Financial Independence Starts With One Important Question

Some of the links in this post are from our sponsors. Read our disclosure to see how we make money.

Taking the plunge

It’s funny; when I think about financial independence, I recall an ordinary conversation I once had with a group of moms. We were talking casually about child-rearing when one of the moms made a statement I’ll never forget.  We were discussing an area of child-rearing in which there is some semi-serious debate – sleepovers.  As the group of us talked about parenting, the subject of sleepovers came up, to which I quietly admitted that we don’t allow our children to take part in sleepovers, either at other’ houses or here at our house.  I was quite excited to hear this other mom say that they didn’t “do sleepovers” either, as we seem to be the exception in the parenting world rather than the rule regarding this subject.

When I asked this mom why she didn’t do sleepovers (in an effort to see if her reasoning was similar to ours), she said:

“Because we just don’t see the value in them.  Whenever we make a decision regarding our children, we always first ask ourselves whether or not there is any value in what we’re considering doing.”

Wow.  How many people, no matter what the decision, ask themselves that question?  I know I don’t.  Or at least I didn’t – until then.

That profound statement in the midst of a casual conversation has stuck with me, especially as we complete our first year on our journey to become financially independent. More than ever, it has become a question that I find myself coming back to.

How the Value Question Helps Us Achieve Financial Independence

It’s often been said that what determines whether or not a person will become financially independent is not how much money they make, but how much money they keep.  Since this truth is now ingrained in our brains, we can’t help but ask ourselves, when faced with spending money, what the value is in what we’re considering buying.

For instance, on the way home from the grocery store early this morning, I was beyond hungry.  The Golden Arches, conveniently situated right next to the grocery store, were calling my name. On the surface, this decision didn’t appear to have anything to do with financial independence, but as I thought about what value that meal deal purchase would’ve added to my life, I could think of only three things:

1. Wasted money

2.  Lots o’ calories

3.  Higher cholesterol

After I determined that the trip to that fast food joint would bring absolutely no positive value to me, with the exception of filling my stomach immediately as opposed to 30 minutes later, I just couldn’t make the trip.  I had determined that, at least for me, that purchase would only have a negative value effect on our journey to become financially independent, and therefore I chose not to spend the money.

Now on another day, my answer to that same question might have been the total opposite.  If those golden arches had appeared in the midst of a busy day of running errands with our four kids, it might have been well worth the money spent in order to save my sanity and fill their tummies quickly so that we could complete our errands.

The question is not “What is an acceptable purchase and what is not?” Rather, the question is “Is this purchase of value to me and/or my family in regards to our short and long-term goals?”

Ask yourself, like I do, if the purchase you are about to make one that will push you toward your goal or away from it, and if it does, is that okay with you?

Again, I must reiterate that there is no right or wrong answer here, only a right or wrong answer for you.

Whether your goal is to gain financial independence, buy your dream house, live on a remote island, or whatever else your dream might be, work to reach it faster by making decisions that hold value – not detract value – toward your dreams and goals.


Do you have a litmus test or value statement that you run all your decisions through before you make them? What’s one of the best pieces of advice about financial independence that you’ve received?


Photo courtesy of: Josef Grunig

The following two tabs change content below.
Laurie is a wife, mother to 4, and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom, and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

Latest posts by Laurie (see all)


  • I haven’t had a value question run through my mind before, but I think maybe I should! What a great way to get right to the heart of what’s most important to us- the temptation to spend, or our long-term goals. I think I am going to have to borrow this idea, Laurie! Happy 2014!

  • What a great point! This is why long term financial goals are so valuable, the help balance short term needs/wants. Until we set our long term goal to pay off our mortgage early we were much less financially focused. We weren’t wasting a lot of money but there was still room for improvement. Once we had this long term goal it became easier to make those tough decisions.

    • That’s very interesting!! We’ve found the same thing here. Now that we’ve completed year one of our financial freedom journey, it’s easier too, to see those longer term goals coming to pass, and therefore it’s easier to make the value-based spending decisions. Thanks for sharing how this has helped you, and best of luck on that early mortgage payoff goal!

  • Great point, Laurie. I think this is a question that we don’t ask ourselves enough, especially in reference to time. Are you getting the most value out of your time at work and outside of work? I think that’s what we need to be asking ourselves day-after-day. That’s my one gripe about 9-5 corporate work – you have to be there and put in the time even if you (or the company) gets a ton of value out of the first 20 hours but little out of the next 20.

    • Great link-in to time wasted, DC! I’ve been thinking about this lately, as in the winter we watch WAY too much TV. I know I could spend that time learning about or earning money, so I’ve committed to cut TV hours down a bit for 2014. I remember too, being at my corporate job, doing nothing because there was nothing to be done, thinking about all I could be getting done at home – it’s so frustrating, isn’t it?

  • I use this same question, Laurie! Also, the statement that there is no right or wrong answer….just the right answer for YOU. What brings someone value, will be useless to someone else.

    • Exactly, Travis! This is why, IMHO, the question is so important. Although that fast food trip wasn’t of value to me the other morning, there are days when it would be priceless to say “yes” to the drive thru. 🙂

  • Pauline says:

    I mostly wonder if this purchase is worth the time and effort I spent earning that money. Spending two hours working for something that will bring 10 minutes of enjoyment is not worth it.

    • That’s a great way to calculate it, Pauline. We do that here too. If we are considering spending, I tell the kids, for instance, how many hours daddy will have to work if we buy A or B. We’re spending a lot less now that we use that gauge.

  • This is pretty much why we don’t buy a lot. Very few material possessions add real value to our lives. Great post!

    • You guys have been a great example that way, Holly. Your simple living concept has allowed you to create lots of awesome traveling and other experiences, which, I’m sure, bring you much more joy than a new gadget.

  • This is a good way to think about things. I need to start using something like this to help me determine whether or not to spend. Right now, I don’t really pay attention.

  • Matt Becker says:

    Love the mindset, particularly that something doesn’t have to be inherently one way or the other. It all depends on the context in which it’s being considered. Out of curiosity, what are your reasons against sleepovers?

    • Exactly, Matt! Our own reasons for being anti-sleepover are: One, we just don’t see the value in it, like my friend said, but also, I and also many of my friends have had lots of experience with “sleepovers gone wrong”, i.e. one or more kids or older siblings of the host drew us into activities that weren’t at all healthy in one way or another. In our case, we just don’t want to “go there” with our kids, and take that chance, you know? The sleepovers that I attended as a kid seemed to be a breeding ground for bad behavior if there was even one rebellious kid in the bunch.

      • Matt Becker says:

        Cool. Thanks for the feedback. I definitely see your point and think it has a lot of merit. I can remember a few sleepovers from my youth the led to some negative behaviors. I will say that I think those tended to be bigger sleepovers, whereas some of those I had with just one or two friends are some of the most fun memories I have from my childhood. It was a great way to forge a stronger friendship, when it went right. So I guess my viewpoint is to definitely be wary, know the parents, know the siblings, and pay extra special attention to sleepovers with lots of kids. But if I could feel pretty good about those things, I would love for my kids to have the same kind of positive experiences that I remember.

        • Thanks Matt, for sharing your great experiences. One thing we do with our kids is do camping trips with other families, where Rick and I are joining in on the “sleepover” fun. We’ve found this to be very fun, and the kids love it!

  • We try to keep our values in mind, and while that’s easy for the big purchases, sometimes it’s a lot more difficult for the small ones.

  • I think this is a great reminder about becoming more “mindful” of the financial choices we are making. Just the act of stopping and asking the one question can do wonders for keeping people on track. I ask myself “Why am I buying this?” And if the answer isn’t 1) Life or Death or 2) It’s part of my financial plan (knowing that I have planned for fun as well as practical expenses) for the year, then I stop myself.

  • I do think of what value things add to our lives before buying them, but this year I’m paying more attention to valuing my time. Looking at how much time we spend on everything in a given year vs. how much time we want to spend on certain things, was a real eye opener for me. You can use this example of value in really all aspects of your life. Smart post!

  • Interesting story about McDonalds. Because to me that would be a no-brainer to not go, but when when I was a junior in high school I ate fast food every day. Yes, I was also chubby. But the point is I wonder if there comes a point where everything that is potentially wasteful becomes something you don’t even think about, instead of having an internal debate. I guess some things would be tougher, like clothes since we do NEED those from time to tome. But maybe other little things like soda or magazines. hmmmm

    • Oh, Tonya, I was like that in high school too. McDonalds, and the vending machine at school were my entire diet almost, but luckily I was rail thin due to a super fast metabolism (not so much these days, unfortunately). However, on that day, it was my hunger that was the driving force. I made the classic mistake of going to the grocery store hungry. 🙂

  • Cindi says:

    It’s a ‘preparedness’ thing also. I never leave my home without a bottle of (tap) water, a few granola bars tucked into my handbag. If I know I’ll be gone for a few hours, I pack a PB&J or creme cheese & jelly sandwich. As for sleepovers, you also forgot one thing: what is the value to the CHILDREN? Not the parents. There’s a value to my kids: friendship, companionship, fun, adventure……..why oh why do parents never take their kids into consideration?
    We get to pick and choose how we want to live AND how we want to spend our money. McDonald’s has a dollar menu. If I’m stuck, I can spend two dollars on myself at McDonalds if need be.

    • So smart, Cindi. I need to be better about doing that. Regarding sleepovers, it’s the kids that we’re concerned about, not ourselves (see my comment reply to Matt above). We’ve found that our kids get just as much value having gatherings with their friends that do not involve sleeping at their house, and so that’s what we go with.

  • I like to use the similar strategy of assessing the overall value of a purchase, and as you pointed out, the same purchase can have a different value depending on the situation.

  • This is an awesome way to thinking Laurie! I think people too often only thing about things like the cost of what they are doing in terms of actual dollars, without thinking of any other considerations. If people thought about the value of things they were spending their money on, they might spend less and use their money to buy items with more value. But, I do love a goold ol’ cheeseburger and fries once or twice a year….

    • Thanks, Ryan!! And I agree – people often just don’t think of spending in terms of value, either monetary value or time value. Oh, yes, I love me some cheeseburgers and fries, just not a good idea at 9 in the morning. Things are different once your digestive system hits forty, LOL. 🙂

  • Regarding the skipped McDonald’s meal: 4. Loads of salt. You made the right choice!

  • Kathy says:

    I try to subscribe to the “I’d rather” philosophy regarding spending. Do I want that cheeseburger or would I rather save the money for a fabulous slice of cheesecake. Do I want that real cute but fairly cheap sweater, or would I rather save up for a great little black dress? Do I want a weekend away or would I rather put that money towards a 3 week Alaskan trip? I think this kind of works with your friend’s value philosophy….although I’d ask if she just lets the children have fun even if there is no real value attached to it….just pure and simple play. Come to think of it, there is value in that as well.

    • I love that philosophy, Kathy! That is a great way of putting your true values to the forefront, and not settling for those spur of the moment gratification purchases. Thanks for the wise advice. Regarding my friend, she is a pro at letting her kids have fun, just within the confines of their pre-determined valuable types of fun choices. 🙂

  • I really enjoy the idea of what value is this providing me. Rarely do I stop and think about whether what I’m buying or bringing into my life really is going to get me closer to my goal. Must start giving this a try!

  • I think it’s a great idea to have this value statement. It can be used in practically every area of your life.

  • Such a great question to ask when handling money. I try to do a value debate for almost all my purchases (even a cup of coffee). Great way to start off the new year!

    I am curious to know your reasoning about no sleepovers?

    • Erin, that’s such a good idea, the value debate. Our reasons for no sleepovers are many, from not so good situations at sleepovers when we were kids, to a host of other reasons. 🙂 Mostly, though, we think they can have just as much fun playing during the day.

  • Michelle says:

    I have, more and more, started to see the value in purchases vs the long term goal of travel and retirement. Is those new shoes worth another month until I can go to Argentina? Is this trip to the cafeteria for chips worth a day of my retirement?

  • I don’t normally ask the value question when I make any purchases, but most purchases that I make are something that was planned or needed. One thing I saw, I wish I could remember the source because it’s a great idea, is to write your financial goals on a small piece of paper and tuck it in your wallet. That way you get one last reminder of what you’re actually striving for before you make the purchase.

  • Love this Laurie. I often use a similar test when making large”ish” purchases. I’ll ask myself how I’ll feel about the purchase in 10 minutes, 10 days, and 10 months. If I’ll be happy about in in all 3 instances I’ll usually make the purchase. But more often than not, the 10 day rule will keep me from buying as the thrill of the purchase will have worn off by then.

    • Love that idea, Kyle!! This is the kind of shared wisdom that has helped Rick and I SO much over the past year – thank you for that! And now I’ll be heading over to your Chipotle post – now there’s a value purchase for me!! 🙂

  • anna says:

    Love this a lot, Laurie! I do it a lot in terms of spending time with people, or how I react to someone’s negative attitude towards me (i.e., is it worth it to expend anymore energy into this, or just walk away and get over it), but I admit it takes practice with finances. Something to work on for sure, especially with long-term goals of starting a family. I’ll keep this in mind, thanks Laurie! 🙂

  • Liz says:

    I received some of the most compelling advice about financial independence from an accounting professor during college. “The key to financial independence is being satisfied with enough.” This is my mantra now. Trying to be happy with what I have and not needing more material possessions. I also remind myself of this every time I look at real estate listings online.. Liz, you have enough house!

  • kathryn says:

    When considering material purchases and their value, sometimes I put it in the shopping cart and before I leave the store, I put it back on the shelf. Other times, it comes home with me.As with everything, I want value.
    Concerning sleepovers, is a different matter. I grew up in the 60s-70s and having sleepovers was a way of life.Sometimes we would go on Friday, on the schoolbus and return home Monday, on the schoolbus. It was always just one friend at a time.
    When our 4 kids were growing up, we never limited their sleepovers either. It forged great friendships. This is much more valuable than anything that can be purchased. Friends were always welcome, including to our dinner table.

  • We went through the same kind of McDonald’s analysis when we decided to stop ordering take-out pizza. Half the time, our son wouldn’t eat it, and every time we spent more than we would if we just made it at home. Plus, it’s not healthy for us. So we stopped and stocked the freezer with meatballs for our quick “I’m too tired to cook” meal.

  • Steve@SmartShoppingSense says:

    There seems to be some contradiction in your thinking or beliefs and I believe it is centered around self sacrifice. You are hungry beyond normal conditions yet you intentionally “starve” yourself for another 30 minutes to avoid possibly binging out on a McD’s value meal? This is unhealthy due to excessive build up of bile in the stomach. Yet facing the same situation when your children are present you immediately surrender as a matter of convenience as a parent? There are always options in life and it either requires better preparation or some compromise to juggle the issues between frugality and minimum quality of life.

    In the first scenario, maybe consider a small snack to get you by until you make it back home. McD’s has an unbeatable value deal of a small coffee and fresh muffin for just $1.39. Heck, even some supermarkets sell a muffin alone for over $1! That would have been an acceptable solution because in all likelihood when you arrived home half starved you would have likely wolfed down an excessive amount of food to satisfy your hunger pains, but you would not realize you have overeaten until much later.

    And for the second scenario when a busy day filled with numerous errands is anticipated then you should pack some snacks or travel meals as an emergency back up. Because things never go as smoothly as planned and this would get them by until you can get your kids to a proper meal.

    I do not think everything in life can simply boil down to mere financial numbers as a litmus test, because if that were the case then we would never consider being parents and having children now, would we?

    • Hey, Steve, thanks for your comments, I appreciate you weighing in. Given that it had only been roughly 15 hours since I’d eaten, I think I probably would’ve been okay. From all of the studying I’ve done on the subject, a 12-16 hour fast is actually good for the body. And you’re right that everything cannot boil down to numbers, which was my whole point: in an ideal world, yes, I’d have everything planned, snacks on hand, etc., but as I’ve learned after 14 years of parenting and 9 years of homeschooling, my schedule doesn’t always go the way I want it to, and sometimes there’s just not enough hours in the day to have things planned perfectly. 🙂

      • John says:

        Thanks for the inter-change Steve & Laurie. I completely understand where you’re coming from Steve on the fact that not everything can be boiled down strictly to mere financial numbers.

        That said, I believe the ultimate point of the post was Laurie describing the need to practice value based spending, which many of us overlook. The value comes in that with Laurie and her family being in the middle of paying off debt, just stopping at McD’s may not always make the most sense when looked at through the prism of paying off debt – health issues aside. As we all know, the day rarely turns out the way we’d like, and we have to do what’s wisest given our financial situations.

  • Missy Homemaker says:

    This is one of the most intelligent, common sense things I’ve ever read. And simple although it sounds like some people are trying to make it more complicated than it really is.
    As far as sleepovers are concerned, I do let my older sons sleep over somewhere if I know the parents. I do see value in that as I LOVED doing that as a kid.

  • Since I have gone the uber-fitness route over the last few years, I have had similar conversations with myself. Most of them are surrounding food intake and how I spend my “down time”. It is really a powerful thing when we start honestly evaluating our choices and start making changes to our life.

  • Catherine says:

    I totally live by this. I think it’s why I’m satisfied with less. My husband is much different than me though…he admittedly likes stuff (though he restrains himself). 99% of the time I much prefer to live and thing this way but honestly, the truth is that it can be mentally exhausting sometimes and make even simple decisions way more difficult than they need to be!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *