There are plenty of ways to spend your hard-earned cash, but are they all necessary? Miranda Marquit organized her budget to reflect her values, and is happier now for doing so.

As children, we’re taught to measure success in terms of things. Where you fit in depends largely on what clothes you wear, the car your parents drive, and the electronic devices you own. When I was growing up, the epitome of cool in my social group was wearing “No Fear” clothing, collecting alt-rock/grunge music CDs (Google it) for use in a portable player, and owning a Game Boy for video gaming on the go.

The trappings of what’s cool change as time progresses, but it’s still mainly about things. In fact, the obsession with the things we’re supposed to have as we get older tends to overrun our finances. What modern middle-class household doesn’t have multiple TVs, more than one car, smartphones (even for the kids), and a host of other items that have somehow been transformed from luxuries into needs?

Unfortunately, this focus on the things we’re supposed to have leads us away from spending money on what really matters to us. We’re stuck paying for the five-bedroom, three-bathroom home we think we’re supposed to buy, and our disposable income goes toward purchasing things we don’t particularly care about.

Establish Your Core Values

It’s easy to feel dissatisfied with your financial situation when it feels like you never have the money to do what matters most to you. Several years ago, I looked around at all the stuff my family had acquired, and it didn’t make me happy. Although it marked me as someone who “fit” into my neighborhood, and it looked impressive when my siblings and cousins came to visit, none of it seemed to add value to my life.

I realized that my spending didn’t reflect my core values. My feelings of dissatisfaction with my life stemmed mainly from the fact that I still had a very juvenile view of spending money. As a Grownup, I don’t need to succumb to peer pressure, or spend money to impress others. I can forge my own path, and use my money for things that matter to me.

My husband and I sat down to figure out what truly matters to us. What kind of people do we want to be? Though some aspects of who we aim to be will alter slightly throughout time, we came to the conclusion that our core values include:

• Family.
• Helping others (charity).
• Preparing for the future.
• Providing learning opportunities and experiences for our son.

We also acknowledged that we have some different priorities in spending: I enjoy travel and my husband derives satisfaction from collecting high-end movie figurines. We realized that we also needed to make room in our financial plan for both of us to participate in what we enjoy separately. After meeting our shared goals, we wanted to make sure that we could enjoy our individual preferences.

As we reviewed our spending, we realized that going with the flow restricted our ability to adhere to our core values. We were always struggling financially and rarely happy with where our money was spent.

We decided to make some adjustments to our spending.

Cut Out What Doesn’t Really Matter to You

Cutting back is not something to fear. After all, it’s not really a sacrifice if you’re cutting out what doesn’t really matter to you. Rather than spending on the same things everyone told us we needed, we began examining our purchases.

One of the things I realized was that I spent a lot of money on nonessential items that I thought were nice to have. Things that don’t bring lasting happiness to my life, and go unnoticed after only a few weeks. Cutting those items from my life didn’t feel like a sacrifice at all. I started looking at purchases as barriers to going on trips. I realized that the money spent could either go toward an item that could sit on a shelf, or I could use it for a travel experience. A purchase has to be something special for me to give up traveling, which I love. “This is a weekend getaway,” or “That could be another $100 toward a trip to Europe,” were ways I reflected on my spending.

When my husband and I were contemplating buying a new TV, we stopped short. Everyone we know – including my younger brother – bought 56-inch and 64-inch TVs. Our 32-inch TV seems pitiful in comparison. But after some deliberation, we realized that we didn’t really want a bigger TV. We don’t watch that much television, and in our smaller living space, a bigger TV would not only be unnecessary, but it would also look somewhat ridiculous.

Buying a bigger TV wouldn’t help us reach our main financial objectives. It would mean limiting some of our charity efforts for a couple of months, or putting off enrolling our son in an educational extracurricular program. We still have a 32-inch TV – and we don’t feel bad about it. In fact, it feels good to know that we didn’t waste our money on something that would be novel and fun for about two months, and then grow stale.

We stopped buying useless tchotchkes and got rid of subscriptions we weren’t using. Now, before we spend money, we ask ourselves if we will have to give up what really matters to us in order to make a purchase. We also periodically review our values and priorities, since sometimes what matters to you changes as you progress through life. Part of being a Grownup is growing. What matters to you now (like paying off debt) might be a focus later as your finances improve. You can adjust your spending priorities as your situation changes.

Many of our spending choices no longer match up with what our peers are doing with their money. We realize that we don’t have to justify our choices to anyone else. We are content with our spending, and we know that our resources are directed in a manner that gives us peace and fulfillment.

What do you spend money on now that you could eliminate or decrease in your monthly budget, Grownups? Tell us why you are or are not content with your current spending habits in the comments section.

Miranda Marquit is a freelance journalist specializing in money topics. Her work has appeared on numerous financial websites including Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, Wise Bread, AllBusiness, and Huffington Post. When not writing, Miranda enjoys spending time with her family, reading, traveling, and enjoying the outdoors.

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