The Urgent/Important Spending Matrix

The Urgent/Important Spending Matrix

You may or may not have seen this matrix before. It usually applies to productivity, but it also applies to how we spend our money and reveals what we value and where we should be focusing our energy.

Do you feel like you HAVE to have a morning cup of coffee to feel awake in the morning? It definitely feels urgent and probably even important at the time, but is it more important than making sure you pay your rent on time?

Having an awareness of the difference between urgent and important is a HUGE first step.

Being able to distinguish between these two feelings while you’re in the moment is the next big step.

Urgent/Important – your short term needs that you literally can’t live without (rent, transportation, utilities, groceries, etc.). You probably don’t think much about this box because paying for these things is part of the routine.

Urgent/Not Important – your short term wants that you don’t want to live without. (like I don’t need coffee to live, but I NEED coffee to live!) These are necessary to acknowledge and most likely keep in your expenses because they give you a sense of “ahhh” when you include them in your life. It gets you through your day, gives you something to look forward to, and provides a small bit or relief or reward regularly. It’s recommended and healthy to keep your expenses in this box.

Not Urgent/Not Important – your short term wants that you buy because you’re distracted or bored, feeling emotional, or because it’s convenient. It’s picking up a random danish with your coffee, or going shopping because there was a sale or you needed something to do that afternoon. It’s walking into a drug store to pick up a prescription and walking out with $50 worth of stuff. Often, you can’t remember that you bought it when you see it on your statement.

Not Urgent/Important – your “money is no object,” “fuck off fund,” “say yes” box, whatever you want to call it – things you invest in that are helping you get closer to the life you want to live. You may also find that you don’t think much about this box, because it doesn’t feel urgent, like it’s far away, something for your future self to take care of. It make feel like too much for your present self to think about right now.

But our present self and future self are meeting each other every moment. Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself in a place where you wished you filled up this box. It’s easy to start though, and still keep it all in the not urgent but important future. Simply open a savings account and set up an auto transfer each month, each week, whatever works for you, and just forget about it, until one day, you need it and realize you have it.

Today, we are not going to budget. We are going to find out where our money goes.

First, take out a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle and a line across the page to create the matrix in the above picture. Label the top left box “Urgent/Important,” the top right box “Not Urgent/Important,” the bottom left box “Urgent/Not Important,” and the bottom right box “Not Urgent/Not Important.”

Then, log into your bank account or your credit card’s website (or both) and find the last 10-20 things you spent money on.

On your urgent/important matrix, start categorizing each item you bought from your debit or credit card into the different boxes in the matrix. Don’t think too hard about it. Go with your first instinct.

Also, if you don’t remember buying and enjoying the item, it most likely belongs in the Not Urgent/Not Important box 🙂

The matrix will tell your spending story. You’ll immediately see the difference between buying lunch because you had a hectic yesterday vs. having Seamless and GrubHub bookmarked.

Also remember this is going to be different for everyone. If you have consciously decided that you want to budget for being able to buy lunch every day because you will cook dinner every night, or need the extra time to work on a side hustle so you’re choosing to order in 3 times per week, your priorities have shifted and what’s urgent and important will shift with that.

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