Have You Signed Up for The New York Times’ 7-Day Financial Tuneup?

Photo credit: Dafne Cholet, CC BY 2.0.

I love plans and courses and self-improvement, so as soon as I saw that The New York Times was offering a 7-Day Financial Tuneup, I signed up.

Every day for the next week, I’ll get one email that offers both advice and an action item. (Which is great, because I love action items.) The seven emails are supposed to cover the following topics:

  1. Optimize
  2. Budget
  3. Credit cards
  4. Retirement
  5. Credit report
  6. HSA
  7. Insurance

At first glance, however, this list doesn’t seem like it’ll go much beyond the basics, e.g.:

  1. Spend your money where it counts!
  2. Make a budget!
  3. Pay down debt and get some credit cards that give you rewards!
  4. Save for retirement! If you’re already saving for retirement, start saving more! Try an extra percentage point!
  5. Check your credit reports! Dispute the errors! Then freeze them!
  6. Put money in your HSA!
  7. Have insurance, but not too much (and don’t get the wrong kind of life insurance)!

(To be fair, I’m coming at this from the perspective of someone who’s been thinking about money for years, and I should remember that this’ll be new information for a lot of people.)

The Optimize email, which I got this morning, asked me to write down what I value and what types of purchases bring me the most joy — because if a purchase brings value and joy to your life, it’s okay to spend money on it even if it’s something like clothes or restaurants. (Interestingly, I just wrote a piece on similar themes for Lifehacker.)

So… here we go:

I value independence. I value being able to work as hard and as fast as I can to earn as much money as I can. I value managing my own career. I value creativity, and making time for creativity. I value the arts, both as a performer and as a patron. I value my own health and physical fitness, and making time for both activity and rest. I value maintaining relationships with the people I care about. I value community, both the one in which I currently live and the one I’m part of at The Billfold.

The purchases that bring me the most joy are usually arts-related: books, music, tickets, etc. I also get joy out of fitness-related purchases: my yoga mat, my bike, ice skating, etc. I am starting to realize that I get joy out of quality items: my couch and desk and coffee table are amazing and I am so grateful to live in this nice apartment where everything works. I also get joy out of buying clothing and accessories for myself, which I feel a little embarrassed to admit because if I went full-on towards this joy I’d need to buy higher-quality clothing than what I usually purchase.

The purchases that bring me the least joy: restaurants. They’re loud, expensive, and the food is rarely what I would prefer to eat. (I don’t like oily, greasy stuff.) If I didn’t have to go somewhere to hang out with people, it might be months before I set foot in a restaurant or bar.

The purchases that don’t bring me joy but I do out of a sense of responsibility: charitable donations. Interestingly, when I think about the donations and contributions I’ve made in the past, some of them have brought me a lot of joy: specifically, the contributions that fund arts programs or artists I value or the donations that affect a community I’m part of (the local library, or the tutoring center I worked with in Seattle). I wonder what would happen if I put more money towards those types of contributions and less money towards other types of donations. The problem is, of course, that someone has to fund natural disaster recovery and so on. Right?

If you look at this list it seems like I should put more money towards quality products (especially clothing) and towards the arts and community endeavors I value, and that I should not feel guilty about not texting $5 to the latest crisis. (Except I already feel guilty about writing the phrase “the latest crisis,” because that sounds flippant and people are actually in need.)

I should also accept that I have to spend money at restaurants because I value relationships.

Maybe tomorrow’s email will tell me how to budget for all of this.

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