Values and Budgeting – Part One

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Author John Maxwell is famous for countless best-selling books. He is considered America’s Expert On Leadership. I feel that title sells him short, as Maxwell also knows a thing or two about finances. While I have many favorite Maxwell-isms memorized, the following quote may be my favorite:

Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.

Why? I appreciate it for its simplicity. I appreciate it for its truth. And I appreciate its implications upon my finances.

To me, it is a call to action. I cannot halt change, whether it be in my personal life, career, or finances, no matter how much I may wish I could. But I can choose my response to change. I can choose to pursue growth.

But how?

A Growth Mindset Starts with Values

Many people choose to pursue growth by establishing goals and then striving to achieve them.  They develop plans, identify benchmarks to track progress, and dive in head first. While this is admirable and certainly better than wandering through life aimlessly, I believe this approach narrowly misses the mark. It reduces growth into a destination at which one may arrive rather than as a continual process.

In order to properly frame the pursuit of growth, I believe one must view it through the lens of values.

Values – Actionable But Not Achievable

Why are values the key to the proper pursuit of growth? Values articulate what is most important to a person. When a person has identified her values, she has realized the foundational reasons for the pursuit of growth. These are the reasons a person might provide when asked why they are so vigorously pursuing growth in a particular area. Goals alone do not serve to provide these foundational reasons.

For example, suppose Susan has identified a goal: to make the varsity basketball team. Again, the reasons “why?” could be a number of reasons. Perhaps Susan is motivated by competition. Perhaps friendships are a driving force. Or maybe she is seeking to follow in the footsteps of her older sister. At any rate, an end date is embedded within this goal. At the end of tryouts, Susan will have either achieved her goal or failed. Further growth will be halted as her motivation dissipates.

Now, suppose instead Susan has identified a set of values to support her pursuit of the aforementioned goal. Susan understands that Contribution, Fitness, and Achievement are the key values supporting the goal.  With these values underpinning her goal of making the basketball team, Susan is on the pathway toward continual growth. Her goal is not the sole motivating force, as the values drive and underpin the goal.

If you’re not buying my philosophy or nodding your head in agreement at this point, pause with me and consider the case of Michael Jordan. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Now, contrary to popular legend, Jordan was not cut from his high school varsity basketball team as a sophomore; he simply was placed on the jayvee roster. However, that fact is immaterial to our discussion. Had Jordan been solely motivated by a goal -to make the varsity basketball team- rather than values -such as self-worth, achievement, and challenge- he may have decided to turn away from the face of failure and focus on baseball. As you know, Jordan was driven to make the varsity team the following year. Of course, the rest is history. A commitment to his personal values made Michael Jordan the most-recognizable and arguably most-successful athlete of his time.

While goals are achievable, values are only actionable (but not achievable) in nature. Let me provide an additional example. I may set a goal to lose five pounds. When I achieve the goal, I have arrived. By arriving, momentum and motivation are halted. (This is why many people experience the “yo-yo” effect when pursuing weight loss.) When I identify Health as a value, I cannot “arrive.” I must continually seek to live out my desires to be healthy. Values sustain ongoing growth, while goals unsupported by values do not. This ongoing momentum – the drive to keep bettering oneself- is near to the heart of growth.

Aligning Values and Finances

If we accept the notion that change is inevitable, we would be wise to strive to make the best of it by choosing to pursue growth in everything we do, including our personal finances. Yes, to most effectively pursue growth, we should establish goals, but only after careful consideration is given to values. In my next post, we will outline how to identify values and implement a value-driven plan which will lead to the achievement of your financial goals.

In short, our process will become:

Identify values. Take action. Create positive change.


Readers, what are your goals? What are your values? Are they aligned? How do you strive to keep your goals fresh and at the forefront of your personal financial pursuits? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below.