I live in New York City, where the temptations to spend carelessly range from $4 artisanal chocolate chip cookies to gorgeous, expensive brownstones. And don’t get me started on the summers. Every sidewalk café is a promise of social and gastronomic delight. The invitation to spend is seductive.
This constant choice overload inevitably calls for measures of restraint. But let’s face it: Nobody wants to be told no. That’s why it’s so important to align your spending with your values. It doesn’t always have to be a no.
Instead of approaching our financial lives as a practice of constant self-sacrifice, centered on how and where we shouldn’t spend, we should shift our attention to creating space in our financial lives to spend on the things we truly value. Instead of letting things like intoxicating bakery smells, neighboring home facades or the latest posts on Instagram dictate how we spend our money, we can use budgeting as a tool to prioritize the things we want most and spend in alignment with those things.
Here’s how you can line up your spending with your values:
1. Identify your current priorities.
I want to hire a full-time assistant, eat organically, take a two-week vacation to Spain and live roommate-free in New York City sometime before I turn 40. But that’s just me; there’s no singular system.
Maybe you want to spend more time with your family or purchase a new car; whatever’s central to you is what should inform the approach you take to your finances.
2. Implement systems that support your plan.
Once you’ve identified your values, enacting a budget can help ground them and keep them at the forefront of your day-to-day decision-making so you don’t sacrifice your big-picture wants in the face of momentary temptations or temporary conveniences.
Visual reminders of what you value and why, such as a photo of your family or your dream vacation destination as your desktop wallpaper, can also keep priorities top of mind when distractions threaten to throw you off course.
Automatic savings contributions to designated accounts, such as a college or travel fund, can also maintain your priorities.
3. Reflect and reassess.
Reflect on your costs each month. Our financial statements often reveal a disconnect between what we say we value and what we actually do. Look at your statement and ask yourself: Does this expense line up with my defined priorities?
As you generate more mindfulness around your financial behavior, you’ll become better at cutting out unimportant expenses.
While you work through this process, keep in mind that goals evolve, as do the realities of life. You should regularly reflect on—and realign—your spending to account for those shifts.
Financial planning is not a practice of self-deprivation; it is an intentional approach to making daily spending decisions that support our big picture. The beauty of it? We each get to define what that picture looks like.