If someone asked what your money values were, would you have any idea how to answer? Or would you find yourself searching for a response and coming up blank?
Our values are such a key part of who we are, yet often we don’t take the time to intentionally think about, define, and understand them!
For anyone looking to transform their relationship with finance, figuring out your money principles is a great first step.
Let’s explore what exactly this is, why it's important, and how to determine your own set of financial values.
What are money values?
In short, money values are the beliefs and principles that (consciously or unconsciously!) shape your relationship with money. They are your "why" around your finances.
In addition, they motivate the various decisions you make about saving, spending, investing, etc.
Examples of priorities
For instance, if you view money as a tool to help those around you, you could say that one of your core values is generosity.
If your goal is to build up a large investment portfolio so you can retire early, etc., you probably place a high value on freedom. (There’s a reason there’s a whole movement called “Financial Independence,” FI for short!)
People who are motivated by the idea of using finances to create a safe, stable life for themselves and their families value security.
Money might help you do good in the world and leave your mark—in which case you prioritize things like impact and legacy.
If you value experiences, you’ll happily spend cash on things like travel and events where you’ll be able to make memories to cherish forever.
Budgeting for yourself/your wants can signal positive values like self-care or self-expression. (As long as you’re in control and not getting into overspending territory!)
These are only a few examples of what’s possible. As you can see, our values don’t exist in a vacuum. They fit into our overall perspectives about what’s truly important and where we find fulfillment.
Why are money values important?
They matter because they impact all your financial decisions, whether you’re aware of it or not!
When your actions align with your values, you’re more likely to know what you want out of life. Living your values brings a sense of peace and confidence that you’re on the right path.
But if you don’t really know what your values are, it’s hard to always live in accordance with them. You may find yourself making choices that you regret later because they conflict with the values that you unconsciously hold.
Once you understand your priorities, you can start examining your financial decisions through that lens. It brings a deeper sense of meaning to our relationships with money and to life as a whole.
7 steps to determining your money values
Ready to start figuring out which financial priorities matter to you? Here are seven steps that can help you identify your values so you can start putting them into practice!
1. Reflect on the money beliefs you grew up with
In order to define what matters to you with purpose and intentionality, you’ll first need to unpack the principles you may have developed subconsciously. And that all starts with our formative experiences in childhood!
Questions to ask yourself
How did your parents/guardians handle money? What kinds of lessons did they teach you, either directly or indirectly through their actions?
The example parents set really can have a measurable impact on their kids’ futures.
One of the core money values I grew up with was frugality. My grandparents were all immigrants who had their formative years during times of war and the Great Depression.
Their values of things like simplicity, thrift, and a reluctance to waste anything have lasted through multiple generations.
So how have these learned values influenced me and my financial behavior? Well, you’ll never catch me throwing away leftovers or letting ingredients go bad in the fridge.
I don’t usually replace things until they stop working...or have literal holes in them. I shop at thrift stores or wait for sales. (But I’ve learned a little balance, too—like I recently stopped using the $1 shampoo from the bottom rack. You’re welcome, hair!)
Your past money experiences can be a lesson
Our childhoods can teach us good or bad lessons about money. Someone with parents who preferred spending over saving might want to unlearn some of their inherited values (e.g. instant gratification or materialism). Take the good and discard the bad!
Try writing a journal entry about the examples and experiences you had regarding money growing up, and reflect on the ways they could still influence you today.
2. Make a list of the ways money impacts your life/your “whys”
Money is part of everything in our lives, from health to career to relationships. So make a list that’s personal to you about the different ways money matters to you. It could look something like this:
- Health: Money enables me to buy fresh, nutritious food/have a gym membership/afford my fitness hobbies/go to the doctor when I need to.
- Career: My career is my source of income/I make career decisions based on their financial benefits/being financially independent would allow me to pursue more meaningful opportunities.
- Family: Money allows me to provide stability for my family/spend quality time with them/build generational wealth and a better future.
- Education: I value growth and learning and am willing to invest in my future self to improve my earning potential/myself as a person.
- Lifestyle: A balanced lifestyle means I can live frugally and save money, while still knowing when to treat myself and have fun.
- Mental wellness: Being financially secure will decrease my stress and anxiety around money.
- Giving: Money is a tool for me to help causes that matter to me, e.g. helping animals/protecting nature/supporting disease research/investing in my community.
- Retirement/future: Saving for retirement now means I can secure a safe, comfortable future as I grow older.
Think of as many categories as you can and go for it! This list is going to provide the why behind your money values and everything you do.
3. Outline your financial goals
What do you plan to achieve in the short and long term? You can use your list of categories to help you brainstorm goals for yourself that are tied in some way to your finances.
For instance, your goals could be a mix of things like:
- Building an emergency fund.
- Saving money by cooking healthier meals at home.
- Making a strategy to reduce debt.
- Getting a better-paying job.
- Saving up a down payment for a house.
- Contributing more to your retirement accounts.
There are some tricks to approaching goal-setting in a way that increases the chances that you'll succeed. Learn about strategies that will help you really achieve your goals.
4. Think about your personal values/ethics
Chances are, your money values are going to be rooted in your personal values. So what sort of person do you want to be?
What causes matter to you? How do you want to treat those around you? In addition, what beliefs and principles do you rely on to guide your life choices?
Establish 5 principles for your money
Take a quick detour to our article on how to establish your personal core values. Once you have that framework, come up with around 5 values/ethical principles you’d like to live by.
It might be helpful to read through a list of values and see which words resonate with you. You can certainly pick more than 5, but try to keep yourself focused on the ones that truly are most important to you.
Think about some of the actions you've taken and decisions you've made in the past and what values those might exemplify.
Examples of values
So if one of your personal core values is compassion, you might be more driven to donate your money/devote your career to causes that help others.
If a core value is adventure, you might dedicate a larger percentage of your budget to travel and experiences.
For those whose core values revolve around family, your financial decisions will be oriented toward protecting and providing for those closest to you.
Being driven by success might help you climb to the top of your career ladder, start a thriving business, etc.
5. Figure out your priorities
You can’t do everything at once, so what values and goals are your top priorities? Keeping these front and center in your mind will motivate you and help with your day-to-day financial choices.
It’s a lot easier to resist impulse purchases when you remember the bigger picture you’re working to create!
Saving and investing can feel like a slog, but money values help you apply meaning to every dollar you’re putting aside so you can build a fulfilling life.
Not sure how to sort through your goals and make a priority list? Here are some steps to help you define your priorities.
6. Revisit your values over time
As our lives change, it’s natural for our values to shift too. Consider making it a yearly tradition to sit down with yourself and reflect on your personal journey, the lessons you’ve learned, and the goals you’ve checked off your list.
Look back on the financial priorities you put on your list in previous years and see if those are still the most important things to you.
Are they still supporting your personal and financial journey? If not, there’s nothing wrong with making a few tweaks or even starting fresh!
Reinventing yourself from time to time is healthy and natural—it happens as we grow, learn, and change. You never have to be locked into one version of yourself, and the same goes for your personal values and your financial principles.
Time to start living your money values!
Coming up with your list of money values is just the first step. But you won’t see those values start to impact your life until you put them into action!
Consequently, it’s helpful to think about your values and your goals in tandem. Your goals are the actionable steps and outcomes you want to achieve, while your values are the reason those goals are important to you.
Lastly, it’s up to you to keep yourself accountable here, because no one gets to chime in on your values except you! Here are some ideas for how to keep a commitment to yourself in a way that helps you achieve your goals—and put your priorities into practice!