Money on My Mind: 3 Ways to Bring Mindfulness into Your Finances
We all have a unique relationship to money. I’m saying “unique” euphemistically, of course, as many of us have a garbage relationship to money. Maybe you inherited certain ideas around what is and is not okay to spend money on from your parents or caregivers growing up. Maybe as a young adult you developed a dollar amount that is “safe” to have in the bank and now freak out when it’s not there. Maybe you have come up with your own notions around what is acceptable debt to carry or have guilt around how much money is in your account.
The other day I bought a scone and a coffee and spent $6.50. I smiled at the barista but inwardly I thought, “$6.50? For this?” and shame rose up in my body. That’s simply too much for me to consider spending on such things. Maybe you think it’s nothing or maybe you agree that’s a lot. Relatedly, if I asked you and five of your friends to name an acceptable amount to spend on a pair of shoes I imagine we’d develop seven different answers between us. Why? Because we all have a unique relationship to money.
Having been born into and raised in a Buddhist household, I feel lucky that part of my relationship to money is viewed through the lens of the traditional concept of basic goodness. Dating back to the time of the Buddha, there is a belief that underneath our swirling layers of confusion, neurosis and pain, we possess an inherent sense of peace. When we drop some of the stories we tell ourselves all day and relax into the present moment we might experience that for ourselves. In that moment, we find that we are innately wise, kind, strong and, yes, good as is. There is a sense of basic enoughness, that when we are present we can touch in with a felt sense that we are, right now, okay. We are whole and complete. The funny thing is, the fluctuations in our bank account do not negate that simple truth, even as upsetting as they may be to us in the moment.
I’m not going to be Pollyanna here and say, “Meditate. Find out you’re innately good. Boom: money problems solved.” I will, however, point out that we could relate to money as part of our spiritual path. Having contemplated this topic for a number of years, here are three ways to bring mindfulness to our financial situation:
Develop a Non-Aggressive Attitude
In meditation we learn to treat ourselves with incredible friendliness and respect. Every time we drift off from meditating on the breath we don’t beat ourselves up; we gently acknowledge it and come back to the body breathing. We can apply the same non-aggressive attitude to our relationship to money.
Let’s go back to my scone and coffee. Instead of beating myself up for spending $6.50 I can acknowledge that shame came up, sit with it for a moment, notice that this way of spending doesn’t feel good to me, and move on. No self-aggression required. That doesn’t mean I’ll go back to that shop regularly; it just means I learned more about how I feel around coffee purchases. This gentleness allows me to learn the lesson but not to carry shame forward into my day.
In meditation we learn to be precise through relaxing with something as fluid as the breath. The more we develop mindfulness on the meditation seat, the more we are present enough to be precise and skillful in the rest of our lives.
One tool that has helped me slow down and relate to my current financial situation, as ever-changing as that may be, is to build and track a daily budget. I’m a bit obsessive, admittedly, tracking each expense, but I also know myself well enough to acknowledge that I need to be that precise. Slowing down and getting precise about how we spend our money might look different for you than it does for me. For example, it might mean shopping for specific items at specific times in order to account for specific deals.
Cultivate the Good Tendencies, Discard the Bad Habits
It also might mean being discerning about what you want to spend your money on and how much you feel comfortable saving or putting toward paying off debt. The more we slow down and examine our relationship to money the more we become familiar with what aspects of our spending feel good to us and we want to cultivate, as well as which aspects feel yucky and we want to cut out.
One exercise I often recommend to bring these three notions together is taking $100 out of the bank and precisely tracking how you spend it. For some people, that might sound like a lot, for others not so much. Whether this amount goes out the window in a day or over weeks is up to you, but as you spend it just notice what makes you feel joyful and what makes you feel not so joyful (i.e. be discerning). To reify the previous point about the non-aggressive attitude, it’s important that you be gentle with yourself as you go; this is not about spending these dollars only in the most equanimous or generous fashions but to notice the good, bad, and ugly of your relationship to money.
The more we learn about our unique relationship to our finances, the more we realize we don’t have to treat it as some overwhelming burden. It becomes a part of the spiritual fabric of our lives. If a meditator stopped meditating for a week or two it would begin to affect their mind; they may become crabbier or give in to stressful thinking more than normal. Similarly, if we ignore our relationship to money that is when it will grow unhealthy and downright scary. If we look at it regularly, we develop a healthier relationship to money and we may even be able to save and spend from a place of relaxation and a feeling of our own basic goodness.
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Lodro Rinzler is the cofounder of MNDFL Meditation and is the award-winning author of six books including The Buddha Walks into a Bar and Love Hurts: Buddhist Advice for the Heartbroken. He has taught meditation for eighteen years in the Buddhist tradition and travels frequently for his books, having spoken across the world at conferences, universities, and businesses as diverse as Google, Harvard University and the White House. Named one of 50 Innovators Shaping the Future of Wellness by SONIMA, Rinzler’s work has been featured in The New York Times,The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, FOX, CBS, and NBC. He lives in New York with his wife Adreanna and a menagerie of small animals. lodrorinzler.com