How to Deal When Your Heart and Your Budget Collide

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Those of us who are drawn to social-impact careers care deeply about the causes our work supports. At the same time, like everyone else, we have bills to pay.

What do we do when there’s a gap—sometimes a substantial one—between what we earn and our expenses? It’s a question that many idealists wrestle with, and it takes different forms:

  • If I ask for a salary increase, does that pull money away from a program?
  • How do I balance my own needs and the needs of my family against such high-stakes services and initiatives?
  • If I grapple with these questions, does that mean my commitment to my cause and organization is waning?

Without scrutiny, these concerns can take a toll and create an underlying feeling of professional anxiety and discord.

Read on for suggestions for how to process all of these thoughts and feelings.

Be Realistic about Your Financial Needs

Before you can determine whether your current scenario is working, it’s important to get the numbers in front of you.

Consider using budget and forecasting apps such as Mint, You Need a Budget, or GoodBudget. There are many options, so grab one that has the features you’ll use.

Give yourself free rein when you develop your budget, and categorize your expenses using labels into such as:

  • Essential
  • Important
  • Reasonable
  • Bonus
  • Excessive

Develop your own labels, and while you’re defining your hierarchy, notice whether guilt sneaks into the process.

What do you allow yourself to have? Is it okay for your to make your budget within the context of your highest aspirations, or do you want to make it in relation to a different standard? What’s your benchmark?

Examine Your Money Mindset

Is guilt a big part of your financial assessment? What about deficiency? Consider whether you really want those emotions to be key drivers in your decision-making process.

As Lynne Twist noted in The Soul of Money, we can’t draw from a dry well. She said, “Who do I need to be to fulfill on the commitment I’ve made? What kind of human being do I need to forge myself into to make this happen? What resources do I need to be willing to bring to bear in myself and my colleagues and in my world?”

As you build out your budget, you may find that what you’re currently earning or aspiring to earn doesn’t fulfill your needs. Here’s where it’s important to examine your thought patterns about money.

Get clear on your underlying beliefs about money and your budget as you develop strategy to address the gap between your heart and your wallet.

Define the Value You Create

One of my clients recently told me, “I’m not listing my responsibilities on my resume anymore. I’m showing people how I create value for my organization.” It’s a critical paradigm shift to make, and not just when you’re writing your resume.

You are not your job description, and your impact comes from much more than the items you check off your to-do list each day. When you can recognize and articulate how your presence makes a difference in your organization, you can assess whether it’s time to ask for a raise.

Here’s an example of the difference between a task item and a statement of value:

  • Task: “Responsible for individual and group counseling for juveniles.”
  • Value Statement: “Use empowering language to connect with juveniles in individual and group counseling sessions, supporting incremental forward progress in clients’ goals.”

Your work matters, and how you do it matters. When you know how your presence amplifies an organization’s mission, you’re positioned to identify whether the compensation (both financial and otherwise)  adds up to make it worth your time and effort.

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What suggestions would you offer people who experience conflict between their heart and their budget? Add your suggestions and experiences in the comments.

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A "triple i" (introvert, intuitive, idealist), Maggie Graham helps support individuals seeking their optimal career choices. She’s savvy when it comes to self-promotion, particularly with resumes, bios, cover letters, website copy, and other “look at me!” tools.
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