Updated on 01.31.07

31 Days To Fix Your Finances, Day 1: Your Five Main Values

Trent Hamm

The Simple Dollar offers a month-long plan for fixing your finances. All you need is an open mind and an hour each day.

Some of you might have expected that we would start out fixing your finances with a pencil and a calculator. In fact, it will be a few days before we have any need for either of these. Why? Before we can define a plan that works for you, we need to sit down and figure out what really matters in your life.

All of us work hard for a reason. We go into work and come out of work because we want money, right? Money buys us things and allows us to live in this modern world. But what do we mean by “live”? What exactly is this “living” that we are focused on?

The real truth is that we live according to a set of values. We continually perform actions based on values: our values mixed with the values of others. For example, my top value is my family. I want a good, fulfilling life for my wife and my son so that they can easily define and follow their own values.

Every person has a set of between four and six primary values that underline their life (we may have other values, but those values are secondary to the primary ones). Financial problems occur through distortions of those values: we come to believe that some things are vital to these values when they really don’t matter. Generally, this is what advertising seeks to do: it tries to express a core value that some people have and make their product seem essential to achieving that value.

So, our first step is to define exactly what our values are. We are not defining goals here! Goals are specific actions, like “retiring at age fifty five” or “paying for my son’s graduate school.” What we are looking for are values. Friends. Love. Freedom. Truth. What are the fundamental items that make you tick? At the end of this post is a list of thirty potential values that one might list; you can look at these if you’re an example-oriented person.

At first, this seems pretty difficult, so here’s a procedure that will help you get in the right mindset.

First, get calm and relaxed. For me, this usually comes after a nice meal with a glass of wine or a great craft beer. I can clear my mind and think about my life. Do whatever gets you relaxed: have a massage, lay down in bed, or anything that increases your calmness.

Second, be honest. No one has to see this list, so write down what really comes from inside of you. You might write down things like “power” or “excitement” that you might not want to show other people, or you might be tempted to write down “family” because your significant other would expect it – but it’s not really important to you.

Third, close your eyes and ask yourself what is really important in your life. If nothing comes immediately, don’t worry about it. Think about the moments where you feel most whole and fulfilled and that feeling stays with you, not a temporary, passing feeling.

As you discover values, write them down. Just make a list on a sheet of paper. It doesn’t have to be ranked in any way. Once you’ve discovered a value that’s important to you, just add it at the bottom of the list. You’ll know when you are done; don’t worry too much about how many you’ve written down.

If you have more than six values, ask yourself if any of them are the same value. Quite often, if we get above six values on our list, we’ll realize that two of the values are actually the same thing. If they are, just combine them, or cross off one of them.

If you have fewer than four values, think about them some more. Most people have at least four central values in their lives, so spend some more time to make sure you’re not missing anything.

Once you have this list, save it. We’ll not only refer to it in later steps, but it will probably be valuable to you. See you tomorrow!

If you need some help getting started, here is a list of thirty values that you might have in your life. Note that this isn’t a list of all possible values, just a selection of some values to help you get started.

Creativity (music, film, food, etc.)
Making a difference
Peace of mind
The environment

Ready? Let’s continue on to the next day.

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  1. Keter says:

    Another method for evoking one’s core values is to imagine that you’ve been given 30 days to live, that nothing can be done about it, and your physical capacity will remain the same until the moment you fall over dead. List the things you’d do and in what priority. Don’t be surprised if one or more of the things is antisocial or even criminal. Then discover the underlying POSITIVE values that motivate the desire for each action. Avoid phrasing anything with a ‘not’ in it.

  2. Matt says:

    Surprisingly this is harder than I thought it would be. One or two of them come to mind rather quickly be that’s it – I may have to ponder this with a beer over lunch.

  3. radek says:

    Method of remaining days can be re-evaluated for real. A few years ago I found the death-test on the Inet. I filled that in with the final result that I would die in 2041.

    The point is that the exact date is not important, but the fact that we have only few years remaining. So every ticked second should be fulfilled with something valuable to us. This knowledge helps me get rid of the junk eating valuable lifetime (such as TV).

  4. Nick says:

    If you need even more help with “what are my values”, here is a website that lists 374 values. http://www.stevepavlina.com/articles/list-of-values.htm

  5. sdFan says:

    My boyfriend and I are working on this concurrently. I may be taking this a bit too seriously but it took me a few weeks to come up with my 5 core values. I’d never looked at myself and my life that way. Great insight, worth the effort!

  6. Bart says:

    this is by far the best site I have come across on financial planning !
    thank you !

  7. glenn barcelona says:

    definitely I wll share this with my loved ones!
    I started taking serious my financial life when I read Robert Kiyosaki’s book. It motivated me to become truly rich, not only financially but in everything. It led me to search books and articles. This article(31 days…) Is one of the best so far! Praise God for this path of grace. I revived my youthful dreams and IDEALS that I thought were lost forever once the values of “OTHERS” literally replaced mine. THANKS TRENT, may the good Lord bless you a hundredfold so you can bless others more.

  8. Raj says:

    This is 31 day program is great. I’m starting it today, and blogging about my progress at http://www.personallyfinanced.com.

    Thanks man!


  9. Ephrem says:

    My personal finances are in a total mess now. I was looking around the internet to see if I can find an inspirational article or book on how to get my finances back into shape when I came across your article. It’s amazing!

    I’ve just finished day 1 and I’ve made a commitment to sticking to the programme until I complete it. What I like about it most is the inside-out approach that it proposes. No real change can be made if it doesn’t come from inside ourselves.

    Thanks, Trent.

    Ephrem, Nairobi

  10. Clothing addict says:

    Thank God I found this. Can’t wait to work it day by day

  11. Jessica says:

    Interesting, it did not take me long to list my values and think of all the other values I wish I had like commitment. I value commitment, even though I know this is not a value I have. I find it hard to commit to doing something like a diet for instance or read a self help book and do the exercises. I will try this and see if I can commit to do this program. If so, not only I would have sorted my finances out but also I would have made an ideal value into an acquired value.

  12. Jackie says:

    This is actually also a great exercise for parents– it’s so easy to get overwhelmed with all the activities available and advice offered, but what matters is what values are important to you and your partner, and what values you want to be important for you as a family. Then when an opportunity comes up, you can easily evaluate it– would this align with one of our family’s core values? Also a good chance for evaluating your life– are we really centering our life around our values and if not, what changes could we make to further that?

    Great post, Trent!

  13. lvngwell says:

    I must be odd. It took me all of 20 seconds to write my core values down one right after the other. I didn’t even need a beer to do it! I like this course I will follow it and see where it takes me!

  14. Sonja B. says:

    Can your life values be different than your money values…or does that not really work? I immediately had a set of $ values that came to mind (for me and family): security, generosity, faith, freedom, fun and another set for life: Family, faith, balance fulfillment, etc. So if they are different, is that when finances get out of synch? Is it an illusion?

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