In David Bach’s book Smart Couples Finish Rich he uses an exercise called the Value Circle. At first it sounded a little hokey, every personal finance book needs a hook, so they just find different ways to say the same thing (I’m ignoring what that statement means for this blog), but as I started to go through it I fell in love with it.
He encourages you to define your values, a daunting thing. My values? What do they have to do with personal finance. It’s much easier to set clear goals. Pay off debt. Contribute to my RRSP. Spend less on clothing. But how many times have these “clear goals” left us with nothing. They become things you “should” do. A better version of you would do them, but maybe they’re just not who I am!!
Well. Who are you? What do you want? Your values are the answer to that question. They’re the big words like “Happiness” “Love” “Adventure” “Relationships” “Health” “Fun” “Making a difference”. He has a list of words here. It’s not definitive, but it helped give me an idea of what he was talking about when he said values. You’ll also see on the link above a list of goals. It’s important to make the distinction between two. Goals are active. It’s great to have goals. But the advantage to first defining what your core values are is that you’ll pick the goals that are right for you, and hopefully the ones that you’ll actually stick to.
Okay. Now to the actual exercise. He begins with the question
“When you think about your purpose in life and the things that really matter, what’s really important to you? Specifically, what do you feel are the top five values you’d like to start focusing your time and energy on over the next 12 months?” David Bach
I like that he specifies 12 months. Even though he goes on to make the case that you’re value generally stay the same throughout your life, it was much more manageable for me to think about the next 12 months.
I was surprised to realize that the first value out of my mouth was “Security”. When I first made my list, it was a few months ago, I had been living out of a suitcase for the last 18 months, was right in the midst of a period where I was questioning whether I wanted to continue this artist career, and didn’t know what my next 6 months was going to look like income wise. But even now, with a home and some more certainty, it stays at the top of my list. When I feel secure, emotionally, physically, and financially, I feel that I can create freely.
He follows up his first question by taking your first value, Security in my case, off the table. If security weren’t an issue, what else would you want?
I finished out the top 5 with:
- ADVENTURE: Originally I wanted to say travel, but apparently travel isn’t a value. It’s too material. So I went back a step, and asked myself what I loved about travel, what I was really craving,and part of it was the adventure. I’m young, I’ve flexible, I want to take advantage of that
- RELATIONSHIPS: I have incredible people in my life. This is overarching to include, my girlfriend, my family, and my friends. The people in my life make it everything it is. I want to invest more time, treasure and talent into them.
- GROWTH This one had quite a few names. It started as “Education” and then became “Learning” and now has settled as growth. I feel most complete and alive when I’m learning. It’s the other reason I love travel, meeting new people, eating new food, seeing new places. I love learning new things. It’s also why I love a career as an artist. It’s always forcing me to grow, I can’t settle into a rut. It continually pushes me forward.
- HEALTH This is something that I all too often ignore and take for granted, but when it’s not there everything else falls off. To me it encapsulates emotional health, financial health as well as physical health. Making sure that I invest time in myself, so that I can do the things that I really want.
I was somewhat surprised by my list. It had nothing overtly artistic about it. In fact it seemed a little boring. I’m an artist, shouldn’t it look more… unique than this. But when I dig down it contains most of the things that I love about my life as a whole, so I guess I’ll stick with it. I think when you start looking at your life in terms of big overarching themes there is a lot of overlap. The way you realize those values however is all completely on your plate.
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So it has been my starting place. From my boring values I get to pick ways to live them out. It bleeds out from values into goals into direct action.
- SECURITY: I got an apartment, and I love having a home again. I started paying myself a salary which has provided a more stable feeling to my monthly income, and I’m heavily investing in ways to try to increase the income I bring in in a year.
- ADVENTURE: This one has been a little tough. When you’re poor at first adventure seems to be a hard value to live. But I’ve been doing it in little ways. The few times I go out to eat, I make the choice to try a new place rather than the same old watering hole. I know… not exactly novel worthy, but it makes for new experiences, which tends to scratch the itch a little.
On a larger scale I found a few ways to tuck away money for bigger adventures. I can’t afford anything now, but by starting to build up a few “adventure nest eggs” I feel like I’m constantly investing in that value (The gift of delayed gratification).
- RELATIONSHIPS: It’s a big one, and one that becomes difficult when you’re constantly traveling for work. This one is served by making sure I’m tucking away cash for flights back home (my family is in Manitoba), but really this one is more about time than money. That’s the thing. These values aren’t about just managing your money, it’s about making sure you’re spending all of your resources in a way that you want.
This value reminds me every day that no matter how busy it is, there is always time for a coffee with a friend, or 2 minutes to text or email. There has to be balance.
One more specific idea that has come out of this value is the travel fund I started with my girlfriend *LINK*. We do a lot of long distance, and although this idea is just a few months old, it’s been a life saver already.
- GROWTH: The most obvious example of this value is what you’re reading now. I love to learn new things. Sometimes it’s overwhelming how many things there are to know in the world. But in the last few months I’ve really dived into my curiosity for personal finance. Reading blogs, books, and even enrolling in the Canadian Security Insitutes: Canadian Securities Course. It’s a blast. I haven’t used math in years, and am loving engaging my brain in different ways.
- HEALTH.I constantly forget how much better I feel when I’m active. I’m writing this post right at the start of a long dark Canadian winter, when we all turn into lazy hermits. I’ve tucked away some cash to buy a squash membership in January. I have a few great friends who play, so it’s a great workout, but also a time I get to spend with friends. Two values in one activity! Genius
I know this kind of thinking isn’t for everyone, but it really helped me to take a step back, past money and look at my life in this way. It’s not about “keeping up with the Joneses” Like I’ve said repeatedly on this blog, it’s about living the life you want to live. Which is impossible if you don’t know what that looks like. A sound personal finance strategy is first and foremost personal.
So. Who are you and what do you want?
Financial Planner/Opera Singer
Money never came naturally to me. In fact… I was a bit of a disaster. I’m telling you that because I want you to know that I understand what it feel financially out of control.
And honestly… I stil get stressed about money… that doesn’t stop… the difference is that now I have the tools to deal with that stress, and it’s made it possible for me to build a life full of the things I want: art, creativity, travel, family and more.
If you want to start getting control of your money I’d love to help.