Looking back I should have always known I was going to be a CPA (Certified Public Accountant aka Money Nerd). Every year when it came time to pass out Valentines to my friends I would write them checks. My mother ordered special Valentines from a catalog that looked exactly like checks. I would write something like (insert check)

Huges and kisses? Well that was age seven so it made sense, but it got me thinking who I would write those checks to now? What gets my hugs and kisses today?

One thing money can tell us about ourselves is where are our values. Whatever we spend the most money on or set aside a monthly commitment to are most important to us.

During college I spend most of my time studying and preparing to become an accountant. This was the most important thing to me at the time. I spent my money on tuition, books and living away from home (remember I was a nerd and graduated early so I didn’t spend my money on fun stuff, but I hope you did). Now my life is different and I spend all my money on my children and that’s okay, it’s my priority.

What happens if I am spending more on something that’s not important to me or the most important thing in my life? I want to value something else, like myself, retirement, your children, a new education, etc.

Step 1: Assess your priorities

Close your eyes, after reading this, and think, “What is the most important thing to me?” Sometimes this takes a bit of work to dig deep and remember what’s most important one year ago may not be the most important thing for the future. What is your thing?

My thing right now is my children, but before that it was to put money in a retirement account. That first year I wanted to save $4,000.

Step 2: Where is the money going now?

This is the part where you are probably itching a little and getting fidgety. Being an accountant, I did double entry accounting by hand, but gave that up when websites and apps made it so my easier. There are dozens of websites and apps that help you do this (Mint, You Need a Budget, Spending Tracker). I won’t lie, the initial set-up can take an hour or two, but after that presto, you have a financial picture of what you are spending versus writing down everything old-school.

So where is it going? Early on as a baby accountant it seemed like it took everything I had to just live. We sat at a card table as our dining room table for over one year and didn’t own one piece of furniture that was new to us except our bed, we didn’t have much. But there is always something…

Step 3: The Change

Not that change, a change in habits, a change in where the money is going. What can you truly live without?

It’s actually trendy now to be frugal so you can find lots of resources (SimpleDollar, WiseBread). Lots of people are very successful with cutting back on phone, internet and cable. I had one friend that started shopping for clothes at resale. She buys and sells clothing so she is always in style and has something new, but it doesn’t break the bank. Others go gorilla style and don’t buy anything for one month so it purges their system to stop spending money (not recommended for sanity purposes).

My husband and I ate out more than we should, which at that time was anytime. We made a rule we could only eat out when we went with others. It made no sense for just the two of us to go out to eat when we could eat at home. Now, that is completely reversed, I only want to go out when it’s just the two of us, people with kids get me.

Step 4: Commit and Enjoy Success

So now that you have thought about your priorities, know where your money is going, ready to make one or more changes, how do you make it stick. The easiest way for me was to automate.

Remember that $4,000 I wanted to save. I set my 401(k) contribute $200 twice a month. Then I only had the money left over to live on each month which did not include an allowance for eating out. Automating is one of the easiest ways to save and build wealth. If you don’t see it in your normal checking account you won’t see it and therefore you won’t spend it.

I won’t say it was easy or fun. We ate a lot of grilled chicken and vegetables that year and learned we don’t like recipes that use ground turkey. We laugh about that time in our life now, but honestly it was really hard.

I wanted my retirement account to have those hugs and kisses and they got it. Now I’m at a different phase with different priorities and my hugs and kisses are different, but it’s important to ensure our money reflects our values and our values reflect ourselves.