Dollar vs. Value: What is Stuff Actually Worth?

Money and value have been tied together for centuries. They’ve been associated with one another for so long that they’re almost inherently connected now. All that is money has value (aside from periods of exorbitant inflation)… but not all that has value is money.

What if we could disassociate money from value to the point that we see them as two related but separate things? And then from there, begin to prioritize value over money? Oh, how that would change our lives!

This can easily get confusing, but let’s think back to one of the classic rules for taking control of your money: limiting expenditures that can be otherwise absorbed. If you’ve read it once, you’ve read it a hundred times. “Skip that morning latte and make coffee at home; you’ll save so much money!” It’s sound financial advice, but only if you consider the door of happiness to be opened by the key of wealth alone.

It completely ignores a crucial aspect of quality of life.

Skipping that morning latte isn’t as simple a decision as spending or saving $5. Maybe you and your girlfriends all get coffee at the same time in the morning after yoga or before work. Maybe you feel seen because the barista spotted you in line and already started your drink. Maybe you pay it forward or eagerly look forward to seeing that old couple sitting in the corner every Thursday morning. These little experiences all tie into buying that cup of coffee — making the decision about much more than just spending or saving $5.

That once-so-sound financial advice doesn’t do life justice. It doesn’t capture the whole picture. It misses the crucial aspect of value added. I’m proposing a different way to look at your spending: through the value it adds to your life.

Take a look at the things you spend money on… but this time add in the value it’s adding to your life, as well as how long that value lasts.

Perhaps you’re a Starbucks drive-through kind of coffee person. Perhaps you don’t even like your barista. Perfect! Quit buying coffee, save up those extra dollars, and put them to use somewhere else where you’ll find value. Perhaps it’s time to channel that money to buying those red pumps you’ve been eyeing at the store or signing up for a beginner’s dance class.  

It’s important to know what you value in order to fully take control of your money. Think about something you’ve spent money on that you thought was worth every penny. Think about your most cherished belongings or sweetest memories. Oftentimes, it’s the experience, not the actual object that we value.

When choosing to spend money on something, ask yourself how it makes you feel and how long it makes you feel that way. Ask yourself how you feel afterward, as well as who you feel closer to because of the spend. Hopefully, these questions will help guide you into more intentional, value-driven purchases.

Being aware of what you value can bring you one step closer to intentional spending and greater fulfillment when you do spend money. It also helps justify spending when your habits look a little different from your peers.

My friends will be the first to tell you I’m a penny pincher. But I fully believe in the beautiful concept of balance. Now, I’m not advocating going out every weekend to dinner, happy hour, and a movie. I’m not advocating for buying coffee every morning from your local coffee shop. Nor am I advocating for continuing your gym membership if you haven’t gone in the past three months. But I’m also not advocating for cutting out experiences in the name of a few dollars saved, or for holding your money so tightly to your chest that you no longer enjoy it.

I’m advocating for a different perspective on money and how it’s spent. I’m advocating for money spent with intention on things and experiences that bring joy and value.

At the end of the day, money is just a tool. You are the one who decides what it brings to your life.

Based out of Los Angeles, Iona Brannon is a writer and photojournalist who deeply enjoys hearing the stories of others and drawing out the beauty of the mundane. Her hobbies include sitting in LA traffic and occasionally yelling at other drivers. You can see her work and connect with her at ionabrannon.com.

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