Money Smarts

Are You Unconsciously Spending on Likes Not Loves?

Understanding your money mindset to prioritize spending on what you love to create the life of your dreams.

A few years ago I found myself wondering why I was buying the things I bought. Why did I need to own two cars, a motorcycle, live in an expensive apartment, or have a walk-in-closet filled with clothes with tags still on them? Why did I need a new phone each year or get the latest tech gadget? Did I really need to spend $40 per night on dinner or go out for a weekend bar crawl and spend $200-300?

[This story appears and is expanded in my bestselling book You Only Live Once: The Roadmap to Financial Wellness and a Purposeful Life.]

By the time I was 26, I was vice president of marketing for a credit union. I went from bank teller to executive in a matter of 3 years. When I made that huge income leap I still couldn’t manage to buy my way into happiness.

I was living and enjoying life, but I also felt unsatisfied. Something was missing and I was trying to fill it with things such as an $1800 watch and weekend retreats. I was making money  and spending it quickly.

Eventually, I realized my relationship with money, credit, and debt was based on a lack of awareness of what I truly love. I focused my attention on earning more money, but continued to mindlessly spend on things that didn’t matter to me.

I continued to earn more but I couldn’t seem to change my spending habits no matter how much I tried. Until, I learned about addressing the root cause of my spending–my money mindset.

Money mindset? Glad you asked.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about money mindset or money mindfulness. I’ve also read tons of articles on conscious spending. Basically, all these hippy new age words focus on awareness – financial awareness to be more specific. And I couldn’t agree more.

Mindfulness is an increase attention to how we feel, think, and react to the world around us. Wanting a bigger home or dream vacation but faced with the reality of debt or low income, we actually make decisions that compound our financial issues. During these financial moments, our decision-making is strongly influenced by our feelings and behaviors. Sometimes conscious but more often unconscious.


The reason why we don’t live fulfilling lives is not because we’re spending the money we make, rather, we’re spending on things that really don’t matter to us.

Spend on loves not likes

For this moment, let’s suspend the personal finance motto “choose needs before wants.” I want to focus your attention on spending on loves not likes. What prevents us from living our dream life is that we’re spending our earned money on things we like not love.

I’ve heard an acronym used many times throughout the years, but I had no clue what it really meant. The acronym is “WANELO” which stands for Want, Need, and Love. Basically, WANELO prioritizes spending on things you absolutely love.

How many purchases have you made that you absolutely love? Or do you find yourself buying things you like because you’re looking for instant gratification?

I love to travel and like eating out

A few years ago, I believed traveling cost a lot of money so I didn’t make many plans to travel overseas. One day I decided to calculate the total amount of money I spent on dinners out with friends for an entire month. The amount totaled $1200. That was enough for an all inclusive vacation to the Dominican Republic. You can imagine the look on my face when I realized I’ve been unconsciously spending on things I liked over things I said I loved.

Are you unconsciously spending on likes not loves?

In the past years, I became aware of a spending process based on Loving, Needing, Liking, and Wanting. If I don’t absolutely love something then I determine if it’s something I need, like, or want. It’s helped prioritize how I spend my time and spend my money.

Basically, it means you spend the most money on what you love and spend the least on what you want.

I’ll repeat it again.

Love > Need > Want > Like

Love goes before Needs

There are many things we like, but only want a few of those things. And there are things we need that must be prioritized over wants. But, above all else we should spend on what we love.

Spend too much on your likes, wants, and needs you won’t have enough for things you love.

For example, you need a car and love the BMW brand. The brand fulfills a dream of luxury and status. If you truly love BMWs, then no one should deprive you of owning one. Instead of unconsciously buying any brand new car to fulfill the need, you may decide to buy a used car to save money to afford what you love later. Loving, at times, means some short-term sacrifices. Buying the BMW may call for expense cuts, a part-time job, improving credit, or paying off debt today.

There’s a caveat to this example. In some cases, buying the BMW you love (may be affordable) could take you away from creating a life you actual love. You have to align your spending to what matters most to you.

Mindfulness is knowing what you love

Being money mindful is awareness of a vision for your life and understanding your financial situation. You work to earn money to spend money. Are you spending that money on things you love?

Are you spending to create the life you love or spending to feel okay for the life you like?

Want to learn more about Love > Need > Want > Like? Get a copy of my book today.

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Jason Vitug

Jason Vitug is founder at phroogal, creator of the award-winning project the Road to Financial Wellness, and author of the bestseller and NY Times reviewed book, You Only Live Once: The Roadmap to Financial Wellness and a Purposeful Life.

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  1. I have my share of mistakes, but have tried in the recent years to prioritize better. There are things that really matter to me and some that I don’t care about. I no longer need to ‘show off’ that I earn a decent living, I don’t need to impress anyone. I just wear the clothes I like (even if I don’t look ‘well to do’ in them), drive my car and worry about my own person and family, no longer about what others thing of me. I was able to make more progress in all areas by changing my mindset.

      1. Well, I think we need to reach a certain age to do it. All good financial advice I received in my 20s fell to deaf ears. As soon as I hit 30, I started changing.

  2. Agreed, in many ways it comes down to what is important to you. I might love going to a sushi place every Friday to relax and enjoy the food, but you might think this is wasteful spending. The 50K BMW probably can be argued against in 99% of the situations, but who knows maybe you are the 1%!

    1. Even Steven, it is about knowing what is affordable given your situation but most of us don’t know what is and overstretch ourselves. We spend on all the likes never getting the chance to enjoy the loves.

  3. The sad thing is that for a lot of people family can be the problem of the ones a person feels the need to show off to/impress/be validated by (excluding parents & spouses & children). How backwards is that…

  4. For those interested in this topic, I suggest further reading on “hedonic adaptation.” We’ve all experienced this phenomenon. Once you understand and become conscious of it, mindful living naturally follows.

  5. I love your formula for evaluating each purchase. Initially I was confused about why Love would come before Need. But your explanation makes perfect sense – in fact after reading on, it’s the most logical and obvious answer of all. We’ve been focusing on Needs only for the last year. We rarely ‘splurge’ on extra items. I know I would feel guilty over it. The incredible fact is though, I don’t feel deprived. By eliminating consumerism and changing how I view our finances, I am tickled by working towards or big-picture goals. The prize of early retirement waiting for us is far superior to any of the Likes or Wants. That being said, indulging in a Love on occasion and within reason is healthy. If the opportunity presents itself, I will jump on it. But until then, my newfound money mindset is serving me well!

  6. I enjoyed your hierarchy of purchases. I agree, focus on the loves. I think the FI community is too judgmental on what people want in life. If a BMW is it, fine, work toward it and make the purchase. Or more common sacred cows might be cable (i’m not getting rid of ESPN and sports). It’s always good to be mindful when making purchases rather than out of habit.

    1. Great points on mindfulness. I think we might get too focused on stopping things we enjoy or bring comfort for some ultimate goal that we haven’t fully articulated. There are some that will chastise people for spending on luxury but the argument could be had. Why save all that money when you have no clue when you could kick the bucket? On the flip side, why spend all the waking hours of the day working to afford a lifestyle that doesn’t bring true joy.

  7. Great points! I have been trying to do this more when clothing shopping to determine if I really LOVE an item or just like it. I think about what I will wear it with, when I will wear it and how often vs. the price to decide if I should be buying it. I even do this on a $3 shirt at Plato’s Closet where it can be easier to buy more because everything is so cheap. I agree this principle can be used in everything in our lives so we put that money towards things we really LOVE like experiences instead of LIKES that are material objects.

  8. Saving was my only goal until I hit it off with a decent amount. Last year,I started daringly buy things I love off the new arrival rack, and actually it didn’t cause me to spend more. I just stop spending on the sales rack and buy things that I love instead. The joy is 10x the cost.

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