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I've been thinking a lot lately about how my choices of how I spend my time and money line up with what I claim to be my values. Theoretically, they should all line up perfectly. I care about something, I devote time and money to it. Seems simple enough. But I step back and take a look at myself and it's clear there's a disconnect.

Let me lay it on the line. My personal allowance is $75 a week. So in 52 weeks--one year--that's $3900 (holy crap). What do I do with that money that gets me closer to my goals or that contributes to causes I care about, or that really lines up with my values in life? Hard to say. I spend a lot of it on stuff. Just stuff. Starbucks and Panera have seen a lot of my money lately. I have all these criteria for what I buy (supposedly) but Starbucks and Panera don't meet those criteria and yet they keep sneaking in. Here are some of those criteria:

Is it something I want or something I need?
Will I still want or need it in two weeks if I wait and think about it?
Could I make it for less money/higher quality?
Would it be worth my time to make it?
Will it make my life better in some way, or detract from it?
If I spend some time shopping around could I save money?
Is it worth x number of hours that Jake worked for the money?
Is it a socially responsible purchase?
Could I make a MORE socially responsible purchase that would satisfy the same need or want?
Will this contribute to or detract from the overall health of our home and family?
Am I happy to give my money to the people involved in creating/selling the product/service?
Is there someone else I would rather support with my money?
Would I rather buy mass-produced or handmade?

There are other criteria that come and go, but this is the largely (by now) unconscious process that leads me toward or away from ay given purchase. It seems like a lot, but they've been added little by little and now I just sort of go through them all without realizing it. But I think it's a good idea to bring this list back to my consciousness periodically as a reminder to myself that I need to stop and really think before I part with the money I am given an which was hard-earned by my husband. In a very real way, every time I spend money, I am saying that the thing is worth Jake being away from us all day for me to get it. Or that it's okay to put off his retirement so I can have this thing. Or that the person I'm handing money over to is really worthy of it. And all these assumptions go into every purchase we make, whether we're aware of it or not.

Then there's gift buying. A whole new set of questions comes in to play:

Am I buying this just because a gift is expected?
Will the recipient benefit from/truly enjoy/appreciate this gift?
Do they need it?
Will it contribute to their clutter?
Do I need to get to know the recipient better so I can better answer the above questions?

So then we get to the list of my alleged values. Off the top of my head, things I claim to care about are:

the environment
the health of my family and myself
fair trade and social consciousness
reforming the birth industry
conserving energy/using alternative sources of energy
keeping my house clean
supporting local and small businesses and farms

And obviously that's not all, but I'm having a hard time coming up with concise ways of saying what I care about. I'll probably be adding to this list.

But how much does what I spend in terms of time and money contribute to those values? Certainly I have more stuff than I did a year ago. And out of all that money from my personal allowance, I have...well, this week's money because I haven't gotten around to squandering it just yet. Where did it all go? Did I propel myself further toward a goal with it? What did I do??

Well, I'm thinking that it's time to start paying more attention to where that and all our money goes. A couple of weeks ago, Jake took over our family finances, and I couldn't be happier about it. The first step is tracking all our spending, and he has this elaborate accounting system established to do that. After a few months of that, we'll look at spending trends and come up with a realistic budget for all the categories represented. And start a real savings plan, so that we can actively work toward our family's goals, have more freedom and options and security. I'm very glad we're finally committing to going in this direction, and I think a lot of good will come of it. Jake doesn't make a ton of money, but certainly enough that we should have some savings and be able to take real vacations once a year and plan the occasional large purchase when a need comes up--right now we need a bed because we've been sleeping apart for too long.

I'd like to make more charitable contributions. I need to put some thought and research into how much and to whom exactly, but what pops into my head initially is that I want to support those organizations that educate women on their birth options, some environmental protection organizations, and organizations serving underprivileged women and children. Certainly I can put aside some amount to contribute to those things.

I'd like to use this money to solve some of my own problems, as well. I always have a list (or ten) of the household things that bug me, or personal things I feel like I'm lacking (like um, clothes that fit, at the moment), and certainly I should be solving as many of those issues as possible. This year I solved some issues by buying this laptop, and several bookcases, and a large cabinet for the living room. Storage has always been a big issue in this house, and I should absolutely be whittling away at it. Looking back, I think I have used my allowance to solve a lot of problems this year, and I'm glad about that. I'm always losing my keys/wallet/credit cards/library card and a hundred other things, so I sprung for a big purse (hasn't arrived yet) and I'm going to put a big hook on the wall by the front door, and I'll always know where all my stuff is. And EVERYONE will know where it belongs, should I get careless and leave something somewhere. Establishing a place for everything we have is an ongoing goal, and one that's hard to keep up with when more money is generally spent on stuff than on storage. Topie's birthday yielded a whole bunch more stuff that I'm going to have to find places for, so I'm thinking today we're going out in search of baskets and things.

I guess the point of this is to make myself think more about what I'm doing. Mindfulness is something I need to poke myself to keep up with. It's so easy to do things mindlessly, out of habit, without considering the ramifications, and there's just no place for mindlessness in my life. I eat too much because I eat too fast and don't pay enough attention. I spend too much because I don't pay attention. I spend too much time ONLINE because I don't pay attention. On and on and on. Time to pay more attention.

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valancystirling

December 2010

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