Does saving money make you yawn?
Everyone knows they’re “supposed” to save money. But for what – retirement? A house? For many of us, those milestones seem so far away it’s like they’re not real. Or maybe you plan to rent forever, and you don’t want to retire to play golf in Florida.
If these thoughts ring a bell, it’s time to create savings goals that align with your values. If saving is boring, make it meaningful: connecting financial decisions to your values brings clarity and motivation to saving. If you’re not sure whether or how to buy something, check in with your values: does the purchase align with them? Or is it heat-of-the-moment? Does it bring you closer to your goals?
For example, from a friend of mine about her wedding: “I feel conflicted about spending money on a wedding. I want a cute wedding, and for my friends and family to be there, but I’ve been hearing about how much it costs and I think wait, what?”
My friend and her partner are not engaged, and some people might scoff that she’s thinking so far in advance. But if she values the presence of her community at an important ritual and life transition, and she values aesthetics and it’s her goal to celebrate marriage with a beautiful party, she’s smart to think about it now. Hosting a wedding is a long-term goal that relates to her values.
What are your values?
When you think about your life, either now or in the future, what do you want it to be like? What makes you feel most like yourself? What do you like to have as regular parts of your day, week, month? On the other hand, what bothers you? What irritates or upsets you? These questions are clues to defining your values.
Values are “a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life” (Google). Why is it important to think about your values? For plenty of reasons, but particularly because connecting actions to values helps you make confident decisions that progress you towards your goals. It clarifies your relationship with yourself, deepens your understanding of why you do what you do (or why you need to change what you do), and gives you a lens through which to analyze situations that make you feel bad.
Do you know what your values are? If you’re not sure, think about aspects of your life that are important to you. If you love to read, that’s a start! Important things might include family, good food, travel, sleep, helping people, learning, earning money and feeling confident. You can also think about things that bother you: people who don’t do what they say they will, chaotic situations, feeling self-conscious.
But what do these preferences mean about you? If some of the things you like feel vague, it’s because they might be. There are many things we know we’re supposed to care about, like family, hard work, or education. And many of us genuinely value these things, though we may never have asked ourselves why. The why is critical to understanding your values. Without the why, it’s hard to feel connected to the concepts we claim to value.
So why do you value what you value? To figure it out, get specific: If “free time” is important to you, what do you want it for? In an ideal world, how will you use it? If you value “solitude,” what is it about solitude that works for you? Is it education for its own sake that’s important? Why is it a priority to travel?
It takes time and reflection to connect what you like to the reasons why they matter. After some consideration, you may find similar themes recurring across the things you like and dislike. For me, themes like control, justice, and collaboration come up again and again. Pay attention: these are clues to your values!
I distilled these themes into broad categories, like keywords to reference during decision-making. Many of my personal and professional goals, such as financial independence, living abroad, and building my business, tie in with these values:
Autonomy: I like having a say in what I do and where I do it. I put a premium on having control and flexibility in how I spend time and money. I’m cultivating multiple income streams so I have professional options – being able to work more or less gives me control over my schedule. Earning money is important to me because it enables me control where I go (travel) and purchase products I believe in (organic food, sustainable goods).
Community: I feel best when I’m in community with people, whether it’s celebrating holidays with family or collaborating with colleagues on projects. It gives me a sense of place in the world. Talking with people and sharing ideas is invigorating and reminds me that I’m not a waste of space. Community challenges me, educates me, and energizes me.
Fairness: I know that “life isn’t fair,” but I want it to be. I get angry when treated without the respect and consideration that I think is appropriate. I like consistency: when people act similarly over time, when they treat others equitably. It helps me understand situations and expectations. I like clear expectations so I can meet them. I like when people keep their word.
There are more, but I want to hear from you. What are your values?
The Ancient Egyptians valued the afterlife, and spent years and tremendous enslaved labor to guarantee it. Some Pharaohs truly went the distance, but most of us have fewer resources. Of the financial resources we do have, how can we align our practices with our values?
(photo by Eva Jannotta)