Many of us resolve to improve our financial standing in the new year — to reduce spending, increase savings, invest toward specific goals. But financial decisions are not made in isolation. Our values, whether they pertain to long-term security or an appreciation for status cars, significantly impact what we do with our money.

“Understanding what’s behind the decision-making process is the first step to successfully changing behavior,” said Patricia Seaman, senior director at the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE). She suggests that if people identify their values before making financial New Year’s resolutions, they will be more likely to maintain their goals throughout the year.

“People break their resolutions for many reasons,” said Seaman. “Don’t fight your intrinsic values when it comes to your money. It’s a sure recipe for discontent and failure. But when you understand the reason behind your habits and can take the emotion out of financial decisions, you should find it easier to keep your resolutions.”

Everyone has a mix of values: some work together, some conflict. You might want to buy a hybrid car because you value the environment, for example; but you also might want a larger SUV for comfort and convenience. That’s the confluence of multiple values, according to Seaman. And values change throughout a person’s life.

“When you’re young and single, spending on fun with friends might be most important to you,” said Seaman. “But for many people, those values take a back seat when they get married or have their first child.”

Regardless of how much money you have, your values – and conflicts in values – affect your financial decisions. If you recognize what is driving your financial behaviors, you will have more control over your financial well-being in 2011 and beyond.