❝Our values determine the nature of our problems, and the nature of our problems determines the quality of our lives.❞ -Mark Manson
I'm reading one of my favorite blogs. It's 2007, and the author recounts a recent trip he had to Fiji. He didn't come across as bragging. Instead, the tone of the post is self-deprecating because he talked about all the ways in which his vacation went wrong. It was written for humor, and it is quite funny.
Many things went wrong on this trip, but despite that fact, I still feel myself wanting to go to Fiji. Even if all the same things that happened to him happen to me, it seems like something that would be very fun and something I would love to have as a memory.
The author did not talk about how much this trip costs, so I have to do some research. I find out that to get close to his experience, I would have to spend $25,000.
I have to admit that, despite the high price tag, I am trying to figure out ways to do it. Logically I know this is way out of my price range, but I still feel the urge to see if there is somehow I can go on this trip.
Ultimately, though, I did not spend what at the time was half of a year's salary to go on one trip. But I have spent (less) money that I didn't have on things I wanted that I justified by telling myself it's okay because I value it and only live once.
I also had to spend several years climbing out of credit card debt.
PERSONAL VALUES AND PURPOSE
Our personal values represent what's important to us. They represent what we consider good and bad, or right and wrong. We all have personal values, but it's not necessarily the case that we know what our personal values are.
Taking time to figure out what's important to us can help us define what we actually want out of life. Your personal values can help you understand your financial purpose, that is, what your money is for.
Without identifying what money needs to do for you, what your most important values are, and who you aspire to be in life, it's more likely that you'll fall into the trap of living your life through the lens of other people's values. You'll do things not because you want to or because they're important but instead because you think you're supposed to.
In other words, you'll be living inauthentically.
Authenticity means being true to yourself. It means that your actions, choices, and behaviors align with who you truly are. To live a life aligned with who you truly are, you need to actually know who you truly are. This can sometimes be trickier than it seems because we all have social selves. We all have personas that we take on to function in society.
The trouble is that sometimes we spend too much time identified as our social selves that we don't know who our true self is underneath all of the other social selves. Taking some time to figure out what we actually want out of life, what is really important to us, and who we want to be will help us design a life that we'll be happy to look back on. It'll help guide our decisions towards things we value.
PRESENT YOU AND FUTURE YOU
Making financial decisions that support your values is an important step to take. The second step is to eliminate spending on things you don't actually care about.
The next step is to recognize that living a life that supports your values is not the same thing as spending money you can't afford to spend just because it's on something you value. You can't use the excuse "because I value it" as a justification for overspending. You're still overspending.
When people fall for the trap of justifying overspending, it's often because there is an overemphasis on their Present Self. That is to say that they are not paying enough attention to their Future Self. Indeed, it's easy for people to believe that the present is more important because of ideas such as YOLO, or you only live once. The idea is that you can't put off your life forever because then you will run out of time and never live your life. The story is that the future is not guaranteed, so you should live now.
But the justification for this line of thinking falls into a common trap called dichotomous thinking. It's the belief that you can either live for the present or live for the future. The character Ebenezer Scrooge is a classic case of somebody who lives only for the future. It's easy to argue that one should not turn into some version of Scrooge and instead enjoy their life in the present.
What this is missing, though, is the fact that you will almost certainly have future present moments. For almost all of you, there will be a you that exists next year. There will be a version of you that exists in five years, and there will be a version of you that exists in 10 years. Those versions of you will have their own present moment that you can either help or hinder by your actions today.
The trick is to recognize that it is not either-or but rather a spectrum. You can balance the needs of both Present You and the needs of all versions of Future You.
CONSIDER THE COST WITH THE BENEFIT
Another trap overspenders tend to fall into is the trap of only looking at the benefit. Their filter has only one question: "Do I value this?" This is not to say that this isn't an important question, because it is. It's just a bad question to use as your only question. At a minimum, a second question needs to be asked: "Do I have the money for this?" A third question might be, "Is this the best use of my money?"
Both the benefit and the cost need to be considered. To get the biggest bang for your buck, consider doing some division. You can still ask yourself how much you value something, so the next step is to simply see how much value you get per dollar. The higher the number, the better. It means one dollar buys you more value.
For example, a vacation to Fiji would check off many of my values. Thus, I could assign it a value score of 98 on a 100-point scale. It seems like a slam dunk because I value it so highly. However, I have to account for the fact that this vacation costs $25,000. If I do the math and divide 98 by 25,000, I'm left with 0.00392. This means that I get 0.00392 units of value per dollar.
If I instead consider a vacation in the mountains that costs $3,000, I get a higher value per dollar even if I don't value that trip as highly.
It's important to know what your values are and what your financial purpose is to align your use of money and time with the things that are most important to you. However, if you want financial health, you can't use this to justify spending money you don't have. Support yourself in the present and yourself in the future.
You get one life; live intentionally.
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Related Money Health® Reading
References and Influences
Adams, Scott: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big
Ariely, Dan & Jeff Kreisler: Dollars and Sense
Ben-Shahar, Tal: Happier, No Matter What
Emmons, Robert: THANKS!
Hagen, Derek: Your Money, Your Values, and Your Life
Manson, Mark: Everything is Fucked
Manson, Mark: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck
McKay, Matthew, John Forsyth, and Georg Eifert: Your Life on Purpose
McKeown, Greg: Essentialism
Millburn, Joshua Fields & Ryan Nicodemus: Essential
Miller, William & Stephen Rollnick: Motivational Interviewing
Newcomb, Sarah: Loaded
Sinek, Simon: Start With Why
Sinek, Simon, David Mead & Peter Docker: Find Your Why
Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.