You may have heard of the book Your Money, Or Your Life. It’s one of my absolute favorites, and the one that has had the biggest impact on my financial journey. The title its a bit of a misnomer, though, as it’s about choosing to use your money to live your fullest life, not choosing one or the other. Your money habits-from spending and saving-truly reveal so much about your life.
Spending is So Individual!
I’ve always been intrigued by seeing the way people spend. Two people with similar income levels and background demographics will spend their money on vastly different things.
One might spend a large percentage of their income on eating out and have a flashy car (with an associated flashy car payment), while the other might have a sizeable mortgage payment, but be content to cook simple meals at home.
It’s possible that their overall spending and saving numbers are actually quite similar, but the details are vastly different.
Truly, a detailed look at your spending provides a window into what is (and isn’t) important to you.
An Exercise in Values
If there’s a misalignment in what you say-or even truly feel-that you value and what your spending shows that you value, this might help explain any feelings of frustration you may have toward your financial situation.
So, let’s do a little exercise and see how aligned your money and your values are. We’re going to use a value wheel, where you assign a ranking to various major parts of your life. To start, download this value wheel template, or simply grab a piece of paper to record your values.
Here are the steps:
1. Fill out the value wheel
First fill it out without specifically considering finances. Simply color in the extent to which you value each of the topics listed including:
- Personal & Spiritual Growth
- Fun & Relaxation
- Personal Development
- Love & Romance
- Friends & Family
2. Review your expenses by category
Using your actual cash flow information (not your budget), go through each of your main expense categories. Ideally, you’ll use annual spending to get a complete view, but even a month or two will do!
3. Assign values to your spending
Rank your spending based on what it shows you actually value by making a dark line (or a red pen would work!) on your value wheel from the first step. This may or may not be similar to the rankings you already have on your value wheel.
4. Identify major discrepancies
Compare the values and consider whether there are adjustments to be made in your current spending to better align your money and your life.
This information provides invaluable feedback in setting your future goals and creating your monthly spending plan. While percentage guidelines can be helpful, don’t let them restrict you from the things that are important for you personally.
The solution isn’t always cutting back, sometimes it’s spending more on something. As long as you’re saving toward your important financial goals and being intentional with your money, you’re right on track. Remember, a budget is a tool to help you allocate your resources, not a restriction.
Often times, this exercise results in simply needing to set more realistic expectations around your spending and allow some additional breathing room. A few hundred bucks isn’t a reasonable target for groceries if you have a family of 5, even if you saw it on a popular frugal living website. A car payment is not a problem (or even-gasp-a lease payment), if it’s something you love, you can afford it, and it aligns with your values.
This is a great exercise to complete each year (or even semi-annually or quarterly), along with the other financial tasks you’re completing to keep you own track to meet your financial goals!
When you come at your spending with an abundance mindset, you can truly align one more piece of your life.