As naturally social creatures, relationships are essential to our everyday lives. Relationships can help us advance through our careers; they can be the source of fond memories and even help us live longer. (1) But one relationship impacts all other aspects of life and must be nurtured and revisited: our relationship with money.
Regarding personal finance, the one word that needs more emphasis is personal. Everybody that you come across has a different relationship and experience with money. So, you have to dive deeper into your relationship to understand better how values are reflected in actions or why certain emotions drive decision-making.
In this article, we break down a few questions you can ask yourself to help uncover your money values and ultimately help you live out a better financial future.
Does my spending align with my values?
When thinking about your financial future, one of the first areas to spend some time on is your cash flow. In the world of personal finance, much of what happens is out of our control. However, the one thing that we do have control over is 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 directly reflects your subconscious values.
To help get a better understanding of where you're currently at, 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 Mint, or You Need A Budget or accessing your bank statements online.
Once you've looked at the current state of your spending, you can then determine if it aligns with your values. By diving into your values, you'll determine where you truly want your money to go 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 dreams come true? What are they?
This exercise can also effectively reduce the effects of lifestyle creep, which occurs when your expenses rise at the same rate as your income. This is because by defining your values, you can be more intentional with your spending.
What do I want to accomplish one year from now financially? How about 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 occur over the next year, giving you a timeline of action items that need to take place to ensure it happens. Second, if you've never thought about your financial goals, 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, giving you the information needed to create actionable steps to get you closer to achieving your financial goals. Once you have an answer – bring it on paper (or use whatever electronic resource you prefer). The idea is to make it accountable and assign actionable steps to it. From saving a little extra every month to looking at your 401(k) statements and paying attention to rebalancing, if necessary, to contacting a tax or financial professional to establish a financial plan, 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 greater happiness once they passed the $75,000 annual income threshold.
In a world where we tend to find ourselves searching for more, it's essential that we first define and have an understanding of what 'enough' means to us.
Everyone will have their own definition of 'enough,' but when thinking about the term, it's easy to start thinking big and imagine how much money you would need to do whatever you want for the rest of the time.
But one way to approach this question is to think through your real ideal life; your current financial picture is a great place to start. Based on the spending numbers you discovered from the first question, you can begin to see the total annual expenses 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:
Enough money to cover regular expenses like mortgage, car payment, etc.
Enough money to pay the bills and keep food on the table
And enough money to live the dream life we fantasize about
If you've never thought through these numbers, 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 give you a sense of clarity on what you want to accomplish and 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.
(1) Office of Public Affairs. 7 Reasons Why Loving Relationships Are Good for You. The University of Utah Health. February 14, 2017.
(2) Martin, Emmie. Here's How Much Money You Need to Be Happy, According to a New Analysis by Wealth Experts. CNBC. November 20, 2017.
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