Several years ago, I read a book that had a profound impact on me. I can't remember the author or title (though after some research, I think the author might have been David Bach), but one concept has really stuck with me. The author suggested that you make a list of four to six things that are important to you. Place your list in a circle, not up and down, to show that none of these choices are more or less important than the others. Some suggestions included health, family, education, service, the environment, freedom, marriage, and spirituality. More suggestions lists can be found at The Simple Dollar, or from David Bach's article at Yahoo Finance. None of these are meant to be comprehensive - if playing the accordion is very important to you, add it to your list!
The idea is to organize your spending around the the things you value. When I did this exercise, one of the first things I noticed was that I don't list eating out or buying beer and wine as a core value, but both of those things take up a decent chunk of my spending. I don't spend much at all on my health, despite listing it in my top values. I was really enlightening to see the things I claim to value and the things that I spend money on, and where they align and where they don't jive up at all.
As a result, I've made some different choices. Just this weekend, I'm going to get a manicure with my daughter before she goes to prom. I don't value manicures at all, and I normally wouldn't spend money on them, but my family is at the top of the list. With a graduating senior heading off to college, any opportunity to make a family memory is a high financial priority.
I challenge you to try this exercise. Make a list of the things that are most important to you, then think for a bit about how your spending reflects these values. Let me know if you find this useful!