Does my budget fit my values?

houseHi everyone. Annie here. So I’ve been thinking about values lately…

I like to think of myself as more green than not (it’s a broad spectrum, for sure). I fancy myself a bit of a conservationist, ecotarian, and plain ol’ granola head in general. I’d probably be average in Portland, but for Texas, I’m really crunchy!

And I think that crunchiness and frugality go hand-in-hand, so it’s a wonderful marriage of simplicity. Well, where’s the rub, you ask?

My square footage. 

I just read Alex’s great post on her living space, and it’s been something that I’ve been thinking about lately. A lot.

Full disclosure: I have a family of 5 plus one high school foreign exchange student, and my house is 2,930 square feet (Google tells me that is roughly 272 square meters). (Have you MMM followers just spat your coffee out yet?)

Our last house was 1,339 square feet, but it was in a neighborhood that we wanted out of, so here we are…in our McMansion, with a pool, on a cul-de-sac, in a desirable neighborhood, with great schools, living the American dream…and feeling guilty about it.

My initial, go-to feeling when I read things like MMM or Alex’s post is usually guilt; I know this about myself. (Psychoanalyze me if you must, but I just go with it.) I even get a little jealous of the simplicity of it all and the challenges of living in a small space and how you have to be so smart about it.

So I take that guilty feeling, and I say, “Okay, so what? Do you want to move into an apartment?”

“Well, no,” I answer myself, “I’ve put a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and money into this house, so that wouldn’t be fun.”

“Okay, then what? How are you going to reconcile living out your values with this big ol’ house?”

Well, that, I think, is the key. If we’re blessed enough to have plenty, then I feel that our responsibility just broadens. I think I have some valid reconciliations with their corresponding values:

  1. Hospitality – We have hosted a foreign exchange student for this past school year.
  2. Hospitality – We host friends and family events quite often (utilizing our pool every chance we get).
  3. Frugality – We’ve started renting out our spare room and even our whole house.
  4. Ecotarianism (not quite there yet) – I’ve started learning how to garden.
  5. Conservation – I replaced all of my water hungry plants with drought-tolerant xeriscaping.
  6. Frugality & Conservation – We are probably the only ones in our neighborhood who still haven’t used our air conditioner yet this year.
  7. Conservation – I use reclaimed wood ALL over my house in my decorating and would much rather make a piece of decor than buy it.
  8. Frugality – I’d rather learn how to fix something myself than pay to get it fixed (i.e. sprinkler system repair, simple electric work, simple plumbing, etc.).
  9. Frugality & Conservation – I compost and recycle. I don’t let any organic waste leave my property; it all goes back into the ground.

You get the point. But is that enough reconciliation? I don’t know. It’s really just for me and my husband to answer. Who knows? We could put our house up on the market next week and move into a tiny apartment. Or not.

I think it’s good that it’s at least on my radar so that we can continue to strive to live out our values. Consistent assessment is a good thing.

And for you, do you have any reconciling to do? Maybe it’s not with your house, but is there any part of your budget that is in contradiction to your values?

22 Responses to “Does my budget fit my values?”

  1. Kian Mehrabi

    I’m trying to reconcile living in a 25sqm apartment.

    I don’t know how I can treat myself like this… It’s really quite cruel.

    • annie

      I’ve been there! Life was much simpler; that’s for sure. ;)

  2. Kathleen

    I agree with values being an important part of the budget, and YNAB has helped me identify these for myself. I have one pet (a giant Maine Coon cat who was supposed to be the puppy I always wanted, but I digress..) and get him food that is fairly pricier than other options because it’s canned and has few filler ingredients. Everything in my budget was on the chopping block when I starting using YNAB so I started questioning if I was being ridiculous by making this choice when his food budget was nearing my (very frugal) grocery budget. However, I realized he’s the only “item” in my home I actually care about and I want him to be around for awhile. So for the moment, while my budget and income allows, I am comfortable with this choice, but it did put a lot of the other budget categories in perspective as a result. I decided to be more reasonable about my own grocery needs and increased what I spend on myself for the same reason. I also looked at buying new “things” differently when I only really cared about my buddy. In the end, I learned that I value nutrition as a great investment!

    • annie

      I like that! I see how you went through the exercise of checking your values. I value nutrition, too, and it’s especially hard when my husband and I have differing values when it comes to certain aspects of nutrition (but I digress). I don’t have a pet, but I’ve often heard of making dog food from scratch. Ever try that as a healthy, budget friendly alternative to store-bought dog food?

  3. jbcampo

    This is an excellent post Annie. We live in a house about your original size in a Boston suburb. Family of 4, including one in college coming home this week. Cramped, yes, but that forces us to donate as often as possible, and it’s still cramped. We try to teach the kids to be grateful that we have a house, food, clothes, cars, our health. The contradictions keep getting pushed at you by other families who have “more” and live in McMansions and drive fancier cars. We try to teach the kids that everything is relative. If you took the entire globe, you are in the top 5% wealthiest group. They have a hard time grasping that when all they see are their friends. We hope that education, and experience, and seeing those with less in more places will give them a more global perspective on needs, vs wants.

    • annie

      Thanks, JB, and YES! I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said. Keeping up with the Jones’s is ingrained into our culture from a young age, and you’re doing well to break your children of that (even if they hate it for now). Great comments.

  4. Stephen

    We live in a house that is a few hundred square feet less than your current home. I feel a bit bad about it sometimes, but it’s far more energy efficient than the 1400 square foot place we had been renting, and with now 6 people in the family, it doesn’t feel comically huge. The important part though is that we live within easy biking distance of most of the places we go day to day. Often it’s more the location of a house that has a bigger impact on your footprint than the kind or size of house. I recommend people check out Jeff Speck’s book on walkability if they’re interested to know more. He has a great ted talk that just scratches the surface at http://www.ted.com/talks/jeff_speck_the_walkable_city

    • Alex

      Hey, thanks for the TED Talk reference. I really enjoyed it.

    • annie

      What a great Ted talk!!!!! This is a huge value of mine and my husband’s. We moved to be closer to his work, and we try to walk and bike most places. It’s a huge value of ours. “Inactivity born of our landscape” – what a great line! “We’re throwing away our time and our money and our lives on the highway.” That’s basically what we said as one of reasons to move to where we are now. Thanks for the link. I enjoyed that a lot – just shared it on my Facebook page. :)

  5. Terry Bickmore

    Thanks for the post today. I do like posts that get me to pause and think. I do believe that answers to questions like this are certainly not a one size fits all, thus the need to ponder for yourself. Your post made me think you would enjoy the blog prettyprovidence.com. (Full disclosure it’s my daughter’s blog.) It’s a great fit for someone trying to live YNAB principles.

    • annie

      You’re right, that blog is right up my alley. :) Thanks for the link. And you’re right again, that those answers are not one size fits all. That’s for sure. But the point is that we stop and think, like you said. Thanks for the comment. :)

  6. Bryan Giles

    Post went differently than I anticipated but it brought out a point.


    We are building a 1000 sq ft home to live in this year. Some see this as noble, efficient, eclectic, back to earth, etc…

    But when they find out that when we finish this home, come this october we roll right into building our MAIN HOUSE. A 4900 Sq foot home with a full walkout basement (6700 sq ft total floor space.) ALl of a sudden their opinion changes. LOL.

    Yet, goal wise, we will STILL be living via Solar Power, etc…

    Yes everyone’s goals are different. No Guilt Ever, Just enjoy your goals…And Make sure the Budget helps get you there…

    • Jesse

      Hey Bryan,

      I liked this. Guilt is such a tricky thing. We have to be conscious of its source.

    • annie

      Jesse stole my reply, but yes, we should be conscious of its source. ;) I think guilt can be useful sometimes, like if it’s just signaling that we’re being contradictory to our values. But like in your case, you’ve already checked your goals and values, and your choice to build your house passes the test, so of course there’s no need for guilt. And like Terry said, it’s not one size fits all. (Good luck on the house building. Sounds fun.)

      • jbcampo

        Values are always tested. I saw a story this morning about 3 kids who bought a sofa at a yard sale for 20 bucks. When they started using it, and found it lumpy, they fished around and found bags of money, like $40k! What would you do? 3 youngerish kids? Test of values – keep the money, or try to find the rightful owner? I asked myself, what would I do? Boy, finders keepers. $40k would help pay for our kids’ college bills – I could use $40k. That money would really help my YNAB budget!

        They found the rightful owner, a 91 year old woman, and returned the money btw, according to the story.

  7. Randall Huleva

    Interesting post. I think this is one of those topics that really highlights the complexities of money management. It’s not just as simple as spending less than you make and saving or investing the rest.

    Our finances are a microcosm of our lives. If I look at a persons financial records, I can pretty much tell you what kind of personality they are by how the handle their money.

    Guilt is one of those emotions that I try very hard not to allow into my life. It is an emotion that says that “I did something bad or wrong”. It’s not a far slide from guilt to get to shame which says “I am a bad person”.

    I spent a lot of time and money working through some of these issues in therapy and I now know that I am not a bad person. I may, at times, do things which I get an uncomfortable feeling in my conscience about either before or during the time I am doing them. As I have learned to trust my conscience, knowing that it is guiding me to consistently live according to me values, I end up with far fewer actions or decisions that I need to feel guilty about afterwards.

    Living in a large home should not produce guilt on way or the other. It is simply an inanimate object that is incapable of causing any type of feelings in and of itself. Rather, it is our reaction our feelings about living in a large home that cause the feelings of guilt.

    Do you feel inadequate or undeserving? Do you know you are overspending? Do you have some particular religious or social justice belief that leads you to feel you are using too many or the earth’s resources? Etc, etc. etc

    None of these have anything to do with the house, but everything to do with us. Listen to your conscience. When you feel that uncomfortable little feeling inside telling you this isn’t the right thing for you…STOP and pay attention to it.

    One last thing about guilt however. We live in a society today where many people, both in the U.S. and abroad, are suffering and dealing with very hard times. There is no shortage of TV advertising, mail and email campaigns, and even telephone calls to share the hardships of these individuals and “pull at your heartstrings” to give money. DO NOT feel guilty for saying NO to most of these solicitations. These campaigns are designed to tuck at your heartstrings and hopefully “guilt” you into giving money. Be aware of their tactics and don’t allow yourself to become a victim of guilt that someone else is imposing on you to try and get in your wallet.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong about giving to charitable organizations you feel that you want to support for one reason or the other. However, you can not save the world…don’t even try, or you will be the one who ends up needing to be saved!

    • jbcampo

      Yep, you said it Randall. Anyhow, at the end of the day, who am I to really judge another’s actions? I leave that to a much bigger power than all of us.

    • annie

      Good comment here, thanks, Randall. I like this: “Our finances are a microcosm of our lives.” I just heard on the radio today someone say that they could look at someone’s credit card or bank statement and basically tell you what type of person that is. I totally agree. It says a lot about our values and goals.

      About guilt, I like what Jesse said above – we should consider its source. If my conscience says, “Hey, why are you spending $200 on getting your hair done while your kids need new school clothes?” then that’s a useful type of guilt. But if the cashier says, “Do you want to donate $2 to this charity today?” and I do just because I don’t want to say no, then that’s not really a useful sort of guilt but more of a people-pleasing guilt.

      It all goes back to our goals and values. I think that it’s a dire necessity to have those in line if you want for your budgeting successes to move you forward. Otherwise what is it all for?

  8. CB

    Hi Annie. I don’t think there’s a reason to feel guilty for living in a large house in and of itself. I believe that if I were in your situation and feeling guilty, my focus would be more on helping others. Perhaps you already donate money to a charity of your choice, but it isn’t on your list. Maybe you could help out your community more or help a more needy community close to you to improve it (The one you were living in previously?).

    • annie

      Well, you’re right. The house if neutral, but what are my goals? What are my values? How am I meeting those and staying true to those? Those are the real questions. And those are answers that we can only give for ourselves. I can’t answer them for you, and you can’t answer them for me. So the whole point of the blog post wasn’t to get everyone to answer those questions for me, but rather to get you to ask yourself what are your own values and how is your budget reflecting them? Make sense?

  9. Christian

    On one hand you are concerned with appearing “green” but on the other hand you enjoy the benefits of having more space in which to live, which entails using more energy. So you have a little guilt that you aren’t quite living up to your ideals. And so you seek to justify what you do and want in attempt to relieve your guilt by compensating in other areas.

    Honestly, you can “compensate” and live in a 1300 sqft home. Or a 300 sqft home. Are poeple in small homes given a “pass” on helping others and reducing their carbon footpring? Nah. It’s a slippery slope that you’ll never get away from if you want to play that game. We could really be mean and point out that even a family of five has a bigger carbon footprint than a family of three. Or two. You could also feel guilty for not working a second job on the weekends and donating your income to starving kids in Africa or across town). There is no end the guilt that you’re not doing enough.

    The solution isn’t to compensate or dwell on the guilt, but to attack and remove the guilt at it’s roots, which is what I see other posts doing here as well.

    Ultimately you will always have a carbon footprint. Your footprint is tiny and makes no discernable difference in the grand scheme of things. Yeah I know a million little footprints do matter, but your individual one doesn’t matter, and you’re beating yourself up over it.

    The irrational answer is that your guilt is probably generated by your friends and how you expect they view you.

    • annie

      To be honest, in Texas there isn’t a whole lot of “green-peer-pressure”, so no worries about trying to keep up with the green-Jones’s. But the point of the post (perhaps I didn’t drive it home well enough) wasn’t for others to analyze my values and goals, but to paint of picture of how I assess my values in regard to my budget.

      As Randall said above, “Our finances are a microcosm of our lives.” So how does my budget reflect what is important to me?

      We can’t argue values because everyone that reads this blog has a myriad of different values on a myriad of different spectrums. But I think everyone can look at their own budgets and ask themselves if they’re living up to what is important to them personally.

      If one says that helping the poor is important to them, and yet they give nothing, then we can safely say that helping the poor is not important to that person. If one says that they value nutrition yet has 15 fast food transactions on their statement, then we might assume that actually nutrition is not a value of theirs afterall. You get the point. ;)

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