This is probably one of the most important questions you should be asking yourself when it comes to your finances. When your most important values and your financial actions aren’t correlated, you can easily lose focus of your “why.” Your strategies may not truly be working toward your goals. And many times you won’t realize it until life happens.

Discovering Your “Why” Behind Money

One of the first things you have to discover is your “why” behind money. Yes, we both know that you need money to live. But dig deeper than that.

Think about money in relation to the things that matter most to you, like sending your kids to college, starting a business or taking family vacations. Based on this, what purpose would you say money serves in your life? What does it enable you to do? If these desires are important to you, then money enables you to do a number of things: To give your children an education that puts them ahead in life, to take advantage of an opportunity to better yourself and to foster quality time with your family making memories. See how money serves a greater purpose than just “living?”

Your Most Important Values

Your values are what you believe are important in the way you go about your daily life. They should be used to guide your priorities and your daily actions. People whose values are aligned with their behavior tend to be much more satisfied and content with their lives. If you’re behaving in a way that doesn’t match your values, life can feel out-of-whack, unsatisfying and stressful. Life in general is more enjoyable when you make a conscious effort to honor your values. The same is true for your financial life: Consciously honoring your values can make for a much smoother, fulfilling ride.

After you determine what purpose money serves in your life, you can identify the corresponding values it helps you fulfill. Let’s go back to our previous example. In this instance, some of the values that money helps you fulfill would be education, hard work, ambition, fun and family. Organize your values in terms of their importance, so that you can clearly see your top five values.

Do Your Financial Actions Support Your Most Important Values?

This brings us to the ultimate discovery question: Are your values aligned with your financial actions?

If family is your number one value, but you’ve failed to adequately protect yourself against death or loss of income, these actions – or inactions – don’t support your number one value. What if you’re only saving 5% of your income and funneling the rest into qualified retirement accounts? You can find yourself without the necessary liquidity to pay tuition, take advantage of opportunities or to pay for vacations. These actions clearly don’t support your values of education, ambition or fun.

See why this is an important question to ask yourself?

Why Does it Matter to You?

Without taking the time to consciously acknowledge your most important values, you can find yourself suffering the consequences when life happens. Values should play the same role in your financial life that they play in your daily life: They should guide your financial actions and priorities.

Not only should this be the first stop on your financial journey, but it’s one that you should revisit regularly. Aligning your values and financial actions can first help you see what strategies would be most prudent for you to implement. Reviewing your values as you reach different milestones helps ensure those strategies are always working to your benefit.

This worksheet is a great place to start. This step-by-step guide will walk you through everything we just discussed here, from discovering your “why” behind money, to identifying your most important values and gauging whether or not your financial actions support them, to creating an action plan to better align the two.