Values: The Foundation of Life and Money

What we value drives much of what we do in life.  In some sense our values are one of the only things that no one can take away from us.  However, few people have spent any time in their life thinking about their personal values.  Rarely have we come in contact with families who can describe specific values they as a family live out each day.  Regardless if we have written them down or even thought about our values, we all have them, and this post centers on how to harness the power of values, specifically family values, to help shape and guide your life and finances.

What are values?

Let’s start with a basic description of what values are and are not.  Values are characteristics and behaviors that describe who we are and what is important to us.  They motivate and guide us in much of what we do each day.  For example, we would argue many of you as physicians value hard work.  If you didn’t value hard work and perseverance you wouldn’t be where you are today.  We’ve never encountered a lazy physician, especially one early in their career!

Values are not characteristics you strive to become.  They are not goals you want to achieve.  They are who you are, and, in many cases, don’t change over time unless you go through some life-changing experience.  Often our values develop when we are young, and if you look at your parents it’s likely many of your values come from them.  The older you get the more you start to see your parents in yourself.  Scary, isn’t it?!?!

Why do we need to define and understand our values?

This leads to the question – why do we need to understand and define our values?  There is great power in values.  They are the foundation for all that we do in life.  Think of values as a compass you can use to navigate the path of life.  Values help you determine what you should and should not do with the limited time you have in this life.

One key benefit to clearly defining your values is guidance in setting goals.  We’ll talk further in a future blog post about our goal setting process, but in the meantime know that if you don’t clearly understand your values you are likely to be focused on too many things and spread yourself too thin, which usually ends in not getting much accomplished. 

Values also provide kelp with saying “no” to things that don’t align with your values and goals, and “yes” to those that do.  We can’t remember a time recently when someone told us they were lacking in things to do.  Everyone seems to be busy these days.  When was the last time you asked someone how they were doing to which they responded, “I’m doing well, but I need more to do.  I have too much free time on my hands and nothing to fill it with.”? 

Family values and personal finance – is there a connection?

Personal finance and values also have a connection.  Look at what you spend your money on and you will quickly get a sense of what you value.  We don’t tend to waste money on the things and experiences we don’t value.  We wrote earlier that values generally don’t change once you are an adult, but we have seen people change who examine how they are using their finances and experience a life-changing revelation that leads to redefining their values when it comes to money. 

Money is a great revealer of the heart.

-Ron Blue & Karen Guess

When we have clearly defined values it can become easier to make better financial decisions.  Every major purchase can be evaluated with the questions, “How does this purchase tie into our family values?”, or “Does this purchase demonstrate what we value?”  If not, it may be an indicator that the purchase should not be made, especially if you are taking on debt to do it!

Creating your family values.

Determining what your family values are should not be something you rush through.  We suggest that over the period of a month or two you and your family work through a discovery process of establishing your values.

The first step is simply brainstorming potential values.  We suggest values that are 1-3 words in length to help in eventually memorizing them.  It also works best if each of your family members do the brainstorming on their own to ensure other family members don’t influence their thoughts. 

It’s all too easy to have one of the parents take a dominating role in sharing their list of possible values and then the others just agreeing without any discussion.  One way to avoid this influence is to write your ideas on post-it notes, and after combining all of them, have one designated person read them off so they are not associated with any particular family member.

Depending on the age of your children, assuming you have children, you can determine whether or not to involve them in the process of establishing family values.  Kids 10 and under should be a part of the process, but until they are over 10 they may not be able to contribute with coming up with the values.  Whether they are involved or not, your children will inherit many of your values if you are truly living them out.

To facilitate the brainstorming process consider using the following questions:

 What are we passionate about?

What do we care most about?

Where do we spend our time, treasure, and talent?

What makes our hearts sing?

Next, with a list of potential values, start creating values stories.  A value story is a way to confirm the values you have brainstormed are legit.  When in the recent past have you lived this value out in your lives?  Can you share several stories validating the value?  If you have no stories, then it’s probably not a potential value.  One or two stories in the past few years may also be questionable.  Remember, values are something you live out each day of your life, so the stories should quickly stack up if they are legitimate.

Once you’ve narrowed your list to only true values you can support with stories, select 10 or fewer that could make the cut and post them around your home to let them soak in over the next month.  It’s too easy to forget about these values if you don’t have a visual reminder in front of you each day.  Put them on the fridge, on the dashboard of your car, on your bathroom mirror or wherever you will be reminded of them frequently.  Whatever you do don’t rush this process!  Let the values soak in to help with the next step.

After some time has passed, as a family confirm the 3-5 values that best describe who you are.  Also, as a last step in validation consider sharing your final list of values with friends and extended family to ask if they agree with your choices.  Do they see these values in your family’s behavior?  Your values should not only be evident to you, but also to those you spend most of your time with. 

Modify as needed based on discussions and feedback, and then commit as a family to the values you have selected.  Another consideration is to post the values throughout your home as a reminder to you and your family and for those who enter your home.  We’ve found that posting our values is not only a great way to help us remember them, but also a useful teaching tool for our little ones.  They also make a great conversation starter for visitors since so few people have family values posted in their homes.  Who knows, perhaps the conversation could lead to others developing their own values.

Final thoughts.

A few parting thoughts as you get started in this process are to periodically share value stories with one another (i.e. family dinners – how did we live out our values today?).  Stories are a great way to engage with your family and get a boost of motivation and fulfillment while living out your values on a daily basis.

You should also review the values each year to make sure they are still who you are.  Use them to also set goals each year.  You should be able to see each of your goals in how they point to at least one of your family values.

One final thought is to avoid the canned list of values you may find online.  They may be a starting point to understand what values might be, but the process of establishing values shouldn’t be like going to Amazon and filling your cart with what you want.  We discover and reveal our values; we don’t select them.  We’d love to hear about your values.  How did you come up with them?  What are they?  How have they impacted your life and finances?  Share with us on social media or email us here.



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