Money and Values

It took a book like David Bach's Smart Couples Finish Rich to get me to even consider what it was I really valued in life. Getting this straight, and getting it written down on paper, took some serious, laying-quietly-in-the-bedtime-darkness thought. Then I had to make sure I was applying my values to my financial planning, which I'd already started months before. (In most cases, I had done so, albeit unknowingly.)

It was worth it. Why? Because this is how you determine the purpose of money in your life. Success can occur only when your financial behavior matches your core values.

I highly recommend that anyone about to embark on a quest to improve their personal finances sit down (with spouse, if possible) and decide what five values you find most important. It may be helpful to note that "values," in this context, are the qualities which you truly wish to strive toward in life. As Bach writes, "Goals tend to be about doing and having; they involve stuff. Values are about being; they define a way of life."

Here's a bit of further guidance from Bach himself:

Remember to stay focused on values — not goals, not things, not stuff to do or buy. If, say, you worry a lot about money, you might be tempted to list as a value "having a million dollars." But that's not a value; it's a goal. The underlying value in this case would probably be security or freedom. The million dollars is just a way to fulfill one of those values. Similarly, many people say they want to travel. But "travel" is not a value; it's a thing to do. The value that travel promotes might be fun, excitement, or personal growth.

Determine your most cherished values — and you must care about them at a gut level — and get them written down. Find a way to keep them in front of you as much of the time as possible. This will dramatically help you keep moving ahead.   You can see whether or not your investments and expenditures (of both time and money) are helping you get to the place you wish to be.

Grab a few sheets of paper, a pen, and start with a few heavy questions:

What Is Really Important to You?

What Do You Want Out of Life?

What Do You Want From Your Money?

In case you're curious, here's a batch of sample "values" to get you started:

Once you've built your list of most-important values, consider how you've been doing things to this point. Have your actions advanced your values, or hindered them? What, if anything, should you be doing differently, beginning right now? Be honest with yourself. Be honest with your family.

Please take this exercise seriously. Ascertain your core values, and write them down. Do this, and it becomes much easier to create specific changes which will allow those values to take center-stage in your life.

Strive toward your values. Your life deserves nothing less.

There is only one success — to be able to live your life in your own way.
    — Christopher Morley