You may have found this website while looking for information on how to make more money. Maybe you want to save more, start investing, or start investing more. Or maybe you simply misspelled “monkey” while Googling “How to get a monkey.” Whatever your reason for wanting more money or monkeys is, pause for just a moment and do some introspection. This article will discuss what values-based spending is, and how it can make you rich.
Absent me having any knowledge about how YOU spend your money specifically, I’d like to recommend a mindset that has helped me over the years. The mindset is one of focusing on your values, rather than your bank account. When I started doing that, my bank account grew and my investments took care of themselves.
I definitely had to set things on the right track to begin with, and there’s a lot of articles here about how to do that, but one thing I wish someone had told me about money when I was younger was how much easier it is to invest in your values first and then let everything else sort itself out. I call this values-based spending. (If I had read that just a year ago, I would have rolled my eyes and closed this browser window, but please, just hear me out.)
Before we discuss why your values are ten times more relevant than your salary in terms of building wealth, let me just say there is complete merit to wanting to earn a livable wage, have enough money to buy healthier food, and live in a safe area. You need money to do all of these things. And if you are at or below the poverty line (earning about $12,000 per year by yourself in the U.S.), every additional dollar you can get has a massive benefit to your life and thinking about values isn’t really relevant. Having the means necessary for food, shelter, hygiene, and basic education is a human right and cannot be minimized.
If you have trouble making ends meet for any of those categories, send me an email and we can talk privately about small, manageable changes you may be able to make to get there. The remainder of this article is aimed at the average earner in America. I also won’t dive into generational, racial, or gender gaps in pay, although those topics are HIGHLY relevant problems with people much smarter than me working on them (for more on these topics, check out the book “The Meritocracy Trap” by Daniel Markovits).
So what do I mean practically speaking?
By Values-Based Spending, I mean sitting down and actually writing out what is important to you in life. This will provide a sort of compass as you consider financial decisions. And writing out your values is important because studies show people want to be true to themselves. So by writing out a value of “being a generous friend,” you’ll subconsciously want to fulfill that value to prove to yourself you weren’t a liar when you wrote it down.
This is important when it comes to financial decisions because most purchases in life will generally align with a value of yours, and you’ll get maximum benefit out of it, or they won’t, and you’ll get a sub-optimal amount of value from the purchase. Then, over time, you’ll have even more money to dedicate to things you truly value in life. It’s a classic win-win-win situation.
Here’s how I employ values-based spending in my own life by way of my actual ten values in order of importance to me:
If I borrow money from a friend, family member, or even a business, I pay it back promptly. Debt is a high priority for me to pay off. It also makes that person or institution more likely to lend me money again in the future if I need it.
Because I value independence from myself and in others, I am inclined to seek ways to ethically improve my finances. (The Sensible Merchant doesn’t peddle drugs). Having financial independence gives me the ability to quit a job if I am not satisfied with it. Owning instead of renting is another way to spend in line with this value. Leasing cars and apartments is difficult to justify as having a landlord is the antithesis of independence. Even if I couldn’t buy a house, I could definitely save towards it over spending elsewhere. This also means I choose to do home improvement projects myself instead of hiring contractors. Finally, this value dissuades me away from wasting money on things like gambling.
Compassion to animals
Both my girlfriend and I have adopted cats from the Humane Society. This makes it an easy choice to spend a little extra on higher quality cat food and enrichment items like toys and scratching posts. Ensuring I have enough money if my cat needs to go to the vet is also important.
Having the natural world as a value is great because aside from the transportation/travel costs associated with getting out into nature, it’s a really low cost experience and has a ton of mental and physical health benefits too.
Caring about our planet, and the plants and animals we share it with helps me remember that any use of money towards reducing energy consumption is well worth it. This might mean going to a farmer’s market once a month, bundling errands together, or selling an item on Facebook marketplace instead of throwing it away.
I enjoy buying my friends gifts or taking them out to eat once in awhile. This is a really high “return” for my money because it makes me feel good and makes them feel good too. Just watch out for pathological altruism!
My future family
I value my future family because it is something I’ve always wanted in life. The ability to provide for and improve the quality of life for my spouse and children is a big driver of why I strive to be financially stable. So the choice between a fourth pair of Nike’s or saving for a down payment on a house is really easy with this value in mind.
Money spent on exercising is not only completely in line with my values, it also makes sense from a long-term perspective. If fitness is a key pillar of your life, you are less likely to suffer from expensive medical situations later in life such as diabetes and other sedentary lifestyle related illnesses.
Spending money on therapy is another investment in myself, and my future. Furthermore, by acknowledging my shortcomings and getting better at understanding human nature, it may be more likely that I’m able to be a well-liked and effective employee, and earn a promotion that I otherwise may have been passed over on. At a minimum, I can pretend I’m becoming less neurotic.
Books and classes on self-improvement also fall into the “invest in yourself” category, just like therapy. I will never feel bad about buying a book to add to my never ending pile of partially-read books. (It may, however, speak to me needing to allocate more free time reading, which I am working on.)
Those are my values and ways I know money influences them.
But here’s where the real money is made.
Nowhere on that list (and I’d bet nowhere on your list) is the desire to have a nicer car than my neighbor out of envy. That’s just not in line with my values, and when I consider the other uses of my money which ARE in line with my values, it’s a no-brainer to stick with my older paid off car that runs well. There’s also no value on my list that lines up with expensive furniture, top shelf liquor, or living in a McMansion. It’s also why I don’t take extravagant vacations, don’t buy name brand groceries, and don’t get the newest iPhone every year.
When most people take an honest account of their life, material possessions simply don’t rank high on a values list.
They just don’t bring you the same amount of satisfaction as good connections, personal growth, and a true sense of fulfillment from living in line with your values. And spoiler alert, material possessions like those big ticket jealousy-driven purchases generally cost A LOT. Getting a brand new car every other year is just staying on a treadmill of endless and avoidable payments. And even if you can afford it, the happiness, or marginal utility you get out of that new car drops precipitously after the first month. If you truly value something, spend money on it! Just make sure you actually value it.
Some questions I ask to figure out if I truly value something:
If I was the only person in the world, would I still want this item? This is a good question to avoid narcissistic purchases just to gain status or show off with.
Can this item earn me even more money in the future? Examples include books and education, tools for DIY projects at home, or some nicer dress shirts to improve my image at work and potentially get a promotion. Check out my post about how to gain the upper hand against college debt:
Spoiler alert: it’s not exciting. But it works. (10 min read)
Can I get the benefit of this item through any other means? This is a good question to tease out unnecessary purchases. An example is a gym membership in the spring, summer, and fall when you mainly just run on the treadmill. Another example for me personally was wanting to buy a laptop to write my posts for this website. I forced myself to use my old computer to write the first 20,000 words over several months. If I stuck with it that long, I was more convinced I would stick with it long term. This also has the side effect of enjoying the anticipation of getting something new for longer.
Will future me be happy I bought this item when it is old and broken, a newer version is released, or when I finally need the money for a long term goal such as a down payment on a house? Usually, no.
I hope this inspires you to consider values-based spending the next time you are driving past the new car dealership, wandering through Target, or mindlessly surfing Amazon.
Do you really value an overflowing closet of clothes, a garage so full of stuff you have to park in the driveway and a brand new iPad every year? Probably not. So what’s your favorite value to spend money on? Asked in a better way maybe… what’s something you spend money on which is in opposition to your values?