We, even introverts like me, are naturally social creatures. Relationships are essential to our everyday lives. They can drive our career, be the source of fond memories, and can even help us live longer.1 There’s one relationship that impacts almost every facet of life and must be nurtured and revisited: your relationship with money.
When it comes to personal finance, the word that needs more emphasis is personal. Everybody that you come across has a different relationship and experience with money. You have to explore your own relationship with money. That includes how values are being reflected in actions and why certain emotions drive decision-making.
Below I cover three pertinent questions to ask yourself to help uncover your money values and ultimately help you live a better financial future.
Does my spending align with my values?
When thinking about your financial future, start with your cash flow. A lot of what happens is out of our control–market returns, tax policy, et cetera. However, we do have control over our spending.
As personal finance author and entrepreneur Ramit Sethi states, “show me someone’s calendar and their spending, and I’ll show you their priorities.” Whether you know it or not, your spending is a direct reflection of your subconscious values.
To help get a better understanding of your cash flow, take some time to go through your past few months of spending to get an idea of where your money is going. This step can feel tedious but it needs to be done to get a grasp of the situation. An easy way to do this is by using a budgeting app such as You Need A Budget or by viewing your statements.
After reviewing your current spending, you can then begin to determine if it aligns with your values. By diving into your values, you’ll be able to figure out where you truly want your money to be going and what expenses no longer align.
What do you regret spending money on? What do you wish you had spent on instead? Were you able to spend money in ways that further long-term goals, or is it all just short-term spending? Are you paying down debt, or is your debt increasing? Do you want to increase charitable giving? Are you saving enough to make your own dreams come true? What are they?
This exercise can also be an effective way to reduce the effects of lifestyle creep. Lifestyle creep occurs when your expenses rise at the same rate as your income. This is because by defining your values, you can then be more intentional with your spending.
What do I want to accomplish financially in the next five years?
This is a great question to ask yourself for a few reasons. First, it helps establish concrete goals or events that need to take place. Further, it gives you a timeline of action items to make sure it happens. Second, it can be a great way to figure out what you want to accomplish and what should be prioritized.
Each stage of your life is going to consist of different financial goals. For example, in your early career, the next big goal may be buying a home or starting a family, which both need financial planning. Or, in your mid-career, priorities may change to maxing out retirement accounts and planning for tax-efficient investing for your future.
The question aims to help define what you want to accomplish. It will give you the information needed to create actionable steps to get you closer to achieving your financial goals. Once you have an answer – write it down (digital note or on paper). The idea is to make it accountable and assign actionable steps to it. From saving a little bit extra every month, to actually looking at your 401(k) statements and paying attention to rebalancing, if necessary, to contacting a tax or financial professional to get a plan in place, each step should have a timeline attached.
What’s my enough?
While it’s commonly thought that more money leads to more happiness, according to a study from Princeton University, the magic number is $75,000.2 They found that people did not report a greater degree of happiness once they passed the $75,000 annual income threshold.
In a world where we tend to find ourselves searching for more, it’s important that we first define and have an understanding of what enough means to us.
Everyone is going to have their own definition of enough. Commonly people begin thinking big and trying to imagine how much money you would need to do whatever you want for the rest of your life.
But one way to approach this question is thinking through what your realistic ideal life looks like, and your current financial picture is a great place to start. Based on the spending numbers, you can begin to see what the total annual expenses are to maintain your current way of life.
Then, you can dive deeper into the numbers and your values to determine different levels of enough, and one way to do this is by separating it into three buckets:
- Needs: Covering basic expenses like groceries, mortgage, car payment, utilities, etc.
- Wants: Dining out with friends, regional traveling, etc.
- Wishes: Owning vacation property(ies), dream trips, etc.
If you’ve never thought through these numbers before, you may realize that you’re closer to financial peace of mind than you initially thought. Some typical financial wins that signify you may be approaching enough are being debt-free, comfortably and consistently saving for retirement, and being on track for current life goals.
When it comes to personal finance, we’re in control of our future, and these questions will not only give you a sense of clarity on what you want to accomplish, but they can also help shape a path to get you where you want to be. When you’re intentional with your financial life and plan, you have a greater chance of reaching your goals and finding fulfillment in your money.
- Office of Public Affairs. 7 Reasons Why Loving Relationships Are Good for You. University of Utah Health. February 14, 2017.
- Martin, Emmie. Here’s How Much Money You Need to Be Happy, According to a New Analysis by Wealth Experts. CNBC. November 20, 2017.