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How To Know If You’re Spending Your Values

Chelsey Zhu  |  March 6, 2023

You can spend less and feel more fulfilled by your purchases by adopting values-based spending.

Are you trying to save more, but feel like you’re spending down your paycheck every week or month — and it still seems like you’re somehow just scraping by? A budget can definitely help you keep track of where your money is going (and we have lots of advice for making one!), but sometimes it takes more than a spreadsheet to feel satisfied and confident in your relationship with money. 

Maybe you’re spending on brands that you don’t really care about, but think you should have. Or maybe you go to bars with friends — even though you’re not a huge fan of the scene and would rather hang out at home for free. Or you really want to invest more in your retirement, but your partner would rather use the money for a bigger house. 

We’re all influenced to spend in ways that don’t align with our own goals — and sometimes we don’t even realize it. A great way to reconnect our finances with our true wants and needs is to adopt values-based spending. 

“We each have the ability to identify what matters to us and what makes us tick,” says Jill Sirianni, social worker and co-host of the Frugal Friends podcast. “Where do we want to be funneling and channeling our resources? As long as we have the resources to do so, we’re being mindful, and we’re seeking the benefit of ourselves and others in the process — fantastic. It will probably look very different from other people…but their values may just look different, and how they allocate resources will most likely be different.”

Sirianni and her co-host, personal finance writer Jen Smith, joined us on the HerMoney Podcast to talk through the basics of values-based spending, and how it can help us save more without feeling deprived. 

SUBSCRIBE: Learn more about managing money with a tight-knit group of women (and friends!) by joining the HerMoney community.

Take a pause

Every day, the impulse to spend comes at us from all directions, and that’s especially true when something unexpected happens. A terrible day at work might have you ordering takeout instead of eating what’s in the fridge, or turning to some retail therapy. 

“We have such busy lives that everything seems urgent and everything seems important, and [it feels] like it needs to be solved right now,” says Smith. “The quicker a problem needs to be solved, the more likely you’re going to spend money on it. And so a lot of the time we do need to step back and just give ourselves space to think.” 

The next time a rough day happens, take a deep breath (or three) before making any spending decisions. You might realize you’re buying based on temporary emotions instead of your long-term goals.   

Put your money where it matters

Once you’ve taken that pause, it’s time to ask yourself some questions. When do you feel good about spending money, and when do you feel guilty or shameful? What emotions do you feel when you’re buying something — and is it different for different types of purchases? Keep a journal or a note on your phone to keep track of your thoughts.

You might find, for example, that you feel fulfilled when you save up to eat at an expensive restaurant, but anxious when you spend on expensive clothes. Those feelings can clue you into what’s actually important to you — and what’s not worth the price tag. 

When Sirianni reflected on her own values, she realized that she loved spending on travel, and she was willing to cut back on other parts of her life to make that happen. 

“I’ve learned how to make room for it by saying no to the things that do not actually matter,” she says. “I give myself space to spend in the areas that are really important to me.” 

When you spend where it really matters, budgeting will feel less like a sacrifice and more like a reward for your hard work. 

Tap into your community

If you’re having trouble identifying your values or sticking to them, it can help to bring your friends into the conversation. They can sometimes point out your strengths and flaws better than you can yourself, and they can also hold you accountable on your financial journey. Feel a little weird talking about money with other people? We get it. A survey from Insider found that Americans are more comfortable talking to their friends about politics, sex, and relationships than they are talking about their finances. 

But having conversations about money is just another way to break down barriers and strengthen your relationships. “Vulnerability leads to vulnerability,” says Sirianni. If you’re having trouble managing money, opening up to someone you trust can help take the weight off your shoulders, and you might even gain a budgeting buddy. 

Smith was even able to make new friends because of her debt payoff journey. She knew that she needed to cut back on dinners and happy hours, so she branched out from her usual circle to find people interested in less costly activities. “It involved a lot of figuring out the activities that were in my budget and asking people if they wanted to come along. And sometimes that budget was just a bottle of wine from Aldi at home,” she says. “But I was able to strengthen relationships I had that were pretty superficial, that I would not have if I hadn’t been on this journey.” 


SUBSCRIBE: Learn more about managing money with a tight-knit group of women (and friends!) by joining the HerMoney community.

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