Personal Finance Is Not About Money. It’s About VHM. / by Jennifer Chan


You may or may not have noticed but I have been slowly transitioning from exclusively talking about personal finance to branching out about career, self-development, labour economics and more.

Let me tell you why.

I started my blog with the intent of sharing some financial tips & strategies that helped me aggressively pay down the $50,000 of student loans that I owe. I document my journey and open up about how much my relationship with money has changed over the past two years. The feedback has been great, but after having written 60+ blog posts, I realized that money management isn't just about money - it's a symptom of a disconnect between what we think we want (external motivations) and what we actually want (internal motivations).

Personal finance is really about values, habits and mindset (VHM).

Why bother writing about what credit cards hold the most value when you do not even know what your values are?

Why bother writing about what investing strategy to have when you do not even know how much you need to retire or cannot save enough to invest?

Why bother writing about financial independence when we earn different incomes, live in different cities and have markedly different lifestyles?

Don’t get me wrong – financial literacy is crucial.

But financial products and strategy are secondary to understanding your own values, habits and mindset.

If eliminating debt or saving for retirement is the destination, consider your VHM the map.


There is no right answer when it comes to the following topics:

  • Rent vs. Own
  • Only use cash vs. Only use credit cards (and pay off with cash)
  • Robo-advisors vs. Self-directed investing
  • Financing  a car vs. Purchasing a car in cash
  • Paying Professionals vs. DIY
  • Credit Card 1 vs. Credit Card 2

All of these questions are just fluff. The "correct" answer will be based on your definition of value-based spending.

Most of you will choose one over the other simply based on whether you are willing to devote enough time to do the task or rather pay to have it delegated to someone else – landlord covering home repairs, an investment company re-balancing your portfolio, or professionals renovating your bathroom.

Concentrate on your values and direct your spending to align with them.


It is important to have big, hairy audacious financial goals, such as saving enough money for a new car, a down payment, or simply retirement. But the road is a long one – and you will not get there on sheer motivation.

What you do every day matters.

Spend less time intimidated by your destination, and concentrate on:

  • Daily tracking of your spending
  • Bringing your lunch to work
  • Weekly financial check-ins with yourself
  • Monthly financial conversations with your partner
  • Automating transfers to various bank accounts

Our habits, and not a single intervening event, that will help us reach our financial destination. Yes, a windfall of money during tax season is awesome but if you do not have the daily habits to keep that momentum going, you’re going to fall flat on your face well before the finish line.

Anticipate resistance by implementing regular habits.


“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Do you have Gary Vaynerchuk’s zest and enthusiasm for life?

Or do you have Friedrich Nietzsche’s nihilism where you believe everything is meaningless?

I am sure you fall somewhere in the middle.

It is in your best interest to be as positive as possible about your capabilities. Part of developing a positive mindset is being confident in what you know, what you can endure and what you can bring to the table.

The one difference between someone who considers themselves successful over someone who considers themselves unsuccessful boils down to this: perspective.

Because successful people know that "success" is solely defined by their subjective expectations.

Let’s walk through an example that incorporates personal finance.

It’s December 1, 2017.

Let’s say that you have a goal of eliminating your debt by December 2018. You have $20,000 left. You created a detailed spreadsheet, calculated the interest, and figured out how much you need to contribute to your student loans every month in order to achieve your goal.

For the first five months, everything goes as planned.

And then suddenly in the middle of May, your car breaks down. There is something wrong with the engine and it will require $3,000 to repair. You are forced to fix your car because you need to drive to work.

You try to revise a new budget but you simply will not have the income to make it work. Sad and dejected, you give up your goal and say that it will now take you an additional three months to pay off your debt.

First, why admit defeat already when you still have seven months left? If that arbitrary deadline you set for yourself means everything to you, then sell your stuff on Kijiji, get a second (or third) job and cut your cable for a few months. You have already discounted yourself before the race is even over.

Second, so what if it takes you an additional three months? In the grand scheme of your life that does not matter. What makes you “successful” is eliminating your debt, not eliminating your debt within one year instead of one year and three months. No one cares about those extra three months. Your ego just wants you to get it done quicker because it looks more impressive.

Perspective is everything.

If you are too hard on yourself, you will give up and doubt your abilities.

If you are too easy on yourself, you will never push yourself to your greatest capacity.

Aim high. Plan for setbacks. Pivot accordingly.

Money Matters… But Not As Much as You Think

Money is incredibly important to us. We need it to provide food on the table and a safe place to sleep.

But reading personal finance blogs does not guarantee that you will be good with your money.

It will certainly increase your financial literacy, but that means nothing without concerted action. 

Here's Your Homework:

After you finish reading this post, open a blank Word document and write a list that contains the following:

  • Your 5 core values (rank them in priority)
  • Your 5 new daily habits (i.e. waking up at 5:30 AM, reading while eating breakfast, bringing your lunch to work, etc.)
  • Your life philosophy (i.e. a mix of frugality? minimalism? a belief that you can do anything you want if you work hard enough? Get creative.)

What you just wrote is the roadmap that will not only lead you to your financial goals, but will also help you develop a healthy relationship with money. Once you start looking at cars, clothes, houses, and whatever else is too expensive, all you need to do is refer back to your roadmap and see if it aligns with your values. This will significantly reduce the chance of you regretting your purchases and will build up your self-esteem when it comes to making smart financial choices.

Identify your VHM and the rest will follow.