What does money mean to you? A while back I talked about how this very question can be the source of great friction in relationships but it goes beyond that. Whether you are in a relationship or not, you are in a relationship with your money whether you spend a lot of time consciously thinking about it or not. Even if finances are the neglected step-child in your personal life, it is still there and your mindset and relationship to it is running the show.

Several years ago I asked colleague and Savvy Ladies Founder Stacy Francis what is one financial book she really likes that she would recommend I read. She suggested I read “Smart Women Finish Rich” by David Bach. I must admit that I let this one sit on my shelf for a year or two before I recently dusted it off. It has been my “morning read” book with breakfast the past few weeks. In the book Bach starts with the most important question you can ask yourself : What is Important About Money to You? He then uses this question to guide the reader through the Values Ladder exercise which is taken from the book “Values Based Financial Planning” by Bill Bacharach.

Lucky for me this conversation is not new. When I hired my most recent financial planner several years ago the first thing we did when I met her was to march through the values ladder exercise in Bacharach’s book. For me it was the first time I ever thought about money in this way. No surprise that it coincided with my foray into the coaching profession. It was like the world was conspiring to get me aligned with my own values first before I launched into helping others.

The values ladder is a brilliant coaching tool that asks the question “what is important about money to me?”.

The key to getting at the heart of the matter is that your answers need to be values based, not goals based. That means your answers look something like “security”, “freedom”, “adventure”, “confidence”, “peace of mind”, etc. Those are values based answers. As opposed to goals based answers like “pay off my credit card debt”, “buy a new home”, or “save $X for retirement”. Now goals are important, but I can assure you that if you put the cart (goals) before the horse (values) you are building your financial future on unstable ground. Orienting your life around goals is unfulfilling and uninspiring. Orienting your life around your values leads to a sustainable pull forward toward your goals while living more fully right here, right now.

So, back to the example… I would answer the question “what is important about money to me?” with “security – peace of mind”. That’s great, but it doesn’t dig deep enough. As a coach I know the real good stuff, the answers with the power to radically shift our relationship with money often lie deeper than the first answer or two. As a result, this exercise keeps asking the question – “what is important about?”. So in this case the next question would be – “what is important about security-peace of mind?” I might answer “freedom with no constraints”. Again, a great values based answer but there is more to it. So you keep asking the question “what is important about…” until you have reached your final answer – the one that can’t be mined any further. In my exercise I ended up with “self-actualization” and “living fully”. In some of the exercises in the book people ended with “making a difference/helping others” or “living fully with my family right now”. The end point looks different to everyone.

The point of this exercise is to get clear on what is really important to you about money. Then armed with this knowledge you can delive into the more goal-oriented and action plan oriented steps of financial planning. More importantly, you can take a hard look at what is important to you about money and whether or not your current life is aligned with what is most important. For instance, if “being with family and friends” is your most important value and you’re spending 80 hours a week commuting and working your life is not congruent with what really matters. That can come as a shock and leave you feeling powerful emotions.

Part of the reason why people avoid these types of exercises and want to launch right to the how-tos is because of how scary and painful it can be to discover that your life is out of whack. Yet awareness is the first step toward a more inspiring future, so why not wake up today rather than years down the road or when you find yourself face to face with illness or death?


Paula Gregorowicz is the Comfortable in Your Own Skin(tm) Coach and helps women achieve success on their own terms. Discover “The 5 Crucial C’s You Need to Succeed in Life” for free download.