How to Have Money to Buy What You Want By Creating a Value-Based Budget

by Melanie Lockert · 14 comments

The start of a new year is a perfect time to get your financial life in order, and commit to saving more and spending less. In order to do that though, a budget (or what I like to call a spending plan) will map out your expenses and help plan for your goals.

But I’ve found that sometimes budgeting is difficult — it’s a chore that seems like work and not many of us enjoy it. Spending and saving seem like meaningless line items that we strive to get by with until the next month.

However, there’s one simple trick that can change your relationship with your budget and that’s creating a budget that reflects your values. Here’s what I mean.

Does Your Budget Reflect Your Values?

Ever wondered where your money is really going? Or why you feel like you can never afford what you want? It’s time to sit down and and re-evaluate your spending.

It’s easy to succumbed to mindless spending and be fraught with envy of the so-called Joneses. But after looking at where I was really spending my money, I realized it wasn’t being spent on my values and priorities. There was a disconnect.

I was mindlessly spending on going out to eat and always complained that I couldn’t afford to do other things, like take classes, or travel. After evaluating my spending, I quickly realized that the cause of my unhappiness was the fact that I wasn’t spending money on things I truly valued.

If you want to turn your budget into something that reflects your life and values, and not just something that dictates it, employ the following tips to ensure your budget matches your values.

Step 1: Write Down What You Value

The first step to create a values-based budget is writing down what your spending priorities actually are. Mine include art, travel, education, family and friends — nearly all of my values are based on experiences, versus accumulating things.

Be really honest and don’t judge yourself. You may value designer shoes or video games, and that’s totally okay. The point is to actually have a budget that reflects what you value, so your money can fund the things you want as well as the things you need, such as shelter and food.

Create a list of your values and keep it in a prominent place, such as the fridge, your computer, or the bathroom mirror. To go a step further, you can even take a post-it note with your values and place it on your debit or credit card. That way, every time you’re about to swipe, it’s a reminder of what you value. Then you can ask yourself — does this purchase reflect my values?

Actually naming your values and writing them down can be a powerful process. Think of what your values are — not the values of your friends or family — but yours. What makes you happy and what do you want out of life?

Step 2: Evaluate How Spending Makes You Feel

The next step in the process is tracking your expenses. I believe that tracking all of your expenses is key to knowing where your money is going. Start by tracking where your money went, what exactly you bought, and how much was spent. Then go a step further and actually write down how the purchase made you feel with a few notes.

I know, it sounds silly and perhaps a bit new-agey, but doing an emotional audit on your purchases can really help you understand if your spending lines up with your values.

I did this recently and it was very eye-opening. It allowed me see areas that I was spending money which were not aligned with my priorities. If a purchase makes me feel guilty or bad, or if I think the buy was frivolous, I realized I was not spending money on things that made me happy.

When you spend money based on your values, you feel good about your purchase. Spending on your values uses money as a tool to achieve your goals, and not something to just spend mindlessly. Money is a vehicle to enhance and empower your life and shouldn’t make you miserable.

That’s why this year, I’m committing to eating out less, so I can spend money where it really matters — on experiences that enhance my well-being, not just increase my waistline.

Step 3: Use Visual Reminders to Stay on Track

Now that your values are written down, made notes of how your expenses make you feel, and completed an emotional audit on your purchases, it’s time to get inspired and stay on track. In theory, spending based on our values should be easy and become second nature. However, daily life can get in the way. Envy can sway our thoughts and influence our purchases.

To stay on track, create visual reminders that represent your goals and priorities. Create a Pinterest board for inspiration. Print out photos of your family or desired travels. Create a vision board or collage of inspiring images.

Whatever your values are, make sure they’re visually represented in your house and in your wallet. If family is one of your main values, print out a small photo of your family and tape it to your credit card.

Step 4: Slow Down and Be More Mindful

You know the saying, “put your money where your mouth is”? I think that’s an appropriate adage when creating a value-based budget. Oftentimes we may think we’re spending money based on our values, but what we say and what we buy, may be two different things.

I’ve been guilty of mindless spending and not aligning my spending with my values. I especially find that occurs when I’m stressed or rushed. To get started creating a values based budget, understand the reasons why you don’t spend on your values — when is that likely to occur?

I’ve started slowing down and be more mindful of where my money is going, to avoid the trap of not spending on my values. I know my spending triggers and make sure I’m keeping my values in mind every time I spend money.

Because in the end, I want my money to fund my dreams and goals. I want my purchases to reflect my values and support the people and businesses I love.

Spending money based on your values will make you feel more in charge of your finances, not the other way around.

Are you spending money based on your values? Which step do you plan to implement this to create a value-based budget?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Brian says:

    The idea of building a budget around well-timed spending is probably win-win if you stick to it successfully. Great advice.

  • Joseph Hogue says:

    Great advice!
    Some of us (at times) feel guilty about spending on frivolous (and expensive!) things after payday and end up short on cash way before the next paycheck arrives. It’s always good to take a look at spending habits, like noting down all expenses and cut down on unnecessary spending.

  • Taylor Lee says:

    Love this! I think I approach personal finance the way I approach food. Much like eating good, nutritious food that I enjoy, but only until I am full, I spend money on things that I value just enough and no more. No beating myself up over spending. No yo-yo “wallet diets”.

  • dojo says:

    We are frugal with stuff that we don’t value that much (eating out, clothing etc.) and spend money where it matters to us: healthy foods, traveling, investing in our business etc.

    It’s actually not that difficult to still enjoy life and save money, as long as you pinpoint the few things that really matter (and pay for them), while you can save a lot with stuff that you don’t consider that important.

  • Kayla @ Everything Finance says:

    Great tips! I’ve recently (since the beginning of the month) decided that I’m going to change a few things around with my monthly budgets, like adding more into my entertainment category because I like spending time with my friends and currently my budget isn’t cutting it (obviously, since I’ve been over in that category every single month).

  • olu says:

    I waste money daily on fizzy drinks, cigarette and McDonald’s. They seem to have become my values!!! How can I stop this nasty habit?

    • Melanie says:

      I think you can stop nasty habits, by forming positive habits. Try replacing fizzy drinks with a smoothie, or cigarettes with exercise. Give it a try!

  • Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom says:

    I love this idea. We’re always updating our budget to match our values. This year we added in more money for going out with friends. Since having a kid and moving to the suburbs it’s been harder to see our friends on a regular basis, so we’ve had to make it a priority.

  • Dewald says:

    Sometimes we use spending as a way to relieve stress and to feel better about our self. Sadly this feeling never last long and we have to spend some more. This ends up in an ongoing circle.

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