Optimizing for Your Values by Questioning Your Spending
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I live my life questioning everything and focused on my values, ahem, in theory. Perfection escapes us all, but striving for perfection and learning to embrace your failures will make the journey easier. Thus, while it is easy to propose that I’ll challenge everything, inevitably I realize that I have room for improvement.
Over the past few months I’ve been striving to question more. I’ve discovered that many of my behaviors, which I had contentedly assumed to be the best method have not been questioned. When I discovered the first flaw (spending time with people I did not derive happiness from), I realized there were many more optimization opportunities. Then, I turned to the rigorous simply engineered testing. I began analyzing my spending, time utilization, and stress levels (can’t blame it all on the job).
The simply engineered method does not mean choosing the least/most expensive or quickest/slowest method. Instead:
It’s optimizing for happiness, reduced stress, and lowering environmental impact.
While it may be easiest to continue with the status quo, pausing and questioning everything will lead to a wealth that money can’t buy. This may take the form of happiness, time, stronger relationships, financial security, or physical health. While many Rockstar Finance blogs focus on money, the true benefit from mastering your money begins after you have the basics down, and I like to focus on the latter.
Once you have your basic needs met (shelter, food, water, security, and beyond that an emergency fund), money will hardly contribute to an increase in your happiness. Then the next tough journey begins: the pursuit of values, thankfully this (typically) isn’t a life or death journey that the first one can be.
First, I do not want to downplay the importance of getting your financial life in check. It can be a long and painful journey. It is hard to escape advertising for rampant consumption and financial irresponsibility. Going into massive amounts of debt for a college education and cars is expected as the norm. And personal relationships with money are tangled and messy, I know I still struggle with my approach to money.
Second, you must find and define your own values. Everyone’s values vary, and while I’d love to convert you all over to mine… Alas, humans are not robots and emotions must be experienced individually. Challenging my daily/weekly/monthly rituals has helped me to align my life more closely with my values. And, because I live a life of privilege I’ve been able to increase my savings through this journey.
Embracing frugality encourages us to question our daily choices, so if you are unsure of how to determine your values start by looking at your spending. While money technically has “value” that is not the value I’m thinking of. Some common values from Mind Tools include:
Being the best
Making a difference
In reviewing our spending, we don’t follow hard and fast rules such as: no restaurants. Instead, we consider the specific spending occasion. While we normally don’t go out to eat the two of us (restaurants are stressful for us introverts), we do not hesitate to spend money when visiting family and eating out is their desired activity. Going to a restaurant then corresponds with our valuing happiness and relationships. (They in turn cook at home more when we come to visit, so it goes both ways.) We strive to connect with our families and spend time together, thus spending money on that is not a cause of stress.
So today, take some time, have a conversation, and determine what your values are. If you are in a relationship you will likely have separate and joint values. Then look at your spending and see if it correlates.
What are your values?