Article originally posted to Forbes.com.
It’s the dreaded tax time, when we brace for the bad news of how many of our hard-earned dollars are going to the government. But going through the process of collecting all this financial information about the past year can be so much more than just tax prep.
It can also give us insights for goal-setting – and not just financial goals. We are multidimensional people with multidimensional lives. We have careers, relationships, residences, priorities and stuff, and spend our time in myriad ways – and we are in turn affected by all of it.
Going through our expenses and income for the year can show us so much about our lives, values, time, priorities and interests, as well as who we want to become and the people we want more of in our lives. All of this can help us achieve our goals, showing us resources we might have, both financial and non-financial – and so much more.
Deconstructing what’s in your numbers can yield priceless information, if we are brave enough to understand them that way.
Here are 9 insights you can get from preparing your taxes (no matter where you live) – if you pay attention differently:
1. How are you spending your time?: If you deconstruct your expenses, including on credit cards, you’ll see how you spend your time, as well as your money, and be able to re-evaluate what serves you and your goals. The other points below break this down further.
2. What do you value? : Every expense reflects a value, no matter how large or small. If you’re spending money on online dating sites, and/or dates, you seem to want a romantic relationship. If you’re dining out a lot, it might reflect the friends and family you’re prioritizing spending time with (at least in person).
3. Which technologies did you spend money on?: Expenses for technologies might reveal what you want or need to learn to achieve your goals, and which types of technologies you value or use the most, or plan to use more. Think about why.
4. Have you paid for online courses or training programs? Any investments you may have made in personal or professional development – such as online or in-person courses, a college degree, or certification program, no matter how large or small – reflect what you value, who you want to become, what you want to learn, and/or a career you may be leaning towards. What are you learning about?
5. Did you pay for conferences and events? : Any conferences and/or events you may have paid for demonstrate your interests, professionally and/or personally. Did you pay to attend a virtual conference on clean energy technologies, or on how to find contracts your business might qualify for – or a new job – in the new federal infrastructure-climate legislation? Did you sign up for a cooking class? Is that to cook for yourself, family and friends, or to learn to eat healthier? Or to consider opening a new restaurant or food truck? It all leaves clues.
6. What does your rent/mortgage payment say? : How much you spend on your rent or mortgage reflects how important where you live is to you. That is, your physical space, location, what you want to be near, the type of physical climate you prefer, and the activities you want easy access to. If you recently relocated, was that for a new job, or reinventing the next phase of your life, to be near someone in particular, or to change climates? It all tells you something about your goals and informs your goal-setting.
7. What did you spend on travel? With covid mostly behind us, many of us are hitting the road or getting on airplanes again. What did you spend travel money on? If all your travel costs were to see family, that reflects certain goals and values. Spending on attending professional events, even if your employer reimbursed you, gives you insight into your professional values and goals. Did you go on an adventurous vacation? Who did you go with? Where did you go? Those choices tell you what (and maybe who) you are prioritizing in your life.
8. Leisure activities – including spending on dating : How much you’re spending on leisure activities, from movies to National Park passes, to mountain bikes to dating sites and courses are all reflecting something you are prioritizing. It could be prioritizing physical exercise, or “finding the one,” or being in nature, or reading books. Noticing where and how we are spending money on leisure activities provides a lot of insight into who we are, who we want in our lives, and how we want to spend our time.
9. What were all your sources of income? Who paid us how much to do what over the course of the year – and how those sources and amounts might have changed over time – provides tremendous insights into where our lives are headed, and, therefore, for our goals and goal-setting. If your only source of income is a full-time job, that reflects a certain set of values and priorities. If you have a side hustle, or invest in real estate for example, that demonstrates your interests and goals and, therefore influences your goal-setting. If you’re an entrepreneur or a freelancer, which clients are paying you how much for what and for how long? If you have multiple sources of income, what does each one say about your interests and where you want to go?
Deconstructing our spending and income patterns over the past year when we do our taxes, therefore, can yield such a wide range of incredibly valuable insights and information – if we pay attention and want to see it.
They can also provide incredibly valuable vectors for what goals we want to achieve, or not, and where we are on that path. What do yours say?