Inspired by a form of psychotherapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), I’ve changed my thinking about personal finances from “how can I save more?” to “what do I value in life?“. Here’s how you can build a better life based on your values, and save money in the process.
Personal finance really is personal. What works for one person may not be the same as what works for another. One reason for this may be that we have different values.
Based on the (overly simplified here) goals of ACT, when thinking about making changes in your finances, first think about what you value. Then create goals consistent with your personal values. And commit to action that enriches your life.
A – Accept what you cannot control
C – Choose a valued direction
T – Take action
My Values, Goals, and Actions
Here are some of my values, and how I made changes in my life consistent with what’s important to me. Each of these changes save me money either directly (by not buying things) or indirectly (through better health).
This was one of the first places I made changes to my personal finances. I realized that a lot of my money was going toward unhealthy habits, and the “cognitive dissonance” I was experiencing helped motivate me to overcome some of my addictions. I also increase my physical activity.
- Quit smoking
- Stopped consuming soda and coffee daily
- Stopped eating fast-food/processed food
- Said no to sweets (with the exception of ice cream, of course)
- Taking daily walks outside during lunch
- Doing myself rather than outsourcing (pulling weeds is a great workout for my thighs!)
Emotional Health and Mental Wellbeing
For most people, distress is triggered by thinking about events that happened in the past or worrying about the future. However, in the present moment life is often okay. Contact with the present moment is a core process of ACT, and it is achieved through the practice of Mindfulness.
As a psychologist, it’s essential that I care for myself emotionally so that I can show up to work each day and be present for my patients mentally. I’ve made it a goal to practice Mindfulness daily.
Mindfulness helps us increase awareness of our internal experiences such as our thoughts, emotions, sensations. This is a skill that can be developed with just 5-10 minutes of practice a day. All it requires is our attention.
- Formal mindfulness practice
- paying attention to breathing, scanning the body for tension, hearing
- meditation, visualization
- Informal mindfulness
- mindful of everyday activities, such as eating, walking, or just being present in the moment
The next valued direction for which I created goals is what I will call “freedom.” I choose to not be obligated by contracts and payments. If I were to become unable to work tomorrow, I want to know that I can cancel any services I can no longer afford without penalty. There’s also something very empowering about knowing that I own everything I have (except my house, but I’m working on that).
Some of the commitments I made to move me closer to financial freedom include
- Paid off car loans
- Paid off student loans
- Switched to pre-paid cell phone plan (no contract, no fees)
- Canceled cable
- Pay for everything in full (no payment plans)
- Making extra payments toward mortgage principle (this alone will save me over $100,000 in interest!)
Recently, I’ve become more aware of the impact of my actions on this earth. Actions that are consistent with this value (and also save money) include:
- Avoiding single-use items
- Reducing driving/gasoline consumption
- Reducing electricity usage
- Conserving water
- Discovering ways to upcycle/repurpose old items before buying new items
- Not replacing working appliances/countertops for aesthetic reasons
- Holding onto electronic devices until they are no longer operable, then finding a way to dispose of /recycle appropriately
Spending time with people I enjoy is another value. My favorite memories with friends are hanging out at each other’s houses, swimming in the pool, or meeting at the park. I feel fortunate to have found such wonderful friends with whom I genuinely enjoy spending time. We don’t need to spend money to have fun together. I made a commitment to say “yes” to as many things as I can with my friends.
I value being a loving wife, but I do not value stuff. My husband and I have never exchanged gifts or hired a babysitter so we could go out. But (once the kids are in bed) we have date night every night on the couch talking about our day. We are committed to spending this time together each day, and don’t need to spend money to do it.
This year, we’ve put our children in more activities. This has cost a significant amount of money, but I mindfully made this decision after realizing that I value fostering my children’s skills.
However, I also stand by our decision to express our love through time and attention, not things.
A goal regarding my children is to be home every night for dinner. We all sit at the table and eat together as a family.
Take Home Message
If you want to save money but don’t know where to start, ask yourself what you value. Then, set financial goals that move you closer to those values. You won’t be depriving yourself, you’ll be committing to action in accordance with your personal values (the financial benefits will just be an added bonus).
Resource for Patients
Resource for Clinicians
In what ways do you spend money on things that are inconsistent with your values?