Mastering the personal finance basics feels pretty good. Getting a firm grasp on your expenses and budgeting like a pro is a reason to celebrate—you’re building the foundation for a solid financial future! This, of course, goes hand in hand with looking beyond the short-term picture.
What are your long-term financial goals, and how are you preparing for them? It’s a loaded question that may trigger a good dose of anxiety. Pinpointing our financial priorities isn’t always so easy, but there is a way to bring everything into focus. According to financial therapist Clare Dubé, the most important piece of the puzzle is tapping into your core value system.
We’re talking values-led financial planning, and it’s a game changer. Here’s a quick guide for tuning into your personal values, then leveraging them to shape long-term financial goals that are tailored to you.
Dig Deep and Think About What Really Matters to You
It all begins with getting clear on what you want and why you want it. Set aside some time to take a deep dive into what really matters to you. It’s an exercise that should reveal your deeply held core values. Bestselling author Russ Harris, an expert on acceptance and commitment therapy, recommends something called the bull’s eye exercise. The heart of it is clarifying whether or not your current behaviors are in line with your values.
Other experts suggest making a simple list of values that stand out to you, like financial security, compassion, creativity, family and so on. Now ask yourself if your long-term financial goals support these values. You may find that you’ve been living other people’s values instead of your own.
“Make sure your values and goals are yours; not somebody else’s voice because sometimes we think they’re ours, but then we realize it could be a parent or grandparent who’s been chirping in our heads and we’ve carried that over,” says Dubé.
Let’s say you deeply value adventure and travel. A values-led approach may involve using some of your additional income to pad your travel fund before splitting the rest between your emergency savings and retirement account. This way, you’re saving for what matters to you most and also responsibly planning for the future. In other words, it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation.
Already Have a Specific Goal? Ask Yourself Why it Feels Important
You may already have a long-term financial goal that feels very dear to you, like saving up for a down payment on a house. Dubé suggests asking yourself why this feels so important. If your strongest core value is family, maybe that goal stems from a desire to raise your own family nearby to your parents. Getting clear on the value behind the goal will only help you stay motivated on your savings journey.
“Every purchase you make is based on some form of emotion,” says Dubé. “If you want to go backpacking in Europe, well why Europe? What is the feeling that you’re getting there versus backpacking locally?”
Share Your Values and Financial Goals with Your Partner
When blending your financial life with your partner’s, baring it all is critical—from debts to credit scores to long-term financial goals. Transparency is the name of the game here. The last thing you want is to be working toward something that’s incompatible with your partner’s values, or vice versa.
“First and foremost, you have to be open, honest and vulnerable in talking about what is important to you and why,” says Dubé.
If, say, you feel emotionally driven to start your own business, Dubé strongly recommends opening up to your partner about the why behind that dream. It may connect to you valuing the idea of making a positive contribution to the world. Sharing this value with your partner will help them understand your desire and be more supportive of getting on board with financial planning so you can move forward together as a team.
Make Your Financial Dreams a Reality
Some down-the-road financial goals are a no-brainer, like saving for retirement. But staying motivated seems tougher when the goal feels super abstract or downright impersonal to us. Again, leading with your values helps bridge that gap. From there, it’s about breaking big goals into bite-sized chunks, then working toward the finish line little by little.
Whether your dream is to sock money away to retire abroad or save up for unpaid parental leave in order to start a family, one truth remains—you’re more likely to succeed if you create a monthly savings target that you treat as a line item on your budget. The idea is to make your efforts automatic and routine.
Dubé recommends some other useful ways to remind yourself of the value behind your long-term goals. Let’s pretend you really value food and culture, so you’re saving for a dream vacation to Italy. Every time you set money aside for it, give those dollars a job. Maybe the $75 you save up this week represents a fabulous meal at a restaurant in Rome. The $100 you put aside next paycheck will help cover a food tour you’ve been daydreaming about.
“Think of it as buying it as you go,” says Dubé. “Then when you have the trip, you enjoy it completely; and when you come home, you don’t have the bills to pay afterwards. It provides instant gratification because you’re doing it as you go.”
Visualization can also go a long way in reaching your values-led goals. In a 2016 TD Bank survey, 82 percent of small business owners who’d consistently used vision boards said they’d accomplished over half the goals they originally targeted. Vision boards not really your thing? Dubé says that seeing numbers on a graph, like how much progress you’ve made toward a savings goal, can provide a major motivation boost.
All that really matters is that you’re working toward personalized goals that feel right to you. If they’re bolstered up by your values, you’re more likely to stay the course.