In today’s always-on, hyper-conscious world, a lot of us are searching for ways to help fight deep-rooted systemic issues — like racism, climate change, gender inequality, homophobia and transphobia, and ableism. Unfortunately, elected officials and policymakers have been slow to step in.
But while top-level policy might feel like the only way things will change, individual action is definitely not useless. For example, every time you make a decision about where to spend, save, or invest your money, you nudge the world in some direction. In short: You, like every other person living in this capitalist society, have financial power. This is what it means to “vote with your dollars” — to use that power to create literal demand for the world you want to see.
Still, as they say, we also have to put our own oxygen masks on first. Better financial stability not only allows you to build a better future for yourself; it also increases your financial power so you can make the world better for others, too. So the question is: How do you balance the two?
The good news is that you don’t have to choose. Enter values-driven personal finance: using your values to guide everything from which companies you support to which goals you save and invest for so that you can do well for yourself and the causes you believe in.
It starts with your core values
… AKA the core beliefs that are most important to you — the principles that bring meaning and purpose to your life. (If you’re looking for some exercises to help you identify those core values for yourself, we just so happen to have a worksheet for that.)
When you’re living your life in alignment with your values, you’re likely to feel a sense of deep contentment. So if you use them as your true north for making tough decisions about how to spend your money, you’re more likely to feel good about your financial future and the impact you’re making more broadly.
The way we see it, all this breaks down into three main areas: intentional spending, intentional saving, and intentional investing.
Practicing intentional spending
The first place your values can help with spending decisions is when it’s time to make tradeoffs — those choices about what does and doesn’t make it into your budget. How can you make space for the things that matter most to you (traveling home to see your family, exploring new restaurants, attending your favorite fitness class) while cutting back on things that don’t? How can you make space for donations?
But your values can also help you decide what your money supports, and where it can make the greatest impact. We all have limited financial resources, which means you can’t buy every single product, or support every single company claiming to do good things, or donate to every worthy cause. Your values can help you decide which ones to focus on.
Along the way, you’ll want to do your homework on which of those companies, products, and organizations help move the needle the most. Your values + high impact = what belongs in your budget.
Practicing intentional saving
For short-term goals — something you’re going to need the money for within the next two years — we typically recommend saving your money in an FDIC-insured savings account. This is one area of values-driven personal finance that can be really powerful for your budget — the more you can save up for things that really matter to you, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to afford them (or not have your budget busted by them) in the future.
While some of your savings goals might affect your budget steadily (like if you put $100 a month into a travel fund), a lot of these shorter-term ones are going to be temporary and / or more deadline-driven (like saving up for a wedding). None of us can save up for everything we want to do (alas!), so your values can help you decide what deserves your greatest focus at any given time.
One less obvious way to save intentionally is by choosing a bank that aligns with your values. When you put money in a savings account, that bank uses your deposits to make loans. (That’s why savings accounts typically pay interest.) If you do your research on your bank’s lending practices, you’ll know what your money may be supporting indirectly as you save.
Practicing intentional investing
At Ellevest, we like to break intentional investing down into three parts:
why you’re investing,
what you’re investing in, and
who you’re investing with.
As for why you’re investing, that has to do with your goals — what are you investing toward? Where do your long-term goals — like retirement, putting a down payment on a home someday, etc — fit into your financial roadmap (a key component of financial wellness)? Your values can help you decide how to prioritize them.
Next is what you’re investing in, aka the actual assets that comprise your portfolio. This is where impact investing comes into play. Two common, accessible impact lenses — aka the rubrics used to determine whether a company is included in a portfolio or fund — are environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing and gender-lens investing. Ellevest Impact Portfolios (which you can use in any Ellevest goal) allow you to do both, so you can invest for your future while investing toward a greener and more gender-equal future (and also returns).
And last but not least, there’s who you’re investing with. Similar to how you research companies and organizations for intentional spending, and banks for intentional saving, do your research on your investment advisor to make sure their vision for the future aligns with yours. (We’re available.)
Let’s make good things happen
Here’s the thing: When it comes to making an impact, nobody can do everything — but everyone can do something. And something is always better than nothing, right? You know what they say about ripples becoming waves, and all that. Money is power — and your money has power. Let’s harness it.
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