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Aligning Your Spending with Your Values Vs. What You Value

A common theme in personal finance advice is to align your spending with your values, but the advice that follows often focuses not on values at all, but on value — that is, what you value. Here’s how that might play out:

Get your spending in line with your values, and spend only on the things that truly add happiness to your life. If you love watching football more than anything, then spend shamelessly on your NFL Sunday Ticket, but if TV is just a distraction from the rest of life, then cut that cord and never spend another cent on cable. — Hypothetical personal finance expert

Which — don’t get me wrong — is GREAT advice. I wholeheartedly agree. But that’s about value, not values. (Does anyone say “football” when asked about their personal values?) And I think it’s worth talking about the values side of the discussion, too. So let’s do that.

Aligning your spending with your values vs. what you value // Consider whether your spending supports only what adds value to your life vs. supporting your personal values, adding value to others' lives.

What Do You Value? Vs. What Are Your Values?

If you’re on the financial independence path or you’re already FI, there’s approximately a 100 percent chance that you’ve already done the hard work of examining what you truly value in life. And that’s so important! Many people unknowingly make the mistake of spending money on things they don’t actually value, or that don’t add value to their lives, and doing so holds them back from freeing themselves of the requirement to work for money forever.

Not to mention that spending only on what you value often allows you to spend more, and to do so shamelessly, on the things, activities and people that you enjoy the most. That is wonderful!

For example, we love not having to shovel our whole, long driveway when it snows two feet at one time, like it’s supposed to do tomorrow. So it’s worth it to us to pay a snowplow service. And we love a good bowl of pho, and had a pho date yesterday (and will probably make pho tomorrow), which costs money that is, to us, money well spent.

But our values are not “outsourcing snow shoveling” and “eating pho.” Those are things we value, sure, but our values are bigger.

Our values are focused on fairness and equality, and the ability of everyone to live a great life, not just those who can do it at the expense of others. Our values are what make us committed environmentalists who believe in not using more than our fair share of the planet’s resources at the expense of future generations and other species we share the planet with.

Our values aren’t at all original, but they don’t have to be. All that matters is that they reflect deeply what we believe and care most about. That’s true for your values, too.

Is Your Spending Aligned to Your Values?

This isn’t necessarily an easy question to answer.

I’ve written before about the responsibility those of us who are financially independent have to give charitably — not just of our time, but of our money, too. Other than linking to that post, I’m not going to focus on that. This isn’t about charitable spending, but about routine spending.

Related post: Our Triple Bottom Line // Balancing Frugality With Our Values

The research is clear that the people who live the longest and are the happiest and most fulfilled in retirement are those who live with purpose. And what better purpose than to live your values, a big component of which is spending according to your values!

Shopping local is a great example of spending according to personal values as opposed to what you value. Because while you might value the altruistic feeling from giving your money to a local business instead of to a global megacorp, you are also likely spending a little more to buy from Mom and Pop Corner Store than from a massive discounter online. That’s values spending all the way.

Same goes for choosing one store over another for reasons that don’t have to do with price, like how I’d rather shop at Costco, which consistently gets the highest marks for worker satisfaction and offers solid benefits, than at Sam’s Club, which doesn’t. (And admittedly, we shop at neither, because don’t get Mark started on what happens when you give people giant shopping carts, free samples and sensory overload.)

Choosing not to buy cheaply made crap is a great example of a place where value and values can overlap — you know you’d have to replace that thing at some point anyway, so you’re not getting great value out of it, but you’re also refusing to waste resources on something disposable, which is more values spending.

Take a look at how and where you spend your money, and ask yourself whether you’re leaning more toward value, more toward values or find yourself somewhere in the middle.

Putting People Before Money

We’ve made some financial choices in the interest of helping people we care about that are not exactly monetarily optimal. We made a fairly substantial personal loan to a relative to help clear some relative debt, despite the advice of experts who advise never to do such a thing, and in fact to many readers here who warned us against it. I’m thrilled to say that it’s worked out perfectly well so far, even though we would have made more money investing in the markets than we’ve made off of loan interest.

We also bought a rental property that was not part of our plan to rent to a different relative, and we based the property choice far more on that person’s needs than on what our cash flow from it would look like. That’s working out perfectly well, too, though again, we would have done better on the money side investing in the markets instead.

We’re happy with both of those decisions because they align to our values, and that overrides the desire to grow our investments. (Not that they are bad investments, they are just suboptimal investments.)

One of our core values is that people are more important than money, and while that doesn’t mean that we’re out here giving all our money away, it means that we’re willing to make some suboptimal financial decisions in service of that.

Because, truly, what good is having money if you can’t use it to help people you love or to support your own personal values? 

Related post: What’s Our Money Really For? // There’s More to Life Than Future Goals

Using Your Spending Power for Good

The power that each of us has as consumers and spenders in the economy is no secret. Boycotts have a long and colorful history, and have been successful countless times in getting companies to change their policies. And consumers voting with their dollars have made successes of social impact companies even if they didn’t necessarily provide the best value out there in absolute terms. See TOMS shoes, for example, which are not the best or most durable shoes, nor the best priced shoes. But they give a pair of shoes to someone in the developing world for every pair of shoes purchased, and that’s built them a loyal following of people willing to pay more to support their mission.

So thinking of your dollars as votes — just as Your Money Or Your Life taught us to see money as a representation of our life force — is another important way to align your spending not just to what you value, but to your values.

And that means thinking not just about where you shop and what you purchase or don’t purchase, but about your spending power writ large. For many of us, that means taking a look at where our investments live, as they are our largest asset and greatest power for leverage.

It might be pushing your company to offer a socially responsible investing option in your 401(k). It might be asking your investment brokerage why they refuse to pressure assault rifle makers to change their business and marketing practices, for example, when that brokerage is the second largest shareholder in the gun makers, and when 70 percent of the American public supports commonsense gun regulations. (It might also be signing a petition to show how many customers care deeply about this.) It might be pressing a company whose stock you own to treat its employees better or to adopt more responsible environmental practices. It could be anything, really.

Whatever causes speak most to your personal values, it’s worth thinking about how you can use the power of your assets or spending to make your voice heard, or to give voice to the needs and concerns of those who don’t have the same power you do.

How Do You Align Your Spending To Your Values?

We’d love to know — do your values come into play in your spending decisions, and if so, how? Or do you focus more on value? There’s no shame in that, of course, and often the best way to get on the FI path is to focus first on value, and then as you become more financially independent, to shift more toward values. (But there’s also no reason why you have to wait to become FI to focus on values.) Let’s chat about it in the comments!

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75 replies »

  1. This is a great article. I’d say that a lot of my spending goes with value not values at this point.

    One thing about TOMS shoes… their mission is actually hurting the local communities… and the people don’t need or want the shoes. Adam Conover did a good 4-5 minute video on the situation – http://www.trutv.com/shows/adam-ruins-everything/videos/adam-ruins-buying-shoes-for-charity.html.

    I think I may have once answered “football” when talking about values ;-). #DoYourJob #NoDaysOff #NotDone

  2. Nice post. One of the ways I align my spending is one that you mentioned – small/local shopping vs Global Megacorp. I mainly do this with coffee shops. I refuse to go to Starbucks, and loathe them. Not only have they destroyed eccentric and cool coffee shops all over the country, their coffee sucks and is way overpriced.

    My main problem with Starbucks and “chains” in general is that they’ve homogenized America. Everyplace looks the same now. At the risk of sounding like Grampa Simpson, when I used to travel around the country back in the day, different places were mostly unique. They had waaay more local stores, with names that were tied to the local geography and history. It was awesome variety and diversity.

    Now, everything’s the same everywhere. You could literally kidnap and blindfold someone, drive them to a major commercial road near any big city in America, take their blindfold off, and ask them where they are. They wouldn’t be able to tell!! It’s all the same damn stores!

    Every Starbucks looks exactly the same inside as every other Starbucks. This is no fun, and it puzzles me why people gravitate to that.

    Rant over :)

      • Yes! It’s so depressing that every place you go has exactly the same stores. Though on the bright side, I can find anything at any Home Depot in under 2 minutes. ;-)

    • And now for my little rant…

      I would like to point out that Starbucks did not destroy any other coffee shops — Starbucks’ CUSTOMERS destroyed the other coffee shops. As Tanja pointed out, customers vote with their dollars. Nobody is forced to change their coffee-drinking habits when a new Starbucks opens in their town. If people continued drinking coffee at their regular establishments, a Starbucks would open, not a single customer would walk through the doors, and the Starbucks would close within a month. Instead, thousands of CUSTOMERS change their purchasing habits and switch to Starbucks. Same with Walmart and every other big box store. The corporations don’t destroy other businesses — the customers do when they vote with their dollars.

      Like Tanja is doing, I try to align my spending with my values. I value the rainforests, so I don’t drink coffee or consume anything else directly tied to rainforest destruction (cashews, palm kernel oil, coconut oil, etc). None of these items are essential for me to eat/drink. No amount of greenwashing (“fair trade” and “certified stewardship” BS) will make it acceptable to replace rainforests with monocrops. If it were up to me, coffee shops wouldn’t exist at all. To me, coffee a ridiculous luxury that no self-respecting environmentalist would indulge in. I’m well aware that I’m in the severe minority and people with their caffeine/coffee addictions might take offense to this, but oh well..it’s my values and priorities, not theirs :)

      • That is a daring position to take and I respect you for being so committed. I think about changing my omnivore eating habits and getting rid of coffee because it is more ethical. I hope that by paying attention to the sources and enjoying only 1 cup of coffee a day and limiting animal protein intake, my impact is lessened but I hadn’t considered the cashews and palm oil stuff thoroughly. I appreciate the inspiration and think I can do better in this area.

      • I think it’s a bit of both. As someone who just spent a career in marketing, I know for a fact that marketing works in getting people to act against their own interests, and it manufactures a need that’s not there. (No one “needed” a latte before Starbucks came along. Most people didn’t know what a latte was!) So I think putting all the blame on the customers ignores the power of marketing, which is no small thing. But of course you’re right that if people didn’t want Starbucks now, they could be put out of business very quickly.

        And big kudos for all of your enviro choices. I’d argue you can still be a self-respecting environmentalist and drink coffee, but I respect your views on this too! ;-)

    • Oh man, but Starbucks really does make the best nitro coldbrew of anyone. ;-) No shade, though. I totally respect that choice! And it’s SO DISHEARTENINGLY TRUE that most places are the same now. I used to enjoy seeing the local shops when traveling, and now it’s just all so standardized. Womp womp.

  3. You’ve hit the nail on the head in regards to value vs values. Oh how I’d love to pay for first class air travel… but no.

    As far as gun control is concerned, I think you and my husband could have a very good conversation here. Sadly, most of the “conversations” are just yelling at each other or talking in echo chambers where nothing gets done. Here’s to hoping our country is finally on its last straw and we can see some real change happen for good.

    • Thanks! And yeah, I loooooove flying in first class, but I will never pay cash money for it. ;-) I do wish more of those conversations would happen around guns (and many issues, honestly!). When I first posted the petition on Twitter, several people responded back yelling at me, and they were genuinely taken aback when I responded civilly. It makes me all kinds of sad that civility is now a surprise. :-(

  4. Loved this! I didn’t even register the different between “value” and “values” when reading the title, but you explained it so beautifully, and it’s SO TRUE.

    I’ve definitely made values money choices in general consuming — supporting local artists and the like. Clothing is a big values choice as well. Food actually not so much, but the cheap nearby grocery store also happens to have a good reputation in terms of treatment of staff.

    Oh, one small thing I do that I never hear people talk about is actually paying for the premium versions of apps I use regularly. Side benefit is the lack of ads, of course. ;)

    • Thanks, my friend! It’s the BEST when you can make a choice that aligns to both value and values, like with your local grocery store. And I’m with you on apps! I have bought several because I want to respect the work that went into it… and I hate ads. ;-)

  5. Terrific post. Makes me want to ask the question: how to invest if one wants their investments to reflect their values? My understanding, don’t know if still accurate, is that socially responsible fund returns seriously lag the returns of, say, a total stock market passive index fund. And I’ve read from several good sources, including a post by Mike Piper (Oblivious Investor blog) years ago that socially responsible investing doesn’t really accomplish what one thinks one is attempting to do. Can’t remember the argument exactly but something to do with you’re just driving the price up of the ‘bad’ stocks you’re trying to avoid, or something like that….

    • The bigger problem is actually the crazy upsetting fact that most “socially responsible” funds still include gun makers and a whole host of stocks that most people would not consider particularly responsible! So you trade bigger gains for the warm fuzzy feeling of doing the right thing, but you aren’t actually doing the right thing at all. There is sadly no good answer here. If I ever decide to go back to work, maybe I will start a truly socially responsible brokerage. ;-) BUT, if you’re specifically thinking about guns, you can avoid those stocks by investing in the S&P 500 funds instead of the total market. Returns are nearly identical and you avoid a few bad guys.

  6. Love the post and happy that you are, seemingly, feeling better. I agree 100% that money is a tool. To collect tools and never use them is senseless. I have gotten the most satisfaction in my life when I used my money to benefit others vs. things that I have bought for myself. Glad to hear that you guys share with family and do good for causes that align with your values.

  7. Hopefully people will spend with their values in mind. Of course step 1 is figuring out what their values are. In this age of instant “viruses” (I’m not sure how to describe an event, circumstance, or incident going viral), it is difficult. It seems like if you have a viewpoint that is different, you are instantly an enemy.

    Take guns. You and I most likely hold different views. I have a gun safe full of guns and you probably don’t. Still you appear from your website to be a reasonable person. I would like to believe I too am reasonable. Reasonable people should be able to sit down and figure out that there are perhaps certain weapons that shouldn’t be legal. Privacy matters. But maybe overriding public good makes it necessary that mental health issues make it into background checks and the clerk at the gun store sees the issue so he/she can deny people with said issues their attempted purchase. Rifles and shotguns may be just fine being sold to an adult, but perhaps it’s reasonable to restrict sales to those under the age of majority. Etc. Or maybe I’m all wet and none of these are good ideas.

    I’m not as certain about boycotts, or other “stands” against companies that invest in gun maker’s, etc. Again, the whole virus thing. We have a lot of people in this country and there can be a lot of unintended consequences. Like you, I try to avoid stores like WalMart. My values are more inward looking on this issue than yours. They are just crowded behemoths that I don’t like being in. Still many peoples’ 401(K) plans have index or other funds invested in WalMart. I bet there is a truck driver out there right now that really wants us all to shop at WalMart so he can keep his job. Is his earning a living less important than the small shop owner’s right? Or giant pension funds like the California Teacher’s Pension. I would imagine if you dig into these large funds, there are many small people that depend on those funds getting decent returns be they invested in giant multi national stores or gun manufacturer’s or even fast food companies or those companies that process foods that aren’t altogether healthy to eat (“I saw a documentary on Netflix that says meat companies mistreat cows and chickens – now I’m a vegan and you should be too or do you hate animals?”). A giant boycott against gun manufacturer’s or big sugar or anyone else that someone who is good with a video or can write a catchy 140 odd character sentence could catch fire in this age of hash tag this or that and end up really hurting some 80 year old former teacher that is trying to survive and maybe enjoy a well earned retirement from year’s of teaching.

    What I am trying to say is that most issues, whatever they are, have people for an against for a variety of reasons. And most of those people have legitimate reasons to be for or against whatever issue it is. It is the swaying of others that starts to worry me. Maybe you are able to swing the democrat party into being for or against some issue. Now instantly 1/2 the country is on the other side and it doesn’t matter why except that the democrats are on “that” side. “Since democrats are for it, I must be against it” says a republican. “Well what he said must be true because he took the time to put together a 5 minute video that some organization tweeted me – now I’m going to boycott them and retweet the video to all of my internet friends and suggest they join my boycott”. Or Kim Kardashian says company A uses child labor in Bangladesh – Kim is smart, let’s all stop buying from them immediately.

    By all means, follow your values. Everyone should. But everyone needs to also chill out a bit and realize that the guy in the cube next to yours at work or the gal down the road may not share that same value and just because he or she doesn’t, doesn’t necessarily make them a bad person. I don’t know how to do it, but people need to sit down and figure out how to meet in the middle again. We could all learn a lot from Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill.

    End of my rant. I really enjoy your site and hope your next life is wonderful. I need to figure out how to cure my one more year syndrome and join you. Have a great time!

    • It might shock you to know that I own a gun and have personally killed multiple animals. I don’t like that I had to do that, and I didn’t enjoy it, but I did it to protect our property. Mountain life is different from city life, that’s for sure! I say all that because I do think it’s easy to assume that I must be totally anti-gun if I wish 1.) Not to get rich off the sale of weapons of war and the murder of children, and 2.) For the brokerage where we have invested a literal fortune to use its leverage to force certain companies to be better corporate citizens. If we had lawmakers who were willing to act on commonsense reforms that the vast majority of Americans support, or if the gunmakers themselves would focus more on safety and not be so bossed around by the NRA, then I would have no interest in pushing for divestment. But sometimes there are no perfect solutions. When that’s the case, I don’t believe in throwing up my hands and doing nothing, and I’ve been around in the world of social change long enough to know that there are multiple ways to go at a problem.

      One modification I’d ask for, though, is to pull back the mental health argument from the gun debate. We run a real danger with the current gun control discussion of further stigmatizing mental illness. Data show almost no link between mental illness and violence, and to suggest that that’s the answer here will 1.) not fix the problem, and 2.) only make it harder for mentally ill people to get the care they need. We need to think harder on this issue and not worsen the stigma that’s already there. Okay, end of my rant. ;-)

      But to your larger point, I think it’s an important reminder that we should all live our values, but — I’m going to add on to what you said, and am not putting words in your mouth — those values MUST include empathy for others and some attempt to find common ground. We’re in a place right now where that’s sadly out of too many people’s values set, and it’s a tragedy.

      All of that said, I appreciate your comment and the thoughtfulness behind it. Thoughtfulness is always welcome here. :-)

  8. i only buy wine at paradise wine. https://www.facebook.com/paradisewinebuffalo/ . they only sell organic, biodynamic, and/or sustainably farmed wines. i don’t care about those particular qualities and could save a lot of money and have more choices out in the suburbs (but would break out in a rash even approaching the ‘burbs). i buy only from them because they’re my friends and they represent the little guy/gal. and they’re right down the street and i can walk there.

  9. Ohhhhh that’s an excellent distinction between “value” and “values” that I’ve never actually considered. I’m definitely spending more for value these days, although it’s not that my values never enter the picture (especially when it comes to environmental impact). There’s a lot for me to consider here.

    Although I did just spend a couple hundred last night on my values for another plane ticket. Visiting friends is always worth spending the money!

  10. Great post! This is why I keep coming back here!

    Our retirement payout is from the rental properties. We have decided to invest in multiple mid-low income apartment, that yield is 4-6.6% net income. It’s enough. We could rent them through Airbnb, we could try to mark up the prices. We could raise the rent to our tenants yearly. But we chose not to. Our ROI is satisfactory, and we would rather see families, of young professionals being able to rent long term, than be a part of the price hike on our property market, where many people get outpriced from their cities. This creates urban sprawl, congestion, damages environment. It is against our values, so we do not want to be a part of it.

    Another way we spend the money with our values is through the green solutions. We bought a new car this year, first time ever, and replaced two diesel cars with one hybrid, purchased new. It slowed us down a bit in our retirement plan but we live in a very polluted city, so we did not want our diesels to contribute to the air problem. Plus: hybrid and electric cars will only get popular if people who can afford them will actually buy them.
    We did the same with solar panels: purchased them last year, feels to us like we are being ambassadors of green energy in our community, and this was definitely money spent according to our values!

    • I bought a hybrid in 2005 for similar/parallel reasons to yours, and I couldn’t be happier! It’s still going strong (although admittedly, we don’t drive much) over 13 years and almost 200k miles later! At the time I said, I know I’m paying more for the hybrid, but I’d prefer to pay this car manufacturer (a pretty decent one in the context of car manufacturers) more money than to pay oil companies for more gas. My dollars were voting for the hybrid manufacturer and market rather than fossil fuels. It’s also required minimal repairs/maintenance and been an awesome outdoors car, taking us down some pretty hairy 4×4 roads, and is just big enough for us to sleep in the back with the seats laid down, so super practical as well. I hope you love yours!

    • Thanks so much, Agata! You guys are amazing for your approach to landlording! So many places have an affordable housing crisis (especially here in California and in mountain towns — so we have the double whammy), and it’s been magnified by long-term rentals being turned into short-term rentals in large numbers. I so admire you putting your values ahead of profits! <3 Kudos for the green choices, too!

  11. What a coincidence – I just watched Food, Inc. last night (yes on Netflix, but no, I’m not vegan and I’m not going to demand that all readers become vegans, but this could very well be the documentary Anonymous refers to above!) and they used the exact same words – your dollars are votes. Every time you shop, you are voting. I hope in RE I use a little of my extra time to investigate the brands I buy a little more deeply. I’ve seen several apps for that over the years (scan a barcode and you can see the parent company and what kinds of “issues” they are affiliated with), but they never seem to have taken off? What could make them easier/more desirable to use?

    In answer to your question, we shop a lot at a local co-op, but not completely. They have great prices on some things (produce) but not on others (cereal, ice cream, other stuff I should probably eat less of anyway). But a significant reason we don’t shop there more is because it is SO well-loved in our community that it’s honestly too stressful to shop there during our common weekend or evening shopping hours. When I RE, maybe I can go during more bearable hours!

    I also am not renewing Amazon Prime in a few days! It was worth it in the past to purchase low-cost supplies for a sick family-member with ease and speed. I lost her a couple weeks ago, sadly. And this is really making the tiniest glass of lemonade out of a lot of lemons, but I’m taking the opportunity to cancel Amazon Prime and make sure that I don’t impulse shop for myself there at all. I don’t use their music or photo platforms, and I don’t find their movie/TV selection to be worth the cost of Prime alone, so I think this move will support my values and force me to find different retailers for the few personal things I have bought from them.

    • I’m so sorry you lost your loved one. :-( I think it makes total sense to cancel Prime — you can still use subscribe and save and get the full savings without Prime, so you’re not cutting off all your Amazon options. The offered me a free student Prime membership (no idea why!) and I accepted it, and am looking forward to seeing what Whole Foods discounts come from it, but otherwise get no value from it either. And I hear you 100% on the co-op! I can confirm that it’s far better shopping mid-day during the week, so perhaps that will be more appealing once you get to ER. ;-)

  12. After 4 years of walking along a FIRE path, I am just now digging into YMOYL, so this is a very timely post. One expense that jumps out as against my values is dry cleaning! Although it supports a local business, it hurts the environment, probably is not good for my body or my clothes, plus I only dry clean because I have to look fancy at work! Fortunately, I only dry clean items occasionally, but still, I hate handing over my credit card every time. This values-based purchasing approach is also shaping how I am shopping for a new bike, looks like I’ll likely purchase from a local bike shop and pay a little more (after scouring Craigslist for 6 months) instead of a larger chain.

    I really struggle with food and environmental impacts, it seems like no matter what I eat is a detriment to the earth. I no “no animals” and “eat local” is the drum beat, but how else to people navigate this?

    • Agreed, Kate, it can be hard to feel confident about food. I see recommendations for buying organic and from farmer’s markets, but I’ve also heard “greenwashing” happens in both areas – organic might not be meaningful, particularly for some foods, and that some big chains are sending people in to sell wares at farmer’s markets in the guise of being…farmers! I don’t know how much of this is true or not (as with many things, RE might afford me the time to research more carefully), but it at least seems like a farmer’s market, where you can casually ask the vendors where their farm is, etc., might be a partial answer.

      Do you have room for a small garden or window boxes to grow a few things yourself? We are struggling with this, living in an urban environment, but hope to come up with some ideas. We’ve managed some herbs so far and, since we never manage to use all the parsley we buy before it goes bad, growing it at home and picking as we use can at least minimize our food waste.

      Oh, one other thing I’m going to explore more (maybe before RE) is OLIO. It’s about reducing food waste, which could be a huge environmental benefit regardless of the source. It seems like it launched more successfully in Europe/UK so far as even in my major American/liberal market there’s not a lot of traffic. But I’m interested in trying it out and (if successful) helping it grow when I have more time.

      • I second farmer’s markets! And I often buy from nonorganic certified vendors if I know what their practices are and know that they are doing things the right way. Those certification labels are so reductive and hide bad practices as well as exclude farmers doing good things but who can’t afford to pay for certification or have some other little circumstance that doesn’t harm the food or me. And don’t underestimate what you can grow in a city! We had a suuuuuuuper productive balcony garden when we lived in LA, and while the growing season there was long, I realized that you can pack a ton into a small space. If only we didn’t have 300+ days of frost in the mountains… I miss my little container garden! ;-)

    • I hope you enjoyed YMOYL! And YES! I feel your pain on dry cleaning. And you didn’t even mention the crazy sexism in dry cleaning pricing. >:-( Several years back, we decided to stop buying anything that required dry cleaning, and to experiment with washing some of that stuff anyway. Big finding: plenty of “dry clean only” stuff does just fine in a gentle cycle and air dry with gentle ironing! As for the food stuff, I don’t believe there’s a perfect solution, so don’t drive yourself crazy trying to be perfect. Just do your best with the bulk of your choices (kind of the 80/20 rule, if you will), and then don’t stress about it. No matter how well you do, there will always be someone out there telling you you’re destroying the environment for this or that choice, so I recommend tuning that stuff out and listening to your inner compass. ;-)

  13. So I have a side topic that goes along with this topic…. Over the course of the past 10-11 years, I came to a realization that if I am going to highly value my own time and money, I must also value others’ time and money similarly. I feel strongly that people must be paid fairly and not just the ones who work at Costco (who by all accounts are paid fairly and have great benefits) but the ones I pay directly. I had a house cleaner come every other week during my working years and while I could have paid her less, I always felt I must pay her fairly so paid an amount that was commensurate with a decent hourly wage. Babysitters who take care of my child… And finally, the myriad of contractors who have worked on my house over the years. Yes, I could have done some things cheaper and at times I hired a contractor who would then subcontract out to someone else and I ended up tipping the sub at the end of the project since I knew the lead dude wasn’t paying the person he hired very well. I’m not sure if I’m explaining myself well but by valuing other people, it also made it easier to value myself and felt like I was paid fairly and as far as I know, all the contractors I’ve hired were happy working for me, my house cleaner is like family though I clean my own house now, and I don’t seem to have a problem hiring a great babysitter ever (I pay cash and a solid hourly rate). Sure I could have scrimped and saved along the way but I’ve let my money be a reflection of how I value people and I have zero regrets.

    • You ARE explaining it well, and this is awesome! I see WAY too many frugal people stiff others in the service of valuing their own time, and this is class A hypocrisy as far as I’m concerned. You rock for truly living your values!

  14. Great post! I view my dollars spent as little votes I am making to ‘bet’ on my values. Like you and your husband, there are certain stores and items which I refuse to spend my money on. It’s all about betting on your values.

  15. My values include paying people fairly for their services. I have a small business that is in the red, but it does the kind of do-goodery work that many people want to associate with. So many people have offered to volunteer for my business. I do not allow it. I pay you for your time and expertise. Just as I charge for mine. I cannot exploit people’s labor. And I’m not a non-profit. There are other ways to give to the community.

    Another example is paying artists properly for their work. I have self-published a little bit. I could have gone on fiverr and purchased some cover art for under $10, but that would have left me feeling gross. I found an artist who sells out of her own website for under $200 and just updates a cover she’s created, but not yet sold, with the proper author information. She set her own fair prices and I got to not feel like I was exploiting a loophole in e-commerce.

    • You rock for taking this view of other people’s worth! Too many people who engage in frugality for the sake of freeing up their own time do so by exploiting others — maybe not directly, but it’s still happening. This isn’t to say we have to pay full price for everything, but it’s worth doing as you do and asking yourself the question at least of what happens when you get something for cheap. Props, my friend!

  16. This is my first comment, but I have been reading your blog almost since the beginning. I love that you don’t just write about money; you write about what matters in life and to life. My spouse and I have a list of our top ten values. We revisit it annually and try to reevaluate where we are monthly. One example is “footprint.” There’s always so much more we can do but we have definitely made choices in spend categories to align with our reduced footprint — and they are not always the cheapest option! Please keep writing posts like this! We gobble them up and turn them into cocktail hour topics for ourselves!!

    • Hi Larkin! I’m so thrilled that you jumped into the fun of the comments section. :-) I admire that you guys are so focused on aligning your spending to your values, and you know I especially love that you focus on footprint. You’re right that there’s always more any of us can do, but so many people do literally nothing, so doing even a little bit helps. I know it’s tough to make that choice when it’s more expensive, so you get all the more applause for doing so!

      And thanks for your super nice notes! I really appreciate knowing all of that — it helps me keep going! :-)

  17. This! I had honestly never considered value vs. values before. The minimalist community tends to focus on the former, even conflating the two sometimes. Yes, I value well-made clothes. But thats not one of my values.

    When I started investing last year (newbie, I know), I wondered about a socially responsible portfolio. I didn’t do it, but I’m starting to reconsider. Time to put my money where my mouth is!

    • I see that conflation happening all the time! And that’s why I had to write this. :-)

      And as for socially responsible investing, it’s not as simple as it seems! Most socially responsible funds still have clearly bad company stocks in them. So it’s actually a pretty monumental task to undertake, and one I will explore more here!

  18. This post really hit home with me and helped me better understand some things I have been mulling over for a while.

    I sometimes find it hard to align what I value with my values, in particular as FIRE is concerned. The two major topics where I really struggle to align my wishes(=things I value) with my values are:

    – the markets/economy (from my own perspective (what I value = freedom), I want them to go up so we can retire early at some point and live off our investments, but from my values perspective (values = fairness, environmentalism, long-term sustainability) I actually want the economy to produce much, much, much less and hope that we can find a post growth economy where natural resources are no longer depleted in an unsustainable way, distributed fairly and where we meet the climate goals. But then this post growth economy would probably mean stagnant or veeery slowly growing markets)

    – travel (one of the major reasons I want to stop working a regular job at some point is my desire to travel the world, but again, from my values perspective (environmentalism, fair distribution of natural resources and carbon emissions) I can see that air travel is one of the very worst things to do to our climate (it’s truly horrifying when you look at the actual numbers), such that for example one return flight from Europe to the US already uses my assumed fair carbon “budget” of two entire years)

    So far I have not really found a solution except that in a way I think I would be able to travel much more sustainably if I was not bound to limited vacation time, as instead of only 2 or 3 short weeks I would be able to stay for months. Also, over land, slower travel forms such as bus, car, train could replace flights if time wasn’t an issue.

    • You are definitely feeling the central paradox of FIRE, at least for environmentally minded folks! Theoretically, companies could adapt to the new economy and produce services instead of new goods, and we could see share price based on the exchange of ideas and technologies that improve equity and health, as well as environmental justice. But obviously we’re a long way off from that. How we’ve made peace with the investing side of this is to accept that there are no good investment options that align to both our goals and our values, but to invest anyway. And then put the rest of our money where our values are, giving generously to enviro causes from our donor advised fund, voting with the dollars we spend, and doing our best with the remainder of our choices. And on travel, it’s definitely true that slow travel allows you to amortize out your flight miles over a longer period, which is certainly a big positive.

  19. This is definitely an area I still struggle with. I would love to do more shopping locally, but that tends to be more expensive. I’d also like to spend more on groceries by purchasing locally raised meat and more organic produce, but again the prices start to sky rocket. Mad props to you guys for finding a good balance in this area.

    • It’s not always easy, and sometimes we give in and buy the cheapest groceries. Let go of being perfect and just try to make a few decisions that align to your values, and see how that feels. You’ll know if the pain of spending more or going out of your way to a different store feels worth it to you, and then you can adjust accordingly. :-)

  20. I agree with almost everyone else – great post and great food for thought on a topic, I admit, I’ve not really conciously thought a lot about. I do have to say on first consideration, that with some things we do lean more towards value spending, however, we have been fortunate enough to be able to make a few decisions that cost a bit more but that we feel better about – for example most of our meat is bought from a close by farm that raises the animals ethically which is important to us, our veggies are from the local market and most come from the reject shelf because it kills me to see it going to waste. We also like to shop and eat out locally as often as possible (we don’t eat out as often as possible, I just mean we choose local when we do). I also prefer to support local/small businesses rather than large mass production stores where possible. This is not to say that we are always capable of buying in line with these values but when it is possible and financially viable for us this is what we prefer to do.

    • That’s so great that you guys make those choices, Jen! The goal isn’t to be perfect all the time, but just to do what you can, and you’re obviously doing that! I so wish our stores had reject bins for fruit and veggies! During the summer many of the farmers market vendors have discount bins for misshapen veggies and that’s always my first stop, but no dice at the store.

  21. Hi Tanja. This is an important topic. I really agree with you about considering how our spending and other actions in life align with our values. You provide some great examples of how you have actualized this principle in your own life. To extent that a person strives to live a life according to their values, I believe that they are able to to live a more ethical life, and therefore also a more satisfying life. This point about values applies to everyone, not just the FIRE community, but I find that sometimes the FIRE discourse gets overly focused on how to achieve the financial goal (your blog is is a big exception!).

    I do have a point of disagreement, which is that I think you are making a false dichotomy between “values” and “what you value.” I think they are the same thing. Often when we talk about values, we are thinking of them idealistically as big abstract umbrella concepts. But the actions we take everyday are how we enact our values.

    One problem is that often there is a discrepancy between what we say that we value and what we actually value as shown by our daily actions. For example, we might say we believe in fairness or equal opportunity, and then preferentially give higher salaries to male new hires than to female ones, or nominate male members of the team more often than female ones to speak in meetings. Another issue is that sometimes our some of our values conflict with other values we hold. Elizabeth gives some great examples of these kinds of conflicts in the comment above (e.g., air travel inherently creates a conflict between valuing travelling and also valuing the environment). Finally, some of the things that you have given as examples as “things we value,” such as watching football, getting out of shovelling the driveway, and eating pho are not in the value category at all, but rather are likes, desires, and pleasures, or avoidances of dislikes, etc.

    Great topic, and lots of interesting comments!

    • Thanks for this thoughtful comment! I understand your point that we live out our values every day, but I wonder if two things could also be going on: 1.) Our “values” may be aspirational, and in our day to day actions, we may not be living up to them, and 2.) We may not be conscious of all the ways we aren’t living our values. Like managers are not usually conscious of promoting men more or paying them more. People agreeing to be on all white male panels almost certainly don’t think of themselves as sexist or racist, and yet they are perpetuating a certain system. So maybe another way to say this is that we should try to be more conscious of the ways we are or aren’t living our values, instead of making a distinction between values and what we value.

      • Yes, great points. I totally agree.

        I also think that it is not a bad thing to have aspirational values, with a gap between what we are aiming for and what we are actually doing. In fact, as we are always in a state of becoming, it is unavoidable. The point is to strive to become aware of those values and move toward them, which is exactly what you were saying in your excellent post.

        I suppose one other problem is that the word “value” has come to mean the monetary cost of something, or whether something is worth what it costs. This connotation muddies the water when we are thinking about values in the sense of ethics, principles, and what we personally value.

        • It absolutely muddies the waters. Particularly when cost isn’t always clear. We may know how many dollars we pay for something, but we don’t necessarily know how all of the workers in the chain of production and sale were treated, or what the environmental cost was, or how much energy it took to produce or ship, etc. To me, that’s another reason to separate value from values, and ask folks to take a closer look.

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