Summer Budget Challenge Part 2: Confessions of a Foodie

A few weeks ago I challenged you to discover your financial habits by tracking your income and expenses over the last month. If you missed it, check out the first segment of the Summer Budget Challenge. This week, I am continuing the Summer Budget Challenge with an article on evaluating your spending patterns and aligning your spending with your values.

Over the last month, I have been tracking my own spending on mint.com. I carefully categorized my income and expenses, evaluating the trends. To be completely honest, I didn’t expect to find much. Being a naturally frugal person and writing a frugal blog has kept me away from lots of bad spending habits. Yet, I was surprised when I found the majority of my budget (outside of housing expenses) was going towards food!

Anyone who knows me knows that I love to eat. I am self-proclaimed foodie. Restaurants are great, but I would much rather make a really fun, elaborate meal and have friends over. I love to cook using fresh ingredients. I don’t cut corners. If I indulge myself, it is generally in this area. Needless to say, my grocery bills frequently exceed my idealistic grocery budget.

Anyone who tracks their expenses and income, particularly if they are tracking it for the first time, is likely to find a few surprises. While awareness is a big step, what you do with this information is even more important. Begin by asking yourself: Does your spending align with your values?

In my case, while I enjoy eating good, healthy food and having company over, it is not the most important thing to me. My first priorities are giving and repaying my debt. If my love of food impinges upon my giving or my ability to make my debt payments, then something is wrong. While my habit has not quite gotten to that point, it is definitely in critical danger of doing so. When I create my new budget I will red flag this area making sure that I set solid boundaries that allow me to indulge my love of food without overspending.

How does your spending reflect your values? Over the next two weeks, evaluate your spending habits, align your spending with your values and begin to identify problem areas that should be addressed in your budget. Stay tuned for the next part of the Summer Budget Challenge: Creating A Budget.

Join the Conversation: What are the problem areas in your spending and how are you addressing them?

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Aligning Your Spending with Your Values

As graduate students it can be particularly hard to align our spending with our values because sometimes there just isn’t enough money to go around. However, it is still important for us to be conscious of our spending habits and how these align with our values. This is particularly important as you are creating or revising your budget.

Here is a simple process for aligning your spending with your values:

  • Make two columns.
  • Begin by listing the top ten things that you value in the first column. Don’t think too much about it, just write out the first things that come to mind. Your list can include specific items (house, new computer, saving for Italy, etc.) and/or more abstract values (adventure, philanthropy, art, friendship/love, etc.). Having trouble listing your values? Check out this resource.
  • In the second column, list the areas in which you spend (housing, dining out, clothes, travel, etc.) in order from highest to lowest spending. You can also do this with individual purchases, by putting different purchases on the same line as the value that they correspond with and see if the amounts match up.
  • Compare the two lists. Paula Pant suggests that you ask yourself: What opportunities am I missing as a result of the way that I am spending my money? What does my current spending say about me?
  • Depending on the disparity between your spending and your values, you might choose to restructure your budget around your values. While it can be difficult to organize all of your spending around your values as a graduate student, you might try this with your discretionary spending. For more information on budgets check out these articles on creating and maintaining a budget.
  • This list of values can also come in handy when you are making a purchase. Every time you consider purchasing something, ask yourself if it lines up with your values.

While it may be difficult sometimes, establishing good spending habits now can have a big affect on your future spending habits. So, why not begin aligning your spending with your values now when you have just a bit of extra cash and begin forming the habits that will guide your spending later when you have more discretionary cash?

Join the Conversation: What are your ten values?