Dream It. Plan It. Do It: Live Your Values and Achieve Your Financial Goals
Have you ever heard the saying that you can tell what your priorities are by looking at your calendar? The logic is that you make time in your schedule for the people and activities that are most important to you. We can apply the same approach to your finances. What you choose to spend your money on is a reflection of what is important to you.
Just look at your expenses on your credit card statement. If you value convenience over cost, you may see a greater proportion of your food expenses used for eating out, rather than buying groceries and preparing meals at home. If you prioritize function over form, you may discover that you do not spend a significant amount of money on a regular basis on new, fashionable clothing.
Yes there are a few universals in life. We all need somewhere to live. We must eat. We have to engage in some degree of self-care. And we have to be able to pay our bills. You know as well as I do that how much each of us spends on these necessities varies dramatically from person to person according to each individual’s priorities.
That’s why it’s so tough for some couples to deal with finances together. For instance, many couples agree that saving money is important, but they may struggle to agree on how much they should save for different areas of life. One person might think that it’s most critical to save for retirement, whereas the other partner might believe it’s more important to set aside money for their children’s education. Unless both partners acknowledge that they value savings differently and agree on how much they are willing to set aside for each priority, they may struggle to follow a savings strategy for either themselves or their children.
Once you realize for yourself that effective money management boils down to aligning your values with your savings and spending behaviors, you will experience a renewed sense of confidence, control, and comfort with your approach to your personal finances. The following are a few strategies that you may find helpful for identifying your values and aligning your personal financial behaviors to them.
Start with what’s important
Give yourself a little time and space to reflect. It’s okay if thinking about your values and your finances stirs up different emotions for you. For many individuals, these topics are deeply personal and are often connected with other significant topics, like family, spirituality, and the purpose of life.
Start by asking yourself one question: “What do I need to pay for in my life?” Observe whatever bubbles up for you, and write this down. Close your eyes, breathe in deeply, exhale slowly. Then ask yourself the question a second time: “What do I need to pay for in my life?” Allow different thoughts to emerge, new views on what needs might exist, and then write these down along with your previous answers. Close your eyes, breathe in deeply, exhale slowly. Then ask yourself the same question a third and final time: “What do I need to pay for in my life?” Notice anything else that reveals itself. Perhaps it’s an image, a person, or a feeling. Experience this fully, and then document it along with your other answers.
Then repeat this same process for 2 more questions:
- What do I want to spend my money on?
- How do I wish my financial life could be different?
If no answers to these questions emerge for you, refrain from judging. Allow space for your thoughts and feelings to process each question. If still nothing bubbles up, ask other, related questions that will help you uncover more information for yourself. For example, if you struggle to connect with “How do I wish my financial life could be different?” consider asking instead “How do I wish my life could be?”
This introspection is intended to provide insight into your financial and lifestyle values so that you have increased clarity around what is important to you. If you are in a relationship, invite your partner to complete this exercise, too. It may be informative to your partner and the two of you can share your answers and discuss where you have similar needs, wants, and wishes for your lives.
Explore your finances
Next, collect the last few months of your various financial statements. Take a little time to look at each of them; review your investment accounts, your credit cards, your bank accounts, and your insurance. Observe the inflows and outflows. Look at how the account sizes change over time. Recall the circumstances that prompted you to initiate deposits and withdrawals. With a gentle, curious, and non-judgmental spirit look at how you are spending, saving, and investing your money.
What do you notice as you look at your statements? Are the line items in the statements what you expect to see? Are there any expenses that surprise you? Are there patterns in your behavior that you see? Pause for a moment and pull out your answers to the three questions you answered earlier about your values – your needs, wants, and wishes. Review these answers again.
Now look back at your financial statements and compare them to your personal values assessment answers. What do you observe at this time? To what extent do your financial choices align to your needs, wants and wishes? Are you spending your money on things that you claim are important to you?
If this is the first time you are going through a process like this, it can be overwhelming; some people consider it scary. The novelty and discomfort will subside over time, as you continuously conduct both your personal assessment of your values as well as your exploration of your finances. The key takeaway from this experience is to deepen your understanding of your current financial behaviors and to have an initial perspective on the extent to which your actions do or do not align to what you say is important to you.
If you are in a committed relationship, invite your partner to explore his finances, too. Use this discovery process as a prompt for discussion as a team, and share your observations about your financial behaviors and alignment to values with each other.
Decide you are ready to change
Now that you have information about how you’ve approached your finances in the past and greater clarity around the extent to which your financial decisions align to your values, you can adjust your behaviors going forward for greater alignment.
This critical point of decision and change can be intimidating. Some people are unable or unwilling to own accountability for setting themselves up for financial success. They claim that the focus and discipline required to strive for what they truly need, want and wish for in life is harder for them to do than it is for them to continue to operate in the financial uncertainty that they have grown accustomed to living every day. If this describes your mindset, then I strongly encourage you to constructively challenge yourself: is this really how you want to live your life? Take to heart the famous words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.”
You are powerful. Each moment of every day, whether you realize it or not, you are making decisions that impact your financial success. When you refrain from splurging on that designer bag that you know you don’t need because you have several at home that you already don’t use. When you make that special cup of coffee at home rather than buying it daily from a shop on your way into work. When you invest in companies that share your commitment to sustainability, the environment, and women in leadership roles rather than just put that money in a fund that you don’t understand, you are making informed financial decisions that may positively impact you both today and in the future.
Ask yourself: do you make your decisions out of exhaustion, out of habit, or out of conviction? Do you want to make decisions regarding your finances with confidence? Do you aspire to be as powerful as you can be managing your money? Are you ready to exert as much control as you can over your savings and spending decisions? Is now your time to envision the life you want and make it a reality by following a holistic financial plan?
Create a plan
In life there are things that you can’t control and things that you can control. While you can’t predict when you might experience a health issue, you can choose to eat foods that nourish your body and sustain your energy. While you can’t avoid the pain that comes with some relationships, you can manage the grief you experience with help from mental health professionals.
In the same way, while you can’t control stock market returns or know with certainty whether a new career opportunity will reap financial rewards, you can navigate financial uncertainty with a holistic financial plan aligned to your values. A holistic financial plan starts with what is important to you: those needs, wants, and wishes you identified through your personal assessment become a prioritized list of financial goals. Each goal is rank ordered, with an estimated amount of money required to fund the goal and a date when you will pay for the goal. Your needs are your most important goals, whereas your wants are next important, and your wishes are “nice to have” goals that you would like to fund if you have the ability to do so.
Then a holistic financial plan incorporates all dimensions of your personal finances including, but not limited to, your income, your expenses, your investments, your insurance, what you own and what you owe. These different pieces, together with your goals rooted in your values, complete your total financial picture. Once you have this financial picture in place, you can make assumptions around how likely you are to achieve your goals and what savings, spending, investment, and insurance decisions you can do differently to set yourself up for success going forward.
You are not alone in this process. If developing your holistic financial plan according to your values, assembling and analyzing your total financial picture, and identifying changes in your behaviors is too much for you to do, professionals with the Certified Financial PlannerTM (CFP®) designation can help. They are fiduciaries, which means that CFP® professionals offer clients customized financial advice with the best interests of clients in mind – including clients’ values – at all times.
Act on your plan
The power of a holistic financial plan rests in its implementation. You have financial goals that you want to achieve because they align to your values. You understand why you are paying for some financial indulgences today and why you are delaying some gratification for the future. You have an appreciation for why your financial situation is how it is today and a clear vision for the financial success you want in the future, with a plan for how to make it a reality.
As I tell my own clients, a holistic financial plan is empowering, not constraining. When you know what you want out of life and how you’re going to make it happen through little decisions every day, you have both the structure and the freedom to enjoy the process.
We all know that life is dynamic; things change. As and when new circumstances arise in your life – like (re)marriage, divorce, birth, death, college, career changes, and retirement – revisit your plan, reassess your goals, and determine again whether your strategies for making daily financial decisions will continue to serve your needs. Use holistic financial planning to dream, plan, and live the life you want, in line with your values.
Caroline Wetzel is a Certified Financial PlannerTM (CFP®) and Vice President, Private Wealth Advisor with Procyon Private Wealth Partners, LLC. Procyon Private Wealth Partners, LLC and Procyon Institutional Partners, LLC (collectively “Procyon Partners”) are registered investment advisors with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). This article is provided for informational purposes only and for the intended recipient[s] only. This article is derived from numerous sources, which are believed to be reliable, but not audited by Procyon for accuracy. This article may also include opinions and forward-looking statements which may not come to pass. Information is at a point in time and subject to change. Procyon Partners does not provide tax or legal advice.