The Des Moines Register, Tribune Media Service
Not a day goes by without an avalanche of news releases from financial advisers and investment firms who say one thing: Base money decisions on goals, time horizon, and risk tolerance.
True enough, but something more important is missing: Values.
I haven't seen a whole lot on the subject, so I was surprised--and
gratified--when I opened a letter on "Money Morals: Aligning Your Personal
Finances With Your Personal Values." It offered seven practical
values-based tips for guiding money decisions.
The letter came from Lutheran Brotherhood, a fraternal benefit society and
financial services organization.
"Everything you do with money has a value attached to it," said Nathan
Dungan, Lutheran Brotherhood vice president of stewardship.
Dungan said it is easy to underestimate the time and effort needed to
clearly define what you want and to build a financial plan around it.
It all starts in the home, by discussing your values with those closest to
you. If you have children, include them in the conversation as early as
you can. Otherwise, they are likely to get their "values" from the
commercial messages bombarding them on television.
"Marketers will try to grab the mind-share of children as early as 18
months," Dungan said. "Absent good values-based conversation in the home,
their philosophy is going to be shaped by outside marketing influences."
Here are the seven tips from Lutheran Brotherhood and how Georgina and I have
applied them to our own planning.
Think it through. To make values-based money management a reality, you need to know what's important to you. What do you cherish most? How do you
spend your free time? Georgina and I value security without ostentation
and the financial freedom to pursue satisfying and meaningful work while
also enjoying free time.
Evaluate spending. How you spend your money should reflect what you value. It's not "bad" to buy things as long as your spending doesn't prevent you
from focusing on what you cherish most. Georgina and I have tracked all
our expenses for 15 years to identify those that gave us the most pleasure
and those that were a waste. The more we do this, the less we waste.
Budget with values in mind. After looking at expenses and spending, develop a budget to reflect what really matters to you or make a plan for how you can phase in a revised budget, including a savings plan.
Our budget will always include savings, but it also allows for ample
"educational" expenses, such as books and visits to museums. We also set
aside more than enough to stay in touch with our daughter and son-in-law
who live in Virginia, including an annual family reunion trip to Disney
Protect future income. Surveys repeatedly show that most Americans value family more than anything else. Therefore, you need adequate insurance to make sure your loved ones are protected if you die or can no longer earn
income. Georgina and I shop for the best rates but do not skimp on
Save for goals. Saving for personal goals, such as your children's college tuition or your retirement, is a key aspect of values-based money
management. That's because the root of these goals is often a personal
belief or value. Knowing how much money we needed for me to be able to retire at 55 made it easier for Georgina and me to stay on track.
Give to a cause that counts. When choosing a charity, think about an issue that has touched your life or you feel passionate about. We favor the
American Cancer Society because both our fathers died of cancer.
Teach the next generation of spenders. The best way to teach children about values is through example because kids typically mimic their parents' habits.
Teach your children the three S's, Dungan said: sharing, saving, and
spending. Georgina made games that taught math and money skills to our
daughter while she was growing up, and we encouraged her to share and save
by matching her contributions.