Relationships are tough, and it seems one of the toughest is with our own money. More than half of American adults (56%) admit they don’t have a budget (according to a 2012 survey conducted by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling), 22% say they don’t have a good idea how much money they spend on housing, food, and entertainment, and 39% carry credit card debt from month to month.
The trick to improving our relationship with money, says Kristi Nelson, a financial and fund-raising consultant based in Hadley, Massachusetts, is to put your wallet where your values are.
“Without our values—the guidelines or touchstones for how we relate every choice, every moment, to money—we become the victims in our own financial plotline,” she says.
The place to start is simply to notice your own reactions to money. What drives you from the inside? What throws you into going unconscious about how you spend your money?
Next, identify your five deepest values (this could be as small as eating organic vegetables or as big as supporting charities in your community). Then think about your top five aspirations or goals for your life. How much are all those things reflected in your checkbook?
Nelson recommends these techniques to help get your spending on track:
• Detox – What are you willing to give up for 30 days? Try creating a list of things you have to buy, and only spend money on those things. Or create a list of things you really want to buy, but only buy them the following month. If you delay the gratification, you may find you no longer want what you wanted so badly before.
• Nourish – Align your financial choices with your values. Perhaps you want to buy only local products for 30 days. Or tuck some money away for a vacation with your family. Become more conscious of what you really value and find ways to direct your money there.
• Savor – Notice everything that is sufficient—or more than sufficient—in your life. Write down things you savor (and maybe even consider writing a thank-you card or two). This is about gratitude—but also conscious indulgence. If you decide to spoil yourself (or someone else) with something you’ve identified as aligned with your values, go for it. Enjoy it fully. Don’t defeat the purpose by following it up with guilt or self-criticism.