Thoughtfully exploring your money values can help you be mindful of how you spend and invest, bringing your financial life into alignment with what’s most important to you.
When your finances are aligned with your values, there’s often clarity and resolve when investing in your short, medium, and long-term goals. Here are five key steps that can help you determine and hone your money values:
- Know Your Financial Archetypes
- Make a List
- Know Your Why
- Reflect and Take Action
Every minute of the day we live our values, even when we’re not entirely conscious of them. What time we go to bed, when we wake up, who we spend time with, where we shop, work, eat, how we relax, what words we choose to say or not to say – all of these reflect choices, trade-offs, and priorities that constantly reinforce our values in one way or another.
The same holds true with how you spend your money. What kind of money identity we have informs much of our financial values. But it’s easy to spend and invest money without having thoughtfully explored why.
What will it mean for you when your money values align with how you truly want to live? Let’s find out.
What are Money Values?
Money values are an extension of your personal values. They are a set of core beliefs and principles that can shape your relationship with money and drive money decisions regarding how you spend, save, or invest.
Similar to your personal values, your financial values are often shaped by your lived experiences. They can be influenced by your age, family’s values, religious or spiritual beliefs, culture, or socio-economic background. Some examples of money values include freedom, security, legacy, genericity, or experiences, just to name a few.
For example, if your goal is to build a large savings and investment portfolio to live a worry-free retired life, you may value freedom and security. If you care most about leaving enough money to your children and grandchildren for college, you may value legacy. If you find fulfillment in spending money on helping others, your money value may include generosity. Perhaps you value experiences above all else, and would rather spend your money on travel and making memories rather than material goods.
Determining your money values and understanding how they are shaped can greatly help when building a fulfilling financial life.
Why are Money Values Important?
Money values are a way to allocate and prioritize your financial resources so they reflect what is most important to you. In some ways, money values are a practical way to exemplify your core values. This means you may care about issues like social justice or the environment and prioritize supporting these causes through charitable donations.
Understanding your money values can give you clarity and direction to find fulfillment in your financial life. At Abacus, we’re always having conversations about financial values when working with clients. These conversations help guide decisions about spending, saving for future goals, legacy planning, investments, and charitable giving.
It can be helpful to regularly reflect on your values and assess where you’re allocating your money. Evaluating your finances through the lens of values can help you discover if your money is aligned or misaligned. For example, you could be inadvertently allocating money to causes that aren’t as important to you or even contradict your values.
Abacus advisor Susan Olson recalls, “A client was sharing with me their value of supporting education for women and girls in the developing world. However, when we looked at her giving history, we realized it was mostly going to her well-endowed alma-mater. It was clear the values were not in alignment and so she decided to make a change.”
Ultimately, values can be the mechanism to building wide and meaningful bridges to generosity, justice, compassion, loyalty, responsibility, and self-love.
How Do I Define My Money Values?
Each person is different, so there are many ways to explore your money values. You may want to reflect on the money values you inherited from growing up with your family or culture and evaluate if those still stand true. Some people prefer to go inward through meditation or journaling. Others may choose to talk with a trusted friend or advisor and use them as a sounding board. Many do all of these and more.
However you approach it, it’s worth asking what matters most to you in your daily life and the broader world:
- What is important to you? Think health, family, spirituality, career, adventure, stability, peace of mind, community, education, and more.
- Who is important to you? Think of certain relatives, friends, community members and groups, pets and other animals.
- If you had all the money in the world, how would you spend your time?
- If you could move the dial in one or two areas to change the world, what would they be?
Often, these answers involve sharing resources with family or supporting a cause that you hold dear. Being as specific as possible about why these matter to you – knowing what difference it will make to you to support your family or a certain charity – can add depth and understanding to your conversation that can leave you feeling more fulfilled.
Exercise: 5 Steps to Discover Your Money Values
Values are choices made over time. Often, the best choices are not spontaneous, they are the mindful ones we’ve considered and thought through well in advance. Here is a time-honored and effective way to begin determining your values.
1. Know Your Financial Archetype
Before considering anything else, taking our Financial Archetype Quiz can help you understand how you relate to money and give you insight about your money beliefs. Understanding these beliefs can help inform your money values and give positive intentions to your eventual goals – especially if money has sometimes been a painful subject for you.
What's your Financial Archetype?
2. Make a List
Values start with brainstorming a list of areas where money affects your life, then finding what’s most important to you about each area. These areas often include retirement, education, career, health, social endeavors, charitable giving, where to live, and what kind of lifestyle is most meaningful to you.
This list doesn’t have to be perfectly curated right off the bat, the editing process comes soon. Once you have the areas written down that are important to you, reflect and write down a few goals in each area that you’d like to intentionally work toward.
Again, this is a brainstorming phase so there’s no wrong answers. Just make sure you’re expressing values and goals that are truly authentic to you.
Once you’ve brainstormed your values, it’s time to prioritize them. Very few people have unlimited money to support values in every one of the areas they’ve written down, so prioritizing what’s most important to you can help clarify your goals.
Because values often change over the course of a lifetime, it can also be helpful to keep in mind short, medium, and long-term goals associated with your values (i.e. 5, 10, and 20+ years). Understanding how these values and goals may change over time can also help you in the prioritizing process.
Take time with each goal to imagine your future self having succeeded at it. What will you look like? What will it feel like? If you had to choose only two or three, which feel the most nourishing to you?
4. Know Your ‘Why’
Knowing the reason why a value feels essential for you accomplishes a few things: it helps you connect on an emotional level and stay true to that value over time – especially if it becomes challenging at some point.
Values are meaningful and finding your why can be uncovered by asking these questions:
- Where (or who) did you learn this value from?
- What (or who) are you honoring in the pursuit of those values?
- How does it connect to your personal core values?
Having a better idea of the reasons behind your values can amplify the strength and good feelings of achieving them.
5. Reflect and Take Action
Once you’ve written down and clarified your values and goals, it’s time to align. Take a look at your current spending, saving, and lifestyle choices and ask yourself how they’re honoring the values you’ve just expressed.
How do you feel about the ones that are in alignment? How do you feel about the ones that are at odds?
It can be valuable to periodically revisit this process as your life unfolds. Values can evolve, so what’s important today may not be as important a decade from now. By comparing what you’re actually spending your money on versus what your expressed values are, you can see just how closely you are honoring your authentic self.
How a Financial Advisor Can Help Align Your Money with Your Values
We believe your values inform every financial and investment decision you make. If you don’t share your values, then you risk adopting and accepting the values of whatever advisor you work with. If your financial advisor is not a fiduciary, this means they can sell you investments and other products that financially benefit their company instead of you.
Values aren’t just an intellectual or philosophical exercise. Values define concrete goals, which ultimately translate into how you will spend your time each and every day – now and in the future – which has tremendous ramifications for your life.
Abacus Co-CEO Neela Hummel adds, “As advisors, we also use your values to inform your tax and estate planning strategy and we tailor your custom investment portfolio based on these values. This includes everything from your investment allocation timeline and tolerance for market volatility to college savings goals and retirement planning.”
There are often layers in these values conversations between personal and societal values. Abacus Co-CIO Lindsey Woodward notes, “The way you came about having money might affect your relationship to money differently at the personal versus societal level. What types of organizations will you give time or money to? How does your day-to-day work align (or not align) with your societal values? How do your most pressing concerns for the world – such as climate and inequality – interact with your personal goals?”
In many ways, your values are a kind of day-by-day legacy, which eventually add up to your lifetime legacy. Values underpin what matters to you most, and financial plans and investments are the nuanced yet complex mechanism to align your money with these values.
Align your money with your values.
We Value Your Values
Abacus was founded upon certain core values and we’ve long been an industry leader in values-aligned investing and financial planning. Values are in our DNA: the values of sufficiency, having enough, listening deeply and speaking with care, bringing our genius, and enjoying what we do. It’s these qualities that have largely attracted our incredible clients – and without their dedication to their own values, we would preside over a quite hollow endeavor.
In short, we try every day to live our core values in both our personal and professional lives, and we love helping clients discover how values can transform theirs. If you’re ready to embark on your values-aligned financial journey, reach out today to schedule a 15-minute introductory call to see how working with an Abacus advisor can help bring fulfillment to your financial life.