Mini-Money Challenge: What’s Important To You, Really?

Throughout this No Spend Month I’ve talked (and talked…and talked) about financial values.

Well, now I have a confession to make. There really aren’t any financial values. There are just your values. Financial management and financial goals are big tools to help you live in accordance with your values, but they are not the same as values.

If this seems a little strange now, don’t worry. By the end of today’s Mini-Money Challenge it will make more sense.

Every single decision you make and every action you take either supports your values or it doesn’t. But if you haven’t clarified your values, you don’t really know which actions support what you love and which don’t.

That’s like working at a job without knowing what your title or job description is. Sure you might be able to muddle your way through the gig, but are you likely to get a promotion? Could you even figure out if you wanted a promotion? How could you judge if you were spending your time in the best way? You couldn’t.

Well, your values are like your own personal job description for being you. Get those defined and suddenly it’s a lot easier to figure out if you are spending your time, your money, your energy and your love on the right people and things.

In the world of thrift and frugality a lot of people want to tell you how to be a better tightwad, or set yourself up for early retirement, or instruct you on what investments are right for you.

There is inspiration and information to be found in so many sources, but money and spending and your long-term goals are such personal things, at the end of the day, you have to have your own values framework for what is important to you.

Let’s make one.

Your Mini-Money Challenge: A Values Framework

Today’s challenge is to get to the heart of it all. Write down your five most important values. Take some time with this.

Is security your most important value? What about fun and excitement? I know people who value lifelong learning and people who value health. Many people value a relationship with their kids, their partner or their God above all else.

Just remember, a value is not a goal. A goal is something you want to do or work towards or acquire (“I want a larger property”). A value is more about who you are. It’s a base-level thing (“I value self-reliance.”) It’s what you work backwards into when you play the “Five Why’s Game” with your goals.

Except it’s much more powerful to work forward from your values to your goals. Doing this lets you efficiently rule out entire classes of goals as not in keeping with your values that might have otherwise have seemed appealing. Think of the time, energy and effort you can save if you stop working towards things you don’t really want!

Here’s some examples of values that may resonate with you:

  • Compassion
  • Recognition
  • Honesty
  • Freedom
  • Integrity
  • Family
  • Adventure
  • Faith
  • Career
  • Friends
  • Personal Growth
  • Education
  • Self-Control
  • Health
  • Charity
  • Tranquility
  • Kindness
  • Hospitality
  • Capability
  • Peace
  • Security
  • Creativity
  • Thrift
  • Challenge

Want a bigger list of values that’s still not exhaustive? Check this out.

There is no right or wrong here. Your values are your own. Your values list is also not locking you into anything. While my top five values have stayed pretty constant, since I’ve had children I’ve come to increasingly value Rootedness, the making of a life in the same community over a long period of time.

Before kids I had a pretty serious travel bug, and would have listed Adventure as a value of mine, but that is a bit less critical to me now. Your values can evolve over time, and you can re-do this exercise as often as you like.

What Financial Pros Say About Values

If you’d like a little more structure while doing this exercise, David Rich, the Finish Rich and Latte Factor personal finance guy, has made the entire “Values Circle” chapter of his book, Smart Couples Finish Rich, available for free in PDF.

In this chapter there is a big long lead-in about why you should identify your values (I’m not the only person yammering about this) and then you get to his Values Circle Chart, which you can print and fill out for yourself.

I will admit that I am not a huge fan of the graphic layout of his particular chart, but it will do as a starting point, and there is a table just after it which helps to clarify the difference between Goals and Values.

Just Do It. Really.

This challenge is one of those things that is easy to skip because it doesn’t have that “immediate win” feeling of shaving $30 off your internet bill with a phone call, but it is so, so worth it.

No Spend Month is almost up, and our final Mini Money Challenge will bring together all the hard work we’ve done so far. But you gotta have your values written down first. Please, tackle this challenge today.

If you haven’t yet finished the Occupy Your Brain Challenge or the Own Your Numbers Challenge, get those finished up too. The big finale is just around the corner.

What are your Top Five Values? If you want to, please share with us in the comments.


  1. says

    What a great and timely reminder! Thanks for this list. I’ll be working on it as I travel on a 5 or 6 hour bus ride from Mexico City to Patzcuaro (a fairly decent indication that Travel & Adventure are pretty high on that list :)
    Thanks again.

  2. says

    I would have to choose six because these all have significant meaning to me: Family, Freedom, Personal Growth, Self-Control, Hospitality, and Thrift. I could add a few more too, but these are the most important.

  3. Homebrew Husband says

    I like to think that I’ve got a pretty good handle on where my (financial) values sit. But it is funny how suddenly not just saying them out loud or writing them down but sharing them to a whole community can induce a case of analysis paralysis! Anyway, thinking out loud, I’d have to say:

    Family (as in “time with my…”)
    Repose (which I found in a thesaurus while looking for an interesting antonym to “stress”)

    Also, I have a really bipolar relationship with Hospitality – it is very important to me to be a good host and to share my good fortune with others…until I feel like I’m being taken advantage of and then I turn into the big, mean, passive-aggressive resentment monster.

    I like to think that all I do is done with the aim of being able to spend some quiet time with my family, read a good book, have a glass of wine with my wife, and leave myself a little time to write.

  4. says

    This took some thought, and I’m not sure that I’ve got it quite right yet (whatever “right” means for something like this). My top five seem to be relationships (family and friends), health, sustainability, personal growth, and integrity.

    I actually find it interesting that education didn’t make the top five, especially since I teach. Recently, I’ve felt rather disillusioned with the system that I teach in, so while it’s hugely important to me and really should be on there, I think this one could use some work, especially in terms of how education and the work that I do match up with my values.

  5. says

    Erica, sorry, I’m late on this challenge but better late than never. :)

    My Top Five Values are:

    1- Health (maybe because I’ve been plagued with poor health and I do realize how important being healthy is. The whole world stops if your health is not good.)

    2- Living Green (which includes recycling, reducing waste, reusing old stuff, growing my own veggies, buying , as possible, seasonal and local produce, shunning supermarkets and chain stores/cafes as possible, and many others.

    3- Compassion (not just for human but also animals. Visiting my 90-year-old neighbor to check on her and give her company, walking for 40 mins every 2 days to feed some stray cats, paying 70 Euros to neuter a cat that belonged to a nasty person who didnt care and killed the kittens the poor cat birthed, etc)

    4- Love (loving and being loved. Sadly, I haven’t achieved this on the romantic level but on other levels, like having friends who I love dearly and love me, pets that I love with all my heart and they love me too, my love for nature, etc, etc)

    5- Ambition (in the sense of trying to be a better person and learn something useful but not making money and getting rich.)

    It is true that our values evolve and change but I hope I will stick to these ones forever.

  6. ms says

    I started to think about this yesterday during the first snow storm of the season. Looking out the office window into the grey city – the lake view had completely vanished – I was thinking it would be good to confirm why exactly I’m doing this & what motivates me.

    Provide for family…

    Nurture people…whether that’s at home, at work, on the street, on the internet, etc. – it can mean anything from a cup of tea, a nutritious meal, a kind word, or encouraging talents in a friend or coworker. I think it’s the opposite of being toxic.

    Learn…read, absorb knowledge, be open-minded. I don’t have all the answers. I said ‘I don’t know’ to my son recently and noticed his face lit up. He felt empowered to jump in with his suggestions. Kinda cool.

    Repose… yep – totally with HH on that sentiment. To me, it doesn’t mean a party night-life as that would be stressful. R&R with the husband and kids in a warm house with a full pantry is about as good as it gets.

    Leave the world a better place…vote, plant perennials, keep free-range chickens, share the bounty, walk, use public transportation, shop local, sustainable & thrift shops, consume less, waste less, recycle, and raise responsible, kind kids.


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