The reality is that we have only so much money coming in each month. For some that is a regular paycheck. You know how much is coming. Then there are the small business owners and those in sales who don't get a regular paycheck. Regardless, there is competition for that cash flow between expenses that are the "have-to's" and the "have-to-haves."
The "have-to's" are the expenses in which you don't pay bills, things to get turned off or taken away. They are the non-negotiables. They must be paid monthly. The "have-to-haves" are discretionary and follow a desire for materials, life's luxuries, or the dreaded instant gratification. The problem with the "have-to-haves" is that they can quickly turn into "have-to's" in the form of higher car payments, higher mortgages, credit card minimum payments, etc. It can get so out of control that your "have-to's" end up taking your income over.
The reality is that you are already spending money based on what you value. I think that Matthew 6:21 offers great insight.
21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
If you want to see what you value, go take a look at the American Express, Visa or MasterCard, or your bank statements. You will see exactly what you value. Your treasure, or your values, chase your money because that is where the heart is. Your spending reflects that which is important to you. If eating out is taking over a pretty big percentage of your monthly income, then you value eating out a lot. It is not right or wrong. It is what you value.
How do you fix that? To get started on this process, you need to establish three things.
Determine the percentage of your income that goes towards 'have-tos' versus 'have-to-have's. Once you get to that reality, figure out how you can decrease the have-to's and increase the percentage that goes to the have-to-haves. This is where debt reduction comes into play in most cases. It might be that you are convicted to downsize your lifestyle because you are taking a hard look at values and what is really important to you. Those are important decisions to make.
Prioritize the money that is going to the have-to-haves. At this point, this is really all you have control over. Maybe you are willing to drastically cut eating out and divert that money over to something more important such as debt reduction. Rank what is important to you or your values and spend accordingly.
Value the small shifts. Maybe your have-to's are so big the must-haves can't be adjusted significantly. That is ok. If you can shift even $50 because of a shift in the priority of values that is progress. It is about developing the habit. That is the most important. Then when you get that raise or take another higher paying job, you are much more in tune with (intentional) values-based spending and your increased have to have a budget is managed more in line with intentional values.
This piece is designed to create awareness and get you to thinking. An effective values base spending process takes time. It is a process that starts with one habit at a time.
Having said that, it is vitally important because it lays the foundation for your financial future. It is also good stewardship.