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Mindfulness and Money


In this post, I’m going to ask you to slow down, look inward, and do some reflection.

Most often, I write about straightforward topics like debt repayment, credit scoring, and budgeting. Don’t get me wrong—it’s important stuff. But on a deeper level, something I struggle with as a personal finance blogger is that I don’t want my life to become about money.

And yet, sometimes I feel that’s exactly what happened.

In my early twenties, I spent money and racked up debt so quickly that I always needed to earn more to “feed the fire” I built. I made poor career decisions based upon how much money I could earn, not how happy I could be.

And somewhere along the way I started this blog. Fortunately, I feel like I can help readers learn about (and perhaps avoid) some of the financial mistakes I made, while at the same time motivating myself in my journey out of debt.

But here I am again, focused on money. Whether I’m worrying about my own money or brainstorming new article ideas for this blog, I’m thinking about money a lot.

Ick!

When it comes down to it, I love writing, blogging, and helping people—not money.

Has money ever taken over your life? Anybody can get caught up in earning, saving, investing, or repaying debt. When you do, it’s easy to let money take over.

Introducing Mindfulness

To help put money in perspective in my own life, I like to apply the concept of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is calm awareness of one’s body functions, feelings, content of consciousness, or consciousness itself. Mindfulness plays a central role in the teaching of the Buddha where it is affirmed that “correct” or “right” mindfulness is the critical factor in the path to liberation and subsequent enlightenment.

Put another way, mindfulness is the “the capacity to be aware of what is going on…”

Yes, mindfulness is a key component of Buddhism, but just like love is a critical component of Christianity, you don’t have to be Buddhist to be mindful.

Often times, people meditate to practice mindfulness. They tune out every distraction to focus 100 percent of their attention and energy on the present moment.

But you don’t have to meditate to be mindful.

Mindfulness is simply being aware of the moment. It sounds simple, but if we actually stop to think about it: we’re not aware of most moments in our day. Why? Because we’re lost thinking about something else—remembering the past, worrying about the future.

I practice mindfulness by reminding myself to just do what it is I am doing, and be aware of it.

  • If I am eating cereal, I will be aware I am eating cereal.
  • If I am walking down the street, I will be aware I am walking.
  • If I am brushing my teeth, I will be aware I am brushing my teeth.

Mindfulness and Money

Think back to the last time you spent money and it really hurt. Did you have to pony up for an expensive car repair? Did you buy a designer item that you had to have even though you knew it cost too much? Did you buy something new even though you knew you could buy the same item used?

If you felt some kind of anxiety when you separated from your money, chances are you were mindful of your money during those transactions.

Now, think about all of the times you have spent money since then.

What details do you remember? Sure, you can look back at your statements and recall how much you spent, what you purchased, and when. But did you make those purchases mindfully? Were you aware of each transaction as it took place?

When you make a commitment to be mindful of your money and begin to practice it, you should do the following things:

  • Think about every dollar you spend
  • Keep a spending journal
  • Reflect on how much you earn, and what an hour of your work buys you

This last one’s important.

Our relationship with money begins while we’re working not (as many of us believe) when our paycheck goes into our bank account.

The more we become aware of how it feels to earn a dollar, the more consciously we will spend each one.

Taking Mindful Money Further

It’s one thing to practice mindful spending; it’s another to scrutinize our relationship with money through the lens of mindfulness.

When we practice mindfulness, we accept that life is this moment: now.

Everything is impermanent. What was a moment ago is no more. What is now will be gone in another moment. When we begin to live mindfully, time and relationships become a lot more important than money and possessions.

We realize our life is finite and the lives our loved ones are finite. So too, we realize that our possessions are impermanent. And even money is endangered. Should nuclear war eradicate our world’s electronic infrastructure, bank accounts will become useless. What happens if we survive but money does not? What will we have left?

Looking even deeper, we realize that:

In today’s society, we perform work that we do not enjoy in order to obtain money. Some of that money we need to survive, but some of it we spend in leisure, as a way to provide ourselves with some relief from the psychological and physical drain we experience just to go back and do more of the same work. Part of developing wisdom and understanding is performing work that has meaning to us. It is contradictory to the purpose of [mindfulness] to perform meaningless work in order to obtain money. Therefore, [mindfulness] would emphasize doing meaningful work not just working to obtain a means to an end.”

I’m not there yet, but eventually I want to create my life so that I can do the things I love when I want to do them while earning just enough money to take care of my family’s basic needs today and in the future.

If I can do that; I’ll feel very, very wealthy.

What do you think? Are you mindful about your money? Do you think cultivating a conscious awareness about how you earn and spend money can make a difference in your life? Do you agree in the futility of work that you do not enjoy? Please share your thoughts in a comment.

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.

Comments

  1. Great post David. I am studying mindfulness and breathing/meditation practices. You are quite right: It’s not just about being mindful in those 15 minutes you carve out for “quiet time”; it’s about being mindful all the time. This includes being keyed into the here and now of relationships with others, habits of good health such as healthy eating and exercising, and certainly both in spending money and the nature of our work.
    Awareness is the key to success–financially and in all aspects.

  2. David Weliver says:

    Thanks, Kerri. Mindfulness really does start to make a difference in all aspects of your life once you start to “pay attention”. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  3. I am very aware that most times I am not mindful of my spending. Knowing when money leaves you hurts!

    I try to strike a balance between knowing when to be aware and when not to be because being aware everytime would kill me. If I am paying a necessity, I just pay it.

    I like the part about thinking of money in terms of hours you worked.

    MissMentor