I went through life making decisions regarding money and time based on other people; a well known term called benchmarking. I would look at what other people seemed to be doing, usually through social media, and allowed it to determine how I should be living my life. After all, they seem so damn happy and fancy!
Regardless of what good I have going on in my own life, when I look at social media, I can barely stay connected to my reality, let alone my values. I lose sight of who I am, what I truly care about, and what I already have. How can I appreciate time with my puppy when someone on social media is galavanting on an exotic beach? Or celebrating a new 3,000sq ft apartment purchase? Or having another perfect baby? So pretty quickly, I start to notice my thoughts turn in to feelings, and then my feelings turn in to actions. In this case it is:
“Everyone else has things that I want.”-> “I don’t have/do/achieve enough” -> Overcompensate with things that don’t really make me happy.
What does overcompensating look like? It looks like spending money on a REALLY expensive dinner because I want to feel that I am social and liked. It’s buying clothing I don’t really care about because someone might see me in it, and think I am cool, or important. It’s sharing an instagram video when I am out with friends instead of enjoying their company, and to add insult to injury- constantly refreshing to see if anyone else approves of my plans that evening.
I know this loop so well. I’ve been doing it for years. I can tell you exactly when I am most likely to do it (usually when I am procrastinating or avoiding), and I can tell you exactly how shitty I feel as soon as I am done. It is my most often-abused self-fulfilling prophecy. The worse I feel about myself, the worse my decisions are.
I don’t know about you, but I am getting bored of seeing the same shitty results from the same shitty thoughts. About a year ago, I started questioning what the hell I was doing with my finances and how I got my head so far in the sand. How, at thirty, did I still have no idea how to stick to a budget? I did a bit of research and came across a book*, and that’s where I met the question that rocked my world as I knew it,
“What are my values? What is the purpose of time and money in my life?”
I had no idea how to answer. I didn’t even know what a value was or how it was different than a goal. How could I not know what matters to me? In this moment, I realized how much I’ve allowed finances and time to function on auto pilot. I took a long hard look. It wasn’t pretty.
The book asks you to look back and ask: what were the happiest moments I could remember? I thought about losing weight, how good I felt when I started to see my body change for the better. I thought about my husband, the wine tasting class we had recently taken and how much fun we had. I thought about a trip with my friends, where I managed to unwind, sleep, and have fun all in the same week. I thought about my career, my clients achieving their goals and how I loved seeing their results. And I thought about my nephews birth, and seeing the joy that he brought to everyone in my family.
Health. Marriage. Travel. Friends. Career. Family. Those are my values. Those are things I feel GOOD spending money on.
As soon as I started to get some clarity, I had to deal with the fact that my financial behavior was massively misaligned with my values. Let me share a few examples:
Does this sound familiar to you? If so, it might be a good idea to stop and question your spending. Are there places where you are spending money and it is actually getting you further from the “fulfilment” we are all desperately chasing? We already have to pay for so many things that frustrate us (taxes, insurance, rent). Why was I volunteering more items to that list?
Which bad habits sound like you? Are you spending your time and money on the things that truly align with your values? If you’re anything like me, I think you’ll pretty quickly see areas where you can cut back.
Believe it or not, this is the first step you need to make in budgeting. Choose 5 values to use as an anchor. Look back at your 12 months of statements and ask yourself, which expenses align with one of your core values? Which don’t? Get curious about your financial behavior.
*Recommended reading on this topic:
By David Bach