tomorrow, and in retirement, you’ll be proud of the way you handled your money.

Not only will you have a sense of contentment about your finances, but you’ll also experience the security of financial independence because you didn’t let your emotions drive your spending habits.

Don’t be mistaken – this takes a lot of trial and error. You aren’t going to change things overnight and nothing will be perfect. It takes time, mistakes, and positive changes to make a difference. If you get off track, just return to the values that are important to you. They will guide you in the right direction every time.

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Money Values: How To Align Your Priorities With Your Spending

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