I’m sure if you’ve read even a handful of personal finance blogs, you’ve come across this sage advice before: learn to align your spending with your values.
Although it sounds simple enough, the advice seems so hard for many of us to grasp.
Exactly how hard is it to align your spending with your values?
It must be pretty hard since so many of us manage to spend every last cent we make.
We end up with thousands of dollars of credit card bills from countless trips to the mall and then find ourselves lamenting that we never have enough money to travel like our friends do.
Or we drive that fancy car with the expensive payment, but we haven’t found the time (or the money) to open up that IRA just yet. Retirement can wait, right?
Align Your Spending With Your Values
The truth is, if we aren’t spending our money where it counts, then we’re going to end up with nothing to show for it, and we certainly won’t be happy.
Think about it. Twenty years from now, will you think fondly of that shiny new car you have today, or will you be sad that your kids grew up in daycare while you were at work wishing you were home with them?
Hindsight is 20/20, and it can be harsh.
Buying new clothes, cars, and nice houses may make us happy for a short period of time, but afterwards, all we’re left with are big payments and regret.
Luckily, you can stop that regret today and make a concerted effort to spend your discretionary money wisely.
Here’s how to align your spending with your values.
Make a List of Your Values
It’s going to be hard to spend your money on what’s important to you if you don’t have a concrete reminder of what you value, so go ahead and make that list. Sit down and really think about what’s important to you.
If your favorite thing to do is to spend time with your kids at the park, write that down. If you love to travel, write that down. Hiking, sewing, fishing, reading, running marathons, attending sporting events, or volunteering are other items that might make that list.
Just be honest with yourself and write down everything that comes to mind.Want to spend your #money in a way that makes you happy? Spend on your values Click To Tweet
Pick Out Your Theme
Once you have a list of your favorite things, see if you can pick out a theme. Is it travel? New experiences? Spending time with loved ones?
Whatever it is, try to narrow down the list to your absolute favorites: the items that give you the most joy in your life. Focus on those.
Writing out this list may seem overly-simplified to you, but it is important to help you recognize what’s absolutely important to you.
We can’t align our spending with our values if we don’t know what it is that we value. This list will make it a lot easier to forgo eating out at that restaurant tomorrow night when you remember that you’re saving for that vacation to Italy next year.
Share Your Goals with Your Spouse
Next, it’s important to compare lists with your spouse so that you can both work as a team towards the same goals.
Sharing your goals also keeps you accountable to someone else who has a shared interest in your goals, and that person can help reel you in if you ever get sidetracked.
For example, my husband used to buy me all sorts of little trinkets to try to show me he loved me, and one day I finally told him that I didn’t need him to buy me things for that.
We both realized at that point that spending time together was worth so much more to us, and now we do that on a regular basis instead.
Now that he’s no longer spending money on things that I don’t want, we’re allocating that extra money to weekend adventures and time spent together, which leaves us both feeling happier and more fulfilled in our marriage.
By recognizing what we actually valued (and what we didn’t), we learned how to align our spending with our values together.
Post Those Goals
Now it’s time to make these goals visible. I find it helpful to have reminders of my goals where I can see them on a daily basis, such as in my wallet and on my fridge. This keeps my goals in the front of my mind as I’m getting ready for my day.
When I was working towards paying off my mortgage, I kept my mortgage statement on my refrigerator. I loved every time I was able to post a new, lower balance, and it helped me retain vigorous motivation towards my payoff date.
The same plan may work for you. If you have a sudden desire to go to the mall when you don’t need anything, or you sit down to do some “online browsing” with your favorite online retailer, those reminders will help you remember what you actually enjoy spending your money on.
Eventually, once you do get in the habit of spending on your values, you won’t need these reminders anymore. It will come naturally!
Track Your Spending
If you don’t already, now is the time to track your spending. By tracking your spending, at the end of the year you’ll have a concrete answer as to where all your money has gone in the past year, and you’ll be able to determine if you met your goal of spending on your values or not.
If you see that you overspent on eating out and you’re left with nothing to show for it, you can make a point to eat at home more often in the coming year.
The point of tracking your spending is to prove to yourself whether or not you’re actually following through with spending on your values or not.Want to feel less guilty for spending? Here's how you can spend on your values instead Click To Tweet
Learn to Say No To Yourself
Now comes the hard part. If we really want to spend our money where it counts, we’ve got to learn how to say no to ourselves when we’re tempted to buy things that aren’t within these goals.
We may have to get out of the “I deserve this” mentality when we try to justify the purchase of a brand new pair of boots after a hard day at work, or a trip to Starbucks on yet another rushed morning.
We deserve to have certain things, but we shouldn’t confuse the things we think we want with the things that actually make us happy.
Buying new outfits doesn’t actually make us happy, but working on our favorite hobby does. Working overtime to pay for that new car doesn’t make us happy, but playing with our kids after work does.
Learn to say no to the things that don’t matter to make room in the budget for things that do matter.
Luckily, you don’t have to have a complete budget overhaul in order to align your spending with your values. You just have to make tweaks here and there to spend your discretionary income on things that actually make you happy.
After all, if we’re not spending our money where it counts, then why are we spending so many long hours working? Once you get your priorities straight and learn what actually makes you happy, it becomes easy to spend money only on the things that you value.
What are the things that bring you the most joy? What do you think you could cut out of your budget that doesn’t give you any lasting happiness?