What are your personal values? Can you answer that question? If so, is the way you save, spend and invest your money lined up with your personal values?
In other words, when you look at how you manage your money, does what you see reflect who you are? If examined by an outsider, would they know what's important to you?
These are questions I believe we must answer if we want our money to work well for us.
The financial media, Wall Street, and the overall financial advice industry certainly think they have what we need to manage our money. Which begs the question – do they advocate for our or their interests? Though there are many exceptions, I think it's safe to say that, in general, the financial media and the advice industry are focused on what's right for them (advertising revenue) than on what's right for you (good financial advice).
Personal values and money
What we value in life should guide how we live. If that's not the case, we may be easily influenced by outside pundits with great sounding advice. If that advice doesn't match what we value and what's essential in our lives, following it will likely not lead to a successful outcome. Makes sense, right?
Then why is there often such a gap between what people say they value and how they live?
Let's say one of your values is to give a lot of money to worthy causes. That may be your church, your university, a local shelter, or one of many charitable causes. Your tax return shows you only give 2% of your income to these causes. Would you say that reflects the value you profess?
Or let's say that one of your most important values is providing for your kids' education. Your oldest will be entering high school next year. You don't have a 529 college savings plan started and had not allocated any income to saving for their college? Does that reflect what you say you value?
Of course, many parents believe their kids should have “skin in the game” for their education; that they should pay their fair share. They feel providing the money would create a sense of entitlement that devalues the school for the kids. In that case, not having money set aside may match your values.
Do you see what I mean?
Personal values and identity
Our values define who we are. These values should drive the decisions we make in life. They are values born from what we think about. Our values should be evident in how we spend our time; how we use our money.
There's an old saying that I think is still true today. If you want to know what's important to someone, look at their checkbook ledger or credit card statements. Of course, that's an oversimplification, but there is more than a little truth in it.
If we say we know the importance of living within our means our credit card statements should reflect that. However, if we have multiple credit cards with high balances and make minimum payments, our values certainly don't match what we say.
If we say retiring early (whatever that means to you) is essential and are five years away from that date with little to no retirement savings, our values don't match. If they did, we would have followed a plan that maps out how much we need to save each year, and how much return we need to earn to provide the income we want in retirement. That plan would also include contingency scenarios to account for adjustments along the way, like living longer than our life expectancy says. Our retirement account and savings balances should have enough money (or close) to accomplish our early retirement goal.
That's a snapshot of personal values and money matching.
Personal values reflect passions
Another way to understand personal values is to look at what we're passionate about.
What excites you to jump out of bed in the morning and start your day? Here's another way to ask the question. What are you working to accomplish? If the answer is a paycheck, there is no passion in that, and you will quickly become dissatisfied and hate getting out of bed to go to work.
Another finding of the survey is that “51 percent aren’t engaged at work — meaning they feel no real connection to their jobs, and thus they tend to do the bare minimum.” That means that over half of those who work for employers don't like their jobs! If you feel trapped in your work and get your self-worth from your job, that's a dangerous path to follow.
If you're not passionate about your work, think about where your passions lie. Is there another job that would be more suitable for your passion? If not, is there a way to turn your passion into a business?
Being stuck is not a fun way to live. If you are miserable in your job, it will carry over into the other parts of your life – your family, your hobbies, and other leisure activities.
If you feel stuck
Take time to reflect
First, take some time to think about it. Often, in the busyness of our daily lives, we don't slow down enough to give ourselves time to think.
The Biblical concept of the Sabbath (mostly gone from modern day society) calls for working six days and resting on the seventh (the Sabbath). In Genesis 2: 2-3, we're told that God rested after six days of creation. In Exodus 20 God gives Moses the ten commandments, one of which is to honor the Sabbath. So, first God rested. Then he tells us how important it is for us to rest.
Whether you believe in the Bible or not, the principal is a good one. Rest is vital to our mental health. When we do nothing but work and worry, it's not good for our health, either mentally or physically. If you're miserable in your job or your lifestyle, take some time to reflect.
The only way to do that is by taking the time to rest. I don't know how we can do that without taking some time away from the stress of the job. To be successful at this exercise, you'll need to get outside of your box; to change the way you usually think about things. Dare to dream again.
There was a time in all of our lives (mainly when we were younger) when we had dreams about how our lives would be. Life's difficulties have a way of extinguishing the fire from those dreams.
You can get them back!
Most of the time people feel stuck for financial reasons. Maybe that's where you are. Maybe you have kids you need to put through college. And you have a mortgage, car payments. Even if you make a significant income, you may not able to put as much money away as you want or need.
Make a list of all your assets (home, investments, cars, 401(k) plans, etc.) Subtract your liabilities (mortgage, car loans, credit cards, etc.) to come up with your net worth. If that's not where you think it should be or where you want it, think about how you can make changes.
Start with your budget. Do you have one? If not, get one. Working from a budget is the best way to manage and control expenses. It's also a way to find things for which you're paying too much. More importantly, you'll often see things you don't need.
A few years ago, my wife, Cathy, and I set out to cut expenses. We got serious and lopped off almost $1,700 in monthly expenses. It was embarrassing how much money we wasted. It wasn't until we got serious about managing our expenses better that we became aware of the waste.
If you have a high income, it's likely you're spending way more than you need. The higher our incomes, the less we seem to pay attention to spending. When the job runs out or the layoff comes or anything else happens that reduces or shuts down our income stream the overspending becomes obvious and brings stress.
Here are four tools to help you get started and stay on track.
Personal Capital is one of the best personal finance apps out there. And it's free! You can use this just for budgeting or for your overall financial management. You can sign up and get started right away. Pull over your bank accounts, investment accounts, even your employer retirement plans. The process is very easy and straightforward.
Keep in mind that Personal Capital will have a representative call you to offer a free plan with the goal of allowing them to manage your investments. You don't have to do this to utilize their free tools.
Mint.com is another great program/app to manage your budget. Like Personal Capital, you can link all bank and investment accounts. Once they are in Mint.com, you categorize each transaction and add it to your budget.
Though not as robust as Personal Capital, this is a great app to show you where you are and help you find ways to cut.
YNAB – You Need a Budget
YNAB's rule #1 is to “give every dollar a job.” That means they track every dollar you spend. Every dollar must be accounted for in the system. If you're having a big problem with overspending, YNAB is the app for you.
Its sole focus is on keeping you on track with your budget. You can signup for an initial 34-day trial. After that, it's $6.99 monthly.
Trim is one of the more unique apps out there. Connect your accounts and Trim will look through all your transactions to find ways to save for you. They go directly to the companies and negotiate on your behalf. Have a high Verizon or Comcast cable (not to pick on them, just an example)? Turn Trim loose to negotiate a lower rate for you.
I'm not getting into any detailed review of these apps in this post. Check them out yourself to find out which ones you feel will work for you. The point is to do something to nail down your budget and lower your expenses.
For further reading:
Fellow blogger Kevin at Out of Yout Rut offers his thoughts in this article, 5 Ways to Eliminate Financial Stress – And Why You Must.
Most people can't conceive of getting out of their rut because they can't imagine they can attain their dreams. As important as the big picture is, it's even more important to break that picture down into baby steps. Taking incremental steps on the journey provides small victories along the way.
Start with your budget. Anyone can find ways to cut down on expenses. We were paying a lot for things we rarely used. We reduced expenses on some stuff by reducing the number of options we were paying for (internet, phone, TV, etc.). Achieving your big picture dream is just a succession of winning the little victories along the way. The next thing you know you're halfway there.
Look, I know this sounds trite and overly simple. If you look at any successful person you know, that's exactly how they break down their goals. They string together little victories along the way to gain confidence. That moves them, step by step, toward the big prize.
Start with committing to taking a regular Sabbath day. Ideally, that would turn into a “tuned out” vacation in which you stay entirely unplugged. If a Sabbath day is refreshing and freeing, imagine a couple of weeks, or a month.
I know this may not be possible for many. I want to encourage you to carve out something that works for you.
A real-life story
Think your problems are too big to solve? Think again.
Read the story of Billy B., who went to prison for 10-years and turned his life around while there. I interview Bill where he told his incredible story of going from prison to financial success. Bill went on the start his own business and built a successful blog at Wealth Well Done.
If a young man who spent 10-years in prison can turn his life around, surely any of us can do the same.
Change starts when we understand our personal values and work to let those personal values guide our decisions. In personal finance, those decisions can be whittled down to three basic steps:
- Spend less than you earn
- Save and invest the difference
- Reduce or eliminate debt (especially high-interest debt like credit cards)
These principles are not rocket science. The concepts are simple. Simple isn't always easy.
Financial freedom means different things to different people. Your personal values should define what it means to you? Whatever that is, you'll need to decide what are you willing to do to achieve it? Most of the time we think we have to sacrifice more than we need to get what we want. That leaves us feeling like the goal is impossible to reach.
Your dreams should be big enough to motivate you to work hard to achieve them. They should not be so big that you feel overwhelmed and that there is no way to accomplish them.
If your personal values don't match the way you're living, think about how you can change your circumstances. I've just touched on the basics here. In my experience, most of the time people feel stuck because of finances. It doesn't have to be that way. Take time to think (Sabbath). Free yourself during that time to dream.
Once you visualize your dream, break it down into small steps to get yourself started. Follow the process laid out here and by the ones I've referenced. Take inventory (assets minus liabilities = net worth). Examine your budget. If you don't have one, create one. Look at the tools mentioned above for help. If you're not following the three-step formula to financial freedom, move toward doing that.
Remember, you didn't get stuck overnight. You won't get unstuck overnight. Set a realistic timeframe to allow yourself the opportunity for successes along the way.
Now it's your turn. Do you feel stuck? Were you stuck and found your way out? If so, please share your story in the comments.