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What do you value most in life?

Strangely, this is kind of a hard question to answer, especially right on the spot. Most of us don’t rehearse our response or spend a lot of time thinking or reflecting on this question.

Instinctively, family and friends come to mind pretty quickly. I of course value and love my wife, and spending quality time with her. I really put a lot of value on community too, the people I get to “do life” with.

Maybe you really value serving your community or church, and investing in other people.

These are all amazing things to value and invest in. The bigger question is though…

How do you know what you truly value in life?

Is it a rating scale from 1-10? Pull slips of paper out of a hat and the top 5 are it? Probably not so much.

One of the best ways I’ve found to show yourself what you value is to look at where you spend your money.

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

I think this is absolutely true!

The key component to understanding your values is knowing where you spend your money. Like how much money you spend eating out, shopping, buying groceries, and buying gifts for birthdays.

So, how do you spend your money? And do you spend your money on the things you truly value?

There’s only one way to find out!

How to Create a Budget Based on Your Values

A budget is crucial in determining what your values are. Your budget is a black and white, straightforward list of where you spend your money every month. It’s the absolute BEST way to know what you spend money on each month, and how much money.

You obviously buy food and put gas in your car, but how much do you spend on those things? What else do you spend money on? The answers can be found in your budget.

Don’t have a budget? Start yours today!

Starting a budget can be crazy overwhelming, especially if you’ve never made one before. If that’s you, learn about my favorite monthly budget spreadsheet!

Get started today. Your finances will get so much better once you’re on a budget.

What You Spend Money on Shows You What Your Priorities Are

The best way to determine your priorities is to figure out where you spend the most money every month.

If you’re already on a budget, this will take 5 minutes. If you don’t have a budget, it takes more time, but still won’t take too long.

Make a list of the top 10 things you spend the most money on each month. Once you have them written down, rearrange the list in order from most money to least money.

If you don’t know exactly right now, take your best guess, then look it up on your monthly bank statements to get the true answers.

What does your list look like? What do you spend the most money on each month?

One question that came up for me when I did this was, “Do monthly bills count as priorities?”

I think it depends.

If you spend money on cable tv or a cell phone plan with a bajillion gigabytes of data, I think that falls under the umbrella of priority that could be reduced.

However, if it’s electricity or the gas bill, then not so much a priority, but a necessary living expense.

The Griffin’s Top 10 Priorities in January 2018:

I figured since I’m asking you to list your top 10 highest spending categories, it’s only fair that I do the same. I stopped mid writing to pull these out of my budget and make a fancy chart.

1. Right now a top priority is reaching several savings goals.

In January we finally saved up enough money to fully fund our 5 year anniversary trip to Ireland. The cool thing is we aren’t going until 2019, and we already have a fully funded trip!

Next, we’ll shift that priority to saving up enough to pay cash for a minivan in August. Since we paid off our student loans, increasing our savings has been a huge priority. That will definitely continue going forward.

2. After vacation is tithing and giving.

We tithe 10% of our income, and then give $50 to whomever or wherever we feel like God is asking us to give. We think of this as practical giving. It can be in the form of money or gifts.

In the past we’ve written checks to friends and family, donated to legitimate GoFundMe pages, and bought gifts for coworkers to show our appreciation for their hard work. We love this part of our budget.

4. After looking at this chart, it makes me want to put a lot more money toward retirement.

However, this giant amount toward savings goals is temporary as we have a baby due any day now and Jenna’s pay will be severely affected until August, right about the time we need to start paying for daycare. 🙁

5. Some of these categories are higher this month than normal.

For example we don’t usually spend $250 on clothes, but my wife is right at the end of her pregnancy and when your wife needs maternity clothes, you just buy them! 🙂

I also left off our mortgage because that feels like a pretty standard bill. If we didn’t have a mortgage payment, we’d still be paying rent so it’s unavoidable.

You could argue that we chose to buy a house, making it a priority, but it’s actually about $500 cheaper a month to pay our mortgage than it would be to rent.


Overall, I think it’s fun to look back at our spending and reinforce why we spend money the way we do.

Then if we don’t like our spending priorities, we have the power to change them.

Where You Spend Your Money Shows You What Your Priorities Are

Now that you’ve gotten a chance to look at your spending priorities, what do you think?

Are you happy with your list, or are your priorities out of alignment with what you truly value?

If you’re not happy with them, the cool thing is you can change your priorities at any time. Create spending limits to lower your spending on things you don’t value as priorities. If you’re spending too much money going out to eat, make a plan to change your habits.

You can start meal planning and meal prepping to eat more meals at home. It’s actually A LOT cheaper and I have some tips to help you get started.

If you don’t make an intentional plan with specific spending targets, it’s really easy to spend more than you’re comfortable with. And when you write goals down, they’re easier to remember and stick to.

You can always try to keep track in your head, but you’ll do much better if you write it down.

We keep track of our big goals in a Sinking Fund Tracker like this one.

Not All Priorities Are a Choice

If you looked at our list of spending priorities from 2017, the top line would’ve been student loans. We were in the home stretch of becoming debt free and put every spare dollar toward paying off those stupid loans.

Maybe you’re in this boat and you’re spending a lot of money to get out of debt.

It could be student loans or credit cards, either way it’s debt and it’s no fun to have. If you’ve got a lot of debt, you don’t have much of a choice but to pay it off.

Debt might not be a priority like investing in your retirement or spending time with family, but it’s a priority by necessity.

The good news is this type of priority is temporary. Once you pay off your debt, you’re free to spend that money on your true priorities!

If you need help tracking your debt and making a plan to pay it off, try my debt snowball spreadsheet.

We used this, along with our budget, to pay off $73,000 of debt in less than four years. It helps you create a plan for specific goals.

What Do You Value That’s Missing in Your Budget?

With a few years of budgeting under our belt, we’ve found there are things in life we wanted to be priorities, but didn’t have space in the budget.

This was crazy frustrating!

It took time to become debt free, but we were finally be able to add extra categories that we valued. It didn’t happen all at once, so we added these categories as we could afford them and they become a high enough priority for us.

Community Fund: Investing in real, true friendships is important to us, so we made a category in our budget for it. When our friends invite us out for drinks or food, that comes from the Community Fund.

We can also more easily attend guys/girls weekend getaways too. It’s already planned for, so it doesn’t affect our other goals.

Baking: my wife loves to bake. It’s calming, relaxing, and a true joy for her. It helps her introverted self recharge her batteries. We don’t spend much here each month, maybe $15, but planning ahead gives us permission to spend the money when she gets the urge to bake.

Plus I get delicious homemade goodies. 🙂

Love Languages: we don’t specify an amount here either, but keep it within a reasonable $50 or less. My wife feels super loved by gifts and I value quality time. Showing each other we love and value one another is a HUGE priority, so we don’t shy away from investing in our relationship.

If there are categories you want in your budget, but can’t afford it right now, that’s okay. Set a goal to motivate yourself to free up some income to invest in what you value. Cut expenses and do whatever it takes!

Not Everything of Value Can Be Measured in Dollars

I’m a budget nerd, so I love to use my budget to reflect on my life and what’s important to me. However, there are so many things you can’t measure with a dollar amount.

Going back to the start of this post, the things we truly value are most likely time with family and friends. Sometimes time costs money, but so many times it doesn’t cost a thing. The same goes for love, as J-Lo so eloquently put it. “My love don’t cost a thing…” 🙂

How to Create a Budget Based on Your Values
Never thought I’d ever quote J-Lo on my blog, but here we are.

Credit: Jennifer Lopez via Vevo/youtube

I cherish and put immense value on the memories I create with my family and friends. You can’t measure your memories in dollars or spreadsheets, but they’re crazy valuable.

It’s a bit cheesy, but it’s absolutely true. Take the time to reflect on your financial priorities and fine tune your spending. But also, invest in what really matters.

Okay, Do I Do Next?

I hope you have the basics of creating a budget based on your values. The next steps are to make a budget if you don’t already have one, with your values obviously :). Grab a monthly budget or annual budget from my Etsy Shop.

Then, once you have a budget, use it to get out of debt with a debt snowball spreadsheet. You can download one here.

Our budget and goals changed our lives. I hope it can change yours too.

Are you ready to be debt free?

A step by step guide to make your own debt snowball spreadsheet.

Fully customizable and easy to use video tutorials to get set up. Learn how to organize your debt, make a plan, and get debt free.

How to Create a Budget Based on Your Values

As an Educator and Personal Finance Blogger, Jamie has helped hundreds of families learn how to budget, save money, and pay off debt (go here to subscribe and start your debt free journey). Read our debt free story, “How We Paid Off $73,000 of Debt in Less Than Four Years”.

How to Create a Budget Based on Your Values

6 Responses

    1. Thanks! I’ve heard that quite a bunch, but never knew It was from Biden!

      Sounds like you guys are doing it right! We’ll be adding childcare in August so that will be right at the top of the list of values!

  1. Jamie, I respect the heck out your community fund, your tithing percentage and the delayed gratification you and your wife practice. It’s great to see the hard work paying off!

    For us, we’ve got big ticket items on child care, our business, and our house. We’ve also mandated a monthly date night this year. There’s nothing more important to me in the budget than this one – especially with all that’s going on. Nice work Jamie – keep at it!

    1. Thanks Mike! It took us a long time to work in the community fund but it’s so worth it! And now we’ll be adding child care in August, so that’ll take a big chunk out.

      That’s awesome you’re adding in the date nights. Family is a great place to place invest time and energy! Gosh I love budgeting!

    1. Happy to share! It’s important to me so I like to bring it up and honestly it’s been a huge part of our budget from day one so I think it’s important to share.

      Thanks for reading!

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