Let me ask you a question that is fundamental to your financial success:
What job do you want your money to do for you?
I’m serious – this question is hugely important. How would you answer it? If you had to give your money a job description, what would it be?
So many people I’ve come across don’t spend much time thinking about what they want their money to accomplish for them. And yet, when pressed, they tell me they’re not entirely satisfied with the results.
They wish they had less debt, more savings, more free time, a higher income, better options, and more of a nest egg in place.
See the issue?
When I first started to work out the details of my values-based money system, I thought about this question – what do you want your money to do for you? – from a 30,000-foot perspective. It’s the kind of view you get when you look out a plane window (remember those??) and you can see the full shape of the landscape below.
Forget about the minutia of a budget with all the subcategories – Pets, Household Goods, and so on. Focus squarely on the big picture.
When I did that, suddenly the answer became clear:
- You want money to pay for the things that help you to survive.
- Beyond #1, you want money to pay for experiences, opportunities, and things that are important to you. This is where your values come in.
- And then there’s all the rest of the stuff – the nice-to-haves, the extras, and the I-could-do-without-this-for-sure bits.
Three high level, values-based categories
In my values-based money system, I created three overarching categories to track and to fund, in order:
- Essentials – needed to survive
- Priorities – matter to you; your non-negotiables
- Other – everything else
Why does this matter?
Because this now becomes the order in which you use your cash to fund your lifestyle. If you follow this order, you will be guaranteed to use your money in a way that represents the highest, best value for you.
You’re not going to wake up ten years down the road and realize that your money hasn’t served you well.
When you use this values-based tracking and spending system, you’re consistently checking in to see if your employee – your money – is doing its job.
The beautiful thing about this system, too, is that it’s fully customized to your situation. No two money systems are the same simply because no two people share the same core values.
Simple. Effective. Powerful. Easy to maintain.
And that’s why it has worked for 100% of my clients, even those who had tried budgeting in the past and failed. They no longer needed to squeeze their round life into a square box. They tossed out the box – and the bit about micromanaging every last bloody dollar – and they focused on their larger goals instead.
The trick? Know your core values
To make this system work, you obviously have to know what matters most to you. It sounds like such an easy-peasy question, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t know what they value? What they want most? What’s non-negotiable for them?
It turns out that most people don’t at first, myself included.
After my first husband died and I found myself staring at $400,000 of debt, I had to figure out my priorities in a hurry. It was the only way that I could see myself paying off that monster of a debt and walking out the other side with my sanity – and hope – intact.
I kept asking myself, “What do you really want? What matters most? What should you focus on?”
Back then, I didn’t have the template that I’ve since created to walk myself through the steps of figuring out the details. I just had to keep asking the questions, journalling my answers, and test-driving them until I finally worked out my list of non-negotiables.
When I clarified my core values, and I used them to guide my financial decisions, everything changed for me.
It’s what helped me build strong real estate and investment portfolios.
It’s what drove me to build my women’s financial literacy education business.
And to this day, my values-based money management system guides how I make, manage, and grow my money without ever budgeting.
Planning? Yes. Budgeting in the traditional sense of the word? No.
Values-based decision-making is at the heart of everything I teach. It has helped countless people finally make significant, lasting progress with their finances regardless of their starting point.
It can do the same for you.
Start with Essentials
Pull out a sheet of paper or fire up a spreadsheet and create three columns.
Label the first column ESSENTIALS.
List every category of expenses that is essential to your survival. That’s the criterion to use – ask yourself, “Is this absolutely essential for my survival?”
Here are some examples:
- Everyone needs a roof over their head –> House/Apartment.
- You need good, healthy food –> Groceries. This is food you make at home, not take-out or meals out. You can definitely survive without your favorite Thai take-out.
- Medical expenses –> prescriptions, glasses, dental care, and so on.
- Transportation. This one is a bit trickier. If you live out in the middle of nowhere, you need a car. In the city? Not so much. Your car expenses can go into your Priorities if the car is not strictly necessary.
You get the idea. These are your most important expenditures because they keep you alive. If your world were threatened in some way, these are the must-have expenses you’d protect at all costs.
Having said that, it doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t or couldn’t reduce the amount you spend for individual elements in this category. I’m pretty sure chips and junk food don’t rate as essential for life. Ditto for an $800,000 house.
Just because an expenditure is in this category doesn’t mean it gets a pass when it comes to figuring out which expenses to increase or decrease following the application of my line-by-line Values Filter.
Next, look at Priorities
Once you’ve got your list of Essentials, it’s time to identify the list of expenses that represent the things that matter most to you.
For some, that list includes travel.
For others, it’s about owning a cottage where the family gathers every summer.
It could be a gym membership, house cleaner, summer camps for your kids, or anything at all, even if others think the expense is frivolous. Remember that you’re putting together your money system; other people’s opinions don’t matter.
You don’t need to justify your choices to anyone, unless you’re married and trying to sort out the best use of the family’s cash. That definitely calls for a discussion and agreement over the key bits.
Label the second column PRIORITIES.
Pop back over to your list of core values, which you have prioritized in order of importance, and look at all expenses that fit within your values. Add them to the list.
Does this mean that every single expense that’s in line with your values should get funding?
Definitely not. It will depend on the amount of money you have at your disposal on a monthly basis and the list of values-based expenses you have. If your cash flow isn’t sufficient to cover all values, then you eliminate the lesser ones – which is why it’s important to rank your values.
Frequently Asked Question
“OK, Doris,” you might ask, “What about my savings? If I spend on all my priorities, where will the money come from for my savings and investments?”
That’s a trick question. Saving and investing *are* a priority if being financially secure or independent matters to you!
Unless you’re struggling to bring enough money in to put food on the table, cash is used to build financial strength before flowing to other items on your list.
That also means using some of your cash to deal with corrosive debt. How much cash you divert to debt elimination will depend on the type of debt and where financial security falls on your list of values.
Do you see how this works?
Finish with Other
Label the third column OTHER.
Every other expense that didn’t rate a spot in Essentials or Priorities lands in Other. Items on this list get funded last, after Essentials and Priorities.
This is one of the parts of my system that differs significantly from budgeting. With the latter, you plan how much you want to spent, max, on each category.
In my system, once you get to the Other expenses, do whatever you want. If there’s money in the “Other” account (I’ll explain what this is in my next post), then spend without guilt. You’ve already taken care of the fundamentals, including savings and debt; now you get to play with whatever’s left.
You don’t count pennies; it’s not necessary. You enjoy your life because you’ve taken care of the dollars.
This is the category with the low-hanging fruit if you’re looking to create more cash flow to pay off debt or build up your savings. Go through this list and start chopping the lowest-value items first.
In my course Take Charge of Your Money, I make an argument for focusing on the Big Wins (i.e. the dollars) instead of angsting about chopping out $5 and $10 items from this category. However, nailing a quick win is great if you’re looking to free up some cash. Just don’t get stuck looking for savings only in this category.
Rinse and repeat
Every month, track your spending and see how you’re doing relative to the three key categories.
Are you funding the right items first? Only you can answer that question.
Are you on track to accomplish your goals?
If not, dig into the key categories and reassess. Increase or decrease spending on the various elements based on your values and your values-based goals.
But this is the backbone of my simple money system that will help keep you on track.
You can make it more complicated if you like, but why would you?
You can become a millionaire with this system if that’s important to you.
Your children can learn money management techniques at a very early age using a values first approach.
And you can ensure that you create powerful options for yourself without ever having to budget.
How cool is that?
It’s your turn
Now that I’ve shared the values-based money system I created, I’d love to hear from you.
What’s your system? What do you love about it? What’s missing, if anything?
Chime in below to share your thoughts.
If you know of a woman who would appreciate learning about my values-based system, share this with her.
Next up? The accounts you’ll need to automate this system – saving yourself a bunch of time.