Do you ever wonder why people spend their money the way they do?
Why take an expensive Uber when you can walk 20 minutes to get to the same place?
Why pay for first-class tickets when we’re all going to the same place anyway?
Growing up in Sacramento, I used to see guys who loved buying old cars and repairing them. I didn’t get it. Why spend money to create more work for yourself?
Later I realized I was looking at it all wrong. In fact, now I completely understand why people would pay money to do any of these things.
It’s all about Money Dials.
What are Money Dials?
Every one of us has an area that we naturally love to spend money on. I call these areas Money Dials, and I’ve identified 10 Money Dials that we LOVE to pour our money in. If you look at your own spending, what gets you excited? Think about:
- Health / fitness
The above are five examples of our Money Dials, and I’ll share all 10 Money Dials below, but if you had $25,000 to spend on any of the above, which would you put your money into? Your answer — the one you instinctively came to within seconds — is likely your number-one Money Dial.
Knowing your Money Dial can transform the way you think about your spending, because it lets you understand what you spend money on and why, and it enables you to redirect your spending from other areas to spend extravagantly on your Money Dial. THIS is what true Conscious Spending looks like.
You might recognize this concept in my Conscious Spending system. Money Dials are the evolution of that system and zoom in on the concept of spending extravagantly — guilt-free.
Let’s take an example: LeBron James.
He spends $1.5 million a year keeping his body in top form, according to this article from The Ringer, investing in nuanced health-promoting practices like cryotherapy and hyperbaric chambers. Not to mention his personal chefs and trainers who help him adhere to a strict diet and routine.
I LOVE IT.
Everything in his life, down to the last detail, is focused on achieving peak physical fitness. He’s not just spending $100 on a massage and calling it good. His number-one Money Dial is health and fitness, and so he’s architected his life and finance around physical fitness and investing a significant amount of money in it.
Fitness isn’t the only Money Dial, though. For example, I have a friend who’s in his 40s and earns multiple six figures every year working in tech. He has enough money to do basically anything he wants to do. He can travel the world. He can retire early and buy a bunch of cars.
Instead, he chooses to live in Palo Alto — one of the most expensive areas in the U.S — to be close to his family. He’s not considered rich there. If anything, he’s middle class where he lives. He also chooses to send his kids to private school, which costs tens of thousands per year. To top it off, he just bought a house AND he’s building a dream house with a special suite for his parents.
He chose to make his relationship with his family his number-one Money Dial. The trade-off means he almost never goes on lavish trips or buys anything fancy for himself — but none of those things matter to him.
The common theme between LeBron and my friend is that they’ve built a life that allows them to spend extravagantly and unapologetically on the things that truly matter to them (fitness and relationships, respectively), but also allows them to cut costs mercilessly on the things that don’t matter.
This is the power of Money Dials.
Finding your own Money Dials
To find your Money Dials, you just have to ask yourself one question: What do you LOVE to spend money on?
That can be a deeply uncomfortable question to ask. It can actually be a little scary for some of you. Our culture and society love to demonize spending, especially when it comes to spending on yourself. It comes with guilt, shame, and judgment. Don’t believe me? Head to the comment section of any Money Diaries piece. You’re going to find a TON of comments like these ones:
What a judgmental reaction — as if it’s forbidden and downright evil to spend on the things you love (and have the means to).
But what if we take these same judgmental people and examined their spending for a month? I bet you I’d be able to find areas in their life where they’re “wasting” their money, too.
It’s OK to recognize that you have areas you naturally love and want to spend on. What others think of your spending doesn’t matter because everyone has different Money Dials. It’s simply a matter of different priorities! In other words, what you value will be different from what others value. If you LOVE to spend your money on week-long trips to exotic locales every week, but someone else would rather spend that same amount of money on having the latest iPhone, then that’s great — and perfectly normal!
It’s just being true and honest to ourselves and what our Money Dials are.
In fact, when we’re honest about acknowledging our Money Dials, we can adjust the dial (hence the term) as we need to be moderate or turn them all the way up to spend even more on the things that bring us joy and more pleasant experiences (think splurging on first-class tickets instead of economy all the time, for example).
This is crucial psychologically.
Not only will we have more money and energy to spend on the things that bring us happiness, but we’ll be able to spend on those things guilt-free, since we know we’ve freed up the money by ignoring everything else.
It’s intimidating and liberating at the same time. It allows us to say, “Hey, this is important to me — and that’s not.”
The most successful people I’ve met are all very conscious about how they spend their money. That doesn’t mean they don’t spend at all. It means that they choose HOW and WHERE to spend their money, and are unapologetic in allocating significant resources to live a better life.
10 most common Money Dials
Do you know what you naturally gravitate toward spending on? Most people don’t — even though everyone tends to have a few overriding priorities for their discretionary spending.
When it comes to Money Dials, though, people’s spending almost always matches up with these 10 priorities.
- Health / fitness
- Social status
I want to take a look at the four most common Money Dials. As you read, take note of how they fit into your spending habits.
Money Dial #1: Convenience
This Money Dial means spending on anything that makes your life more convenient.
- Travel apps
- Extra iPhone charger
- Pre-cooked meals
- Everything delivered
- Automated bank accounts (and automation in many parts of life)
I love spending my money for convenience. I spend more than $50,000 a year on a personal trainer, chef, and other luxury services to streamline my life and reduce stress in those areas. However, this is my extreme end because I’ve turned the Money Dial all the way up. That’s why I have a VA who…
- Optimizes my calendar for me
- Arranges all my travel — right down to the perfect seat on the perfect flight and the perfect route to the airport
- Schedules all my appointments and calls
If you want more convenience, simpler examples would be buying pre-cut vegetables at the grocery store so you can avoid the messy chopping work at home. Here are other examples from our readers:
“For a year we spent money on Blue Apron. It made life easier to come home and know what we were having for dinner and everything was right there in the fridge. We’d still be doing it if I hadn’t been diagnosed with gestational diabetes and unable to eat many of the meals. I love buying back my time!”
“Splurged on a luxury car service to take me from Los Angeles to Huntington Beach. Cost hundreds more than an Uber would have, but I wanted the convenience of *knowing* I’d have a ride at the time I wanted. I rode in style and comfort and didn’t need to worry about the logistics of that trip: I learned that when you splurge on a ‘luxury’ experience, they take care of things like showing up on time for you — you don’t need to worry about that.”
“The $350 I spent on a Roomba was a game-changer in the dog hair game.”
Money Dial #2: Travel
People with the Travel Money Dial spend heavily on travel.
- On January 1st, they already know where they’re traveling this year
- They’re often masters of points/travel hacking
- They have an overflowing list of travel destinations saved and their conversations revolve around where they’ve been and where they’re going
- They have strong opinions about the “right” suitcase, the right way to pack, and the best seats on the plane
If you turn this Money Dial all the way up, it means traveling for months every year; joining a travel group; splurging on high-end travel experiences like a safari, Inspirato membership, or multi-generational travel; and developing strong perspectives on travel, including which friends to invite, how much “authenticity” matters, and specific parts of the world to return to.
Some examples from our readers who value travel as their primary Money Dial:
“I didn’t really think it would be travel, but realized that my husband and I have owned three campers now (which is still much cheaper than a flight — so it doesn’t feel extravagant) but still eats into a significant amount of our free time and discretionary funds. I am not into camping at all, so this is shocking to me. Having a camper allows us to travel with our dogs without worrying about whether a place will be pet-friendly or trying to get them on a plane. My husband gets to do the type of travel that he wants, which is to be in the middle of nowhere, and I get to do the type of travel I want — which is to explore a new city — all in the same trip because we can move every day (or not) without the inconvenience of changing hotels. Between the payment, insurance, and parking, our monthly cost is about $550. That doesn’t include gas or fees for parks (if we stay in one). That is a lot of money on our budget, but it’s worth it because it gives us the type of freedom we want to explore.”
“We have spent $15,000 two years in a row (and will probably do it for another five years, even though it extends our budget and we make sacrifices in other places) for a week-long family trip with kids (8 and 11) to Tavarua Island in Fiji. Best family time, surf time (my passion), and dedicated time with family and friends every year. My kids want us to book it for next year the second we start to pack up. May have to sacrifice a year or two at some point to make sure we keep overall finances in check.”
“I spent on family Disney vacation. We stayed at the Disney’s Polynesian (right on the monorail line) and bought the full meal plan and the full ‘Park-Hopper’ tickets for the entire vacation. I know it was a crap ton of extra money than trying to go cheap. But my family and I spent the entire vacation just having fun. We never worried about food. We never worried about where we wanted to go that day because we had complete freedom. The memories are priceless.”
Money Dial #3: Health and fitness
This Money Dial is becoming more and more common, especially in big cities.
- Membership at a gym based on quality, not necessarily distance to your house / apartment
- Personal trainer + nutritionist
- Choosing food based on macros, not simply taste (e.g., Ezekiel bread)
- Selective about your workout gear (Lululemon + Nike are the best)
Taken to its logical extreme, the Health and Fitness Money Dial can mean annual yoga retreats, always checking restaurant menus before you go, joining social groups based on fitness. I’ve added this as a Money Dial in the last few years. Some examples from readers whose number-one Money Dial is health and fitness:
“Currently paying a nutritionist $275/month for a six-month program.”
“I spend around $12,000 per year in personal trainer for Pilates and Gyrotonics class. It’s absolutely worth it.”
“Right now I am spending a bit more than average of my monthly income to go to a specific karate dojo in town. I take classes with one of the best masters of karate in Europe. It was one of the best decisions. I am in better shape than ever, physically and mentally (this master is old school so he includes all the spiritual parts of karate in his classes).”
Money Dial #4: Experiences
This Money Dial focuses spending on fun and unique experiences.
- Unique vacation activities like swimming with blue whales
- Dinners at Michelin-starred restaurants
The Experiences Money Dial is perfect for anyone who values novelty and unique experiences over material possessions. Here is how our readers spend money on experiences:
“I always buy concert tickets VIP. Box seats have a great view, private wait staff with better food, etc. I’m not smashed next to sweaty armpits (I am short so this is reality), and VIP parking is usually included and is extremely close to the venue. Sometimes there’s a catered event pre-show or meet and greet with different bands. I’m not 15 anymore — roughing it is not my style. I’ve spent $100 and [as much as] $1,000 on a single concert ticket. It’s like a game to find the best tickets, and I never regret going to a show.”
“I bought 2017 World Series tickets: $2,600 for two bad tickets, but I HAD to experience it.”
“I spent $1,000+ (a LOT of money for me) to go to Las Vegas to see Stevie Wonder in concert. I didn’t care about going to Vegas, but it was one of only two places Stevie was performing this year. He is my favorite living musician, but I’d never seen him live before. I splurged and got a great seat — on the floor, in the center, 13 rows back. He was, as you would expect, a wonderful performer, and I had a fantastic time. It made me so happy to be alive. I would absolutely do it again.”
NOTE: I cover all of the Money Dials in my course How to Win the Game of Advanced Personal Finance.
What’s your Money Dial?
Well, I have a newer version of that: Show me a person’s spending, and I can show you what they love.
And I find it incredibly fascinating for several reasons (not just because I’m a big weirdo):
- People go to where their time and money go. Fit people spend time and money being fit. Fashionable people spend time and money on fashion. Etc.
- People often get their own spending priorities wrong. For example, some might say that family is their #1 priority, but if you looked at their calendars and spending, family isn’t even in the top 10.
- People’s Money Dials are an easy way to determine what they claim is important vs what is actually important. A lot of people say they love to travel, and when they actually do spend money and time on it they have a miserable time and just want to be back home. Clarifying their Money Dials can allow them to refocus on what’s important to them.
My favorite part of Money Dials: Once you recognize yours, and you accept it, you can zoom in on what you love by turning the dial all the way up, as I’ve done for myself for convenience.
This might seem extreme to some — but for me it’s a complete no-brainer. Because I know my Money Dial and can focus on it, I actually free up time to invest in my company … and I can earn even more money as a result.
Money Dial Challenge
Here’s my challenge for you to do this week: If you can afford to, take $500 and spend it extravagantly on something you love.
That’s going to be a lot of money for some of you — but that’s the point. Spending money on the things you love can be uncomfortable at first. Especially when you consider all the Invisible Scripts, the ubiquitous assumptions that we no longer question in our lives, and noise around spending.
Guess what? I’m giving you permission to put that $500 toward your Money Dial this week.
I also want you to go to the comment section and share two things:
- What’s your #1 Money Dial?
- What are you going to do with your $500 to start implementing it this week?
I can’t wait to read your comments.