What are the top three values in your life? Don't think too long and hard. Just write down the first three things that pop into your mind. Usually these three will be pretty honest and accurate.
My top three values are family, freedom, and contribution. Now, write down what each of those things means to you. Here is my example:
- Family: Nothing means more to me than my kids. My number one priority is making sure they are safe and have everything they need. Because my kids have special needs, it can take up a lot of time and resources to meet those needs, which is fine. I don’t want to provide just the minimum; I want to provide safety, comfort, and, at times, even luxury. My kids have been through many tough times in their short lives, including extended hospital stays and some really difficult procedures. I want to be able to take them to an awesome resort with the fancy water village and an awe-inspiring water slide when we go on vacation. I also want to make sure that every month and every year we are working toward the kind of principle and investments that we will need to see my family through not only my husband’s and my old age and death, but also through the rest of my children’s lifespans. All of that is what providing for my kids means to me.
- Freedom: I grew up in a fairly restrictive home environment where I didn’t always feel free to say what I thought and do what I wanted. It’s so important that all women have the freedom to make the big choices about life, the freedom to be able to leave bad and dangerous situations, and the freedom to make all of the little choices in life too. Autonomy, independence, and self direction — I want those freedoms for myself, my daughters, and all women everywhere.
- Contribution: I don't just want to pass quietly through life and out the other side, leaving no footprints and making no messes. I want to make a mark on the world in at least some small way and leave it a little bit better than the way I found it. I want to contribute to the big, overall, ongoing human conversation. I want to give, and I want to be heard.
What does all of this have to do with money? Everything! Because money is our culturally agreed upon way of determining the value of things. So what do our personal values have to do with money? Let's explore.
When a woman books a new client call with me, she has to answer five questions before our scheduled call. Two of those questions are, “What do you most love to spend money on?” and, “What do you hate to spend money on?” I get a lot of different answers, but one that I have seen repeated and that makes me incredibly sad is when women answer that they hate to spend money on themselves. I’ve found this shows that, unconsciously at least, those women do not value themselves. They don't feel worthy of spending money on themselves. They would rather spend it on others and deny themselves.
In some way this sounds noble and humble, but the difference is that these women are not simply giving because they take pleasure in helping others; they’re spending on other people because they are undervaluing themselves. Why shouldn't the money you work hard to make go toward improving your life and making things easier and more pleasant for you? You deserve to get some pleasure and nourishment out of the money you earn.
I always ask people about their values when we are looking at their finances because people often think they place the highest value on one thing, but the numbers on their bank and credit card statements tell another story.
Where you spend your money shows what you value, subconsciously or consciously. For instance, how much do you spend servicing your debt each month and what does that say about your values? It could be that you value instant gratification, either for yourself or your loved ones, more than you value your long-term goals. Spending money that you don't have on things you don't really want in order to impress people you don't really care about is a sign of a person who is either unaware of or out of alignment with her values and goals. If that debt was accrued in the service of those ultimate long-term goals, however, the debt may tell a different story.
If you say that spending time with your family is your number one goal, but your calendar and your transactions show that you are spending all of your time working — including your personal travel and vacation time that could be spent on family vacations and things your family truly enjoys — then it is time to stop and realign.
When I look at my top three priorities in the morning and compare them to my calendar, as well as my own plans for spending, I’m able to make adjustments that make me feel more in touch with my values on a daily basis.
Now give this exercise a try. What were the top three values that popped into your head at the beginning of this article? Write them down. Then take out your calendar and pull out your financial tracking app or online program and see how well your values, your schedule, and your money align. Let me know what you find out in the comments below.
If you are looking for a fabulous community of women who talk openly with each other about money and are all dedicated to the financial success of the group as a whole, check out my Mastering Money Matters membership group.
Jennifer Turrell is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.