It’s been a little while since I’ve written an entire post regarding finances and budgeting, specifically. It’s been on my heart, though, because I’ve been thinking about the idea that even though we may not always like it, money makes the world go round. I’m absolutely not saying it is anywhere close to the most important thing. But I do acknowledge the power it carries in so many spheres, specifically to advocate for change.
Now, budgets aren’t as tricky as you may think. However, in all of my time learning about money, there is one topic that seems to be very often left out of the conversation: your values. This is a problem because everything, E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G should reflect back to your values. If you aren’t mindful of them at the time of a decision, I promise you will be able to look back and tell that they weren’t considered.
Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.Joe Biden
It’s true; you’ve got to put your money where your mouth is. I can tell you until I’m blue in the face what is important to me, but if I’m not willing to spend my dollars for it, it really is just talk. We all have monetary votes that we cast with every dollar we spend, and the important thing is to make sure that we match those dollars to what we deem important. So let’s talk budgeting. In this post, I’m going to walk you through not just how to budget, but how to make sure that you prioritize what you value when you set up your budget. We have to be intentional with our money.
Do you already have a budget? Way to go! Take this time to double check that you are practicing what you preach. Take this time to see if your spending aligns with what you say you value. Sometimes we don’t even realize what we are supporting when we spend our hard-earned money. Take time to evaluate those choices and see if who and what you support is in line with your values.
Do you need a budget? Perfect. This is your opportunity to make sure that you do it right. No more wondering if your money is making an impact. No more letting it control your world. Set your boundaries and be better for it. Make the world around you better for it, too.
Okay, are we ready? Let’s do it. First thing’s first: brainstorm with me a little. The following is a list of some ideals to get the juices flowing. What matters to you? Use this list to help write down your priorities:
- green energy
- women’s issues/rights
- climate change
- faith, morality, religion, spirituality, ministry, etc.
- financial security, financial freedom, financial IQ
- LGBTQ2S+ issues/rights
- low-waste living
- health and fitness
- the great outdoors
- mental health/mental health issues
- sports and recreation
- supporting local businesses
- arts and culture, languages
- racial justice
- animal rights
- affecting change (be specific)
Choose at least 2, but no more than 6 to start. Write them down, and remember, there is no wrong answer. Don’t choose something because you “should.” Be genuine and make your list authentically you. Of course you can adjust what you wrote down later, but it is crucial to do this step before writing out a budget to ensure that we allocate our money to the things that matter most.
Now that you have written down what you value, look at your list. Take a second to consider what you wrote: Is anything missing? Are you surprised at your choices? Does just reading through your list get you excited? Does it sound like the beginning to a life that you are passionate about? Awesome. Now we can move on to the nitty gritty.
Don’t let the word budget be scary. It’s just a plan to give every dollar a job. We all have jobs to do, and your money is no different. Here’s a simple checklist to help you start your budget. (If you already have a budget, grab it now and feel free to skim through the following steps to double check that you haven’t forgotten anything, or skip right to Step 6c)
1. Write down your total income. Note: this should be your post-tax amount, meaning that it should be what actually hits your wallet/bank account (as opposed to your salary number, etc.) If you work multiple jobs or have any additional money coming in aside, total them all up. If they vary, write down the lowest that it could be or a good estimated average.
2a. Write down every bill you have with the amount: rent/mortgage, water, phone, electric, gas, subscriptions, childcare, etc. These are your fixed expenses. If it is a bill that varies, choose the highest amount that it can be. NOTE: Be sure that you are accounting for savings in this step. Even if it is $5/month, your savings should be accounted for at the beginning of your budget, because it is so easy to run out of money and not get around to prioritizing this. Treat it like a bill, and pay yourself first.
2b. Take a hard look at this list. Consider if everything on it is necessary and/or brings value to your world. Consider ways to cut down or eliminate expenses that don’t serve you if possible.
3a. Write down every other thing you spend money on. This includes everything like groceries, eating out, gifts, gas, travel, clothing, charity, etc. These are your variable expenses.
3b. Now take a hard look at this list. Consider if everything on it is necessary or brings value to your world. Consider ways to cut down or eliminate expenses that don’t serve you.
4. Total up the numbers in steps 2 and 3. These are your total expenses.
5. Subtract the total expenses in step 4 from your total income in step 1 (Income – Expenses = Remaining). If your Remaining amount is a positive number, move to step 6c (or continue to 6a if you’re hankering for a more minimalist budget). If you end up with a negative number here, move to step 6a.
6a. Take another look at the items in step 3a. Begin to remove items that are not necessary, and decrease items that you are able to. Is there a cheaper phone plan (check out discount plans – I saved $110/month by switching to Visible) available to you? Can you receive discounts that you aren’t taking advantage of? Have you checked to make sure that you are getting the lowest rate for utilities and other bills? And can you for pete’s sake stop grocery shopping while hungry?! Have you shaved off as much as you can from this list? Great, step 6b here we come!
6b. Take another look at the number in step 1. What can you do to begin to raise this number? Do you have time in your schedule to work extra hours? Can you pick up a side hustle? Be reasonable, but be bold. Get creative. Here’s a list that may get the wheels turning, but my best advice is to get personal. A great side hustle is something that is YOU and that fits YOUR life and YOUR schedule.
6c. Take another look at the items in steps 2 and 3. Have your list of values next to you as you do. Are the values you mention reflected in your expenses? Is there room in any of these expenses to weave your values into them more? Begin to make plans to do so. If your remaining amount from Step 5 is positive, and you are already putting money into savings, brainstorm how you can make the biggest impact with this extra money. Consider the following.
I recently went back over my budget so that I could take an honest look at myself and how my values are reflected in my spending. Personally, I have always valued human rights & equality. In light of everything that continues to happen that reminds me that this world is not yet equal, I wanted to make sure that I am personally putting my money where my mouth is. There are all sorts of ways I can “vote” with my money:
- If I value the environment and I have a clothing line in my budget for example, this money could be spent on sustainable clothing brands or secondhand clothing. Supporting fast fashion is in direct opposition to my value of protecting the environment, so I can make a point to use my money at more sustainable companies. If travel is in my budget, I could be sure to offset my travel costs. I could walk, carpool, or use alternate transportation when possible (bonus: potentially cutting down on costs). I could choose to eat more sustainably while traveling. If I’m an athlete, I may choose to participate in local events, these sustainably certified events, or events at these venues and purchase more environmentally-friendly athletic materials when I’m ready for a new piece of gear.
- If I value racial justice, I might choose to make sure that a particular charity I believe in is written into my budget (here’s an amazing database). I might choose to support minority-owned businesses, (another list here, here and here) when it’s time to make a purchase. I might choose not to support businesses with a history of supporting things in opposition to racial justice, like profiting from prison labor or benefitting from the occupation of Palestinian territory.
- If I value mental health, I might choose to participate in a walk, run, or other event supporting mental health issues. I might set aside funds to donate to one of these organizations or these organizations. I might make sure I leave money in my budget to see a therapist or purchase an app. I might purchase gifts, clothing, or things from one of these businesses if I already plan on purchasing clothing, gifts or things this month.
- If I value arts, culture and language, I might use any spare funds to support musicians in a variety of creative ways. If I have date nights or family outings written into my budget, I may choose to find a local event, festival, or club to join on one of them. If I have clothing in my budget, I may choose to purchase from a local artist, minority owned company, or a band I believe in. If I am a person who enjoys fitness classes, I might consider enrolling in a dance class at a multicultural dance studio near me. Maybe I will choose to develop my own language skills by purchasing a language app or attending a class or workshop in my area. If I travel, I may research differences in other cultures and also choose to be a bit more mindful in how my travel affects the culture I am visiting and adjust accordingly.
These are just a few examples. I challenge you to get creative and see where there is room for change in your budget (let me know your plans ad ideas! I’d love to hear them, and they may help someone else). Sometimes, if the funds are available, you can add things into our planned spending to ensure we spend money on things that matter to us. If additional funds aren’t available, or you have a goal of minimizing spending for another reason, I encourage you to pay attention to how you’re spending the money in every category in your budget. This may be where you can effectively change the most, because they are things you are already doing, and can simply shift not what money is being spent, but where. Small changes make big impacts. Of course, there are ways to show up for your beliefs without spending a penny, and I encourage everyone to think about how to do this to put your values in your world if you haven’t already, but one of the most impactful things you can do is invest in the worlds of your values.
Money is empowering. If I’ve learned anything it is the following: first, almost everyone can do better with their money. Second, the money you spend should align with your values. If it doesn’t, either you don’t value what you say (and you should check yourself) or you don’t spend where you should (and you should check your spending).
Step 7: The last step of budgeting is, of course, maintenance. Set up a time that works for you to check in with yourself. This can be weekly, biweekly, monthly, or at the very least, quarterly. The more frequent these checks are, the shorter they could be, so determine what is right for you. For me, I do brief checks every other week, and a little bit longer once a month. Track your expenses, and see if you’ve stayed within your budget. If you have, great! Continue to check yourself, and make changes that align with your values and your wallet as you continue to grow. If you haven’t stayed within your budget, don’t despair! See where you fell short, and use that information to plan better for the upcoming month. You got this!
Get fired up! Commit to your list. Live out your values. Post them somewhere you can see, or at least list them in the comments below. Continue to speak life into the person you want to be.