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

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.

Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.