How to Focus on Meaningful Spending in 3 Steps

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Managing Your Money
When's the last time you evaluated your expenses? Focusing on meaningful spending brings you more happiness - here's how to start spending on your values.

Have you ever been intentional about your spending? Even if you keep a budget – have you gone through your expenses to make sure you’re getting enough value out of them?

If not, it’s time to learn how you can incorporate meaningful spending into your life. Why? Because meaningful spending will alter your finances in a positive way. We’re breaking it down into 3 easy steps!

First, Define Your Values

Getting clear about your values is the best way to get started with meaningful spending. You need to make sure your spending aligns with your values. This way, you’ll actually be spending on things that are important to you.

Here are some common values to get you started:

Family

More and more of us want the flexibility to see our family more. Whether it’s being a stay-at-home parent, or visiting our parents and siblings, family is important. We only have so much time to spend with people, and we want to make it count.

Travel

Many of us have been bitten by the travel bug. The world is a huge place, and there’s so much to see! While travel can be pretty darn expensive (which is why you should shop with us and get cash back!), it’s normally a worthwhile expense that no one regrets.

Education

We’re not just talking about traditional education, such as a college degree. We’re talking about certifications, investing in yourself by getting a coach or a mentor, or buying courses and other learning materials that can help you.

Career

Some people are very career-minded. They want to invest in their success and their future by going to networking events, conferences, and training seminars. There’s nothing wrong with that!

Entertainment

This can be anything from sports games, to movies, to hiking, to concerts. While there are plenty of free entertainment ideas, sometimes certain types of entertainment turn into hobbies we really enjoy. There’s no reason not to spend on them if you love them.

Friends

Last but not least, many of us understandably place importance on our friendships and relationships. Going out to dinner with friends, or going on a trip together, can be an amazing time.

If you’re having trouble defining your values, think about what makes you happy. What are your best memories from the last year or so? Meaningful spending often happens when we’re focusing on things that will create lasting memories for us.

Second, Look Through Your Spending

You should be tracking your spending – if not in a spreadsheet, at least with a tool like Mint.com. You need to know where your money is going in order to figure out if you’re spending it meaningfully!

If you already keep a budget, this will be easy.

If not, go through the past 3 months of spending you’ve done. Pull your credit card and bank statements. Go through and tally up your expenses.

“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” – Joe Biden

While this quote is talking about politics, it’s perfectly applicable to our every day budgets.

The point is, if your budget doesn’t paint a realistic picture of what you value, then you should figure out what needs to go so you can spend on what matters.

For example, I couldn’t care less about watching TV. I don’t have time to watch it, and shows don’t tend to hold my interest. Not enough to pay $60+ per month, anyway.

Yet, cable is one of those expenses we tend to say “okay” to because it’s cable. So many people have it, why question it?

That’s a mistake.

You should be questioning all your expenses and their importance to you. Not everyone values the same things!

Another example? Your cell phone bill. Are you paying $100+ every month for service from one of the “Big 4″? There are alternative carriers out there who have service that’s just as good, for half the price (or less). Many let you BYOD or have a nice selection to choose from.

I was paying $92 a month last year, and upon realizing that added up to $1,104 a year, I started looking elsewhere. I now pay $30 a month (yes, I still have a fancy smartphone). That means I have $62 a month I can put toward other things (like my student loans).

Third, Make Necessary Adjustments

After you’ve reflected on your values and your spending, start making the necessary adjustments to your overall spending plan.

If you’ve found, like me, that you don’t really value cable all that much, cut it. You can always replace it with inexpensive alternatives like Netflix and Hulu+.

If you’re not sure if an expense is worth it or not, try going without it temporarily.

For example, maybe you’re not a foodie, but dining out has been a large expense for you lately. Maybe you’ve been too busy to cook, or maybe you’ve just been lazy (totally happens).

Try going a week or a month without dining out. If you’ve been spending $150 per month on dining out, think of where that money could be going. If you have other financial goals, put that money to better use!

Spending Meaningfully Will Make You Happier

I have a confession to make – I generally like saving money more than I like spending it. However, sometimes I feel guilty when I do spend.

You shouldn’t feel guilty about parting with your money. It can be difficult, especially if it’s a large amount. But money is a tool. It’s not going to do us any good when it’s sitting in our wallet or under our mattress.

For example, I purchased a flight back home to visit my family earlier this year, and it was one of the best decisions I made. Was it pricey? A little, but it was within my budget, and I made so many memories on that trip. No regrets!

Make your money work for you in a good way. Meaningful spending (and investing) will get you there.

Do you spend your money meaningfully? When’s the last time you evaluated your expenses?

1 comment

  1. Kalie Brooks

    Great post. Financial discipline really is about deciding what’s worth it to you and making thoughtful decisions, rather than just going with the cultural flow of typical expenses. Having the right motivation for saving money is more important than any practical tips, and remembering your values is super motivating. One value that motivates us is giving to charity. Remembering those less fortunate, especially in impoverished countries, makes it easy to spend less on ourselves. It helps us stay grateful and content rather than feeling “deprived” by skipping some extras.

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