Working toward her master’s degree in psychology in the mid-’90s, Bari Tessler-Linden studied countless topics around human relationships — self-care, community, intimacy, spirituality. But when her $60,000 school loan came due a few years later, she realized her instructors had overlooked a pretty important subject: finances.
“At one point, I had no idea how I was going to pay back my student loan on my salary,” recalls Tessler-Linden, whose counseling job at a mental health center in Boulder, Colo., barely covered her expenses at the time. “It made me take a deep breath and realize that the biggest missing piece in my life was any sort of education around money and finances. I was pretty unconscious in this area.”
So Tessler-Linden, now 41, began learning as much as she could about financial management and accounting — while digging into her own money story.
“I was terrified of math as a teenager, for instance, and I think that was one of the reasons that I threw out bank and billing statements and avoided paying attention to my finances as an adult,” she explains. “When I learned the basics and how to use programs like Quicken and QuickBooks, I realized it wasn’t nearly as complex as I thought. For the first time I felt in control of my money situation.”
And she figured that she wasn’t alone: If she needed to do this kind of work to get a handle on her own money habits, then there were probably others out there who did, too. So, between freelance bookkeeping and accounting gigs and overnight shifts at a hospice, Tessler-Linden began piecing together her own approach to financial management — one that addressed practical, spiritual and psychological factors.
In 2001 she launched Conscious Bookkeeping, a system that combines the practical skills of financial literacy with a more introspective, values-based money philosophy and process, and began teaching classes and offering one-on-one consultations. “Everyone has their own money story, and what sets Conscious Bookkeeping apart from traditional financial-management systems is that we help people explore their beliefs and reactions around finances,” she explains. “Once they understand their patterns — positive and negative — we teach them the basics of creating a system, and make the practical, planning side fun by adding intention and meaning based on each individual’s values, priorities and goals. The final piece is helping them establish a regular practice so they’re connecting with the system on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis.”
Conscious Bookkeeping’s “Three Gateway” method (financial therapy, values-based bookkeeping and life visioning) focuses less on wealth than on personal balance and fulfillment. Its central emphasis on spending and saving in accordance with ¬personal values makes it relevant both to those who are being forced to adjust their budgets in lean times and to those unsure of how to deal with a fiscal surplus.
“Using a three-tier budgeting strategy, I always start out by asking clients what their monthly bottom-line needs are,” Tessler-Linden explains. “One person might include massage as part of a basic healthcare need, while someone else may say that’s a second-tier priority, or maybe a part of their ultimate vision, but not something they’re attached to now. It’s different for everyone, and it evolves over time depending on where you are and what you have.”
Over the past decade, Tessler-Linden’s own situation has evolved dramatically. She developed a national audience for her teleseminars and coaching experiences, and expanded her Conscious Bookkeeping practice from a one-woman operation to a cross-functional alliance that includes a half dozen other financial, psychology, coaching and investment professionals.
A year and a half ago, she also gave birth to her first child, Noah. Motherhood, says Tessler-Linden, has resulted in a significant reordering of her priorities. It’s influenced how she spends her money, she notes (she and her husband are eating out less often), and more particularly how she spends her energy and time. Her goal, she says, is to create balance over the long haul and get comfortable with the idea that she can’t possibly do everything at once.
“I have different focuses each year,” she says. “Some years I’m dancing more — I used to take classes five days a week — some years I’m working more toward my business goals, and right now I’m focused more on my family. I just need to be at peace with that.”
Since her son was born, Tessler-Linden has chosen to pare back her former five-times-a-week workout schedule to a more manageable thrice-weekly routine, for example. She has also downsized her own daily involvement with Conscious Bookkeeping (she’s doing more teleseminars and phone coaching these days, fewer in-person meetings) to balance her passion for parenting with her desire to help people reach their potential — financial and otherwise.
“I want everyone to be able to connect with their unique specialties, and to pursue their own interests whole-heartedly,” she says. “I’m lucky to have a career that allows me to share my talents and help meet a real need our society has for greater
She feels fortunate, too, to be able to focus intently on her family and, increasingly, to refocus on her personal well-being.
“Now that Noah’s getting a little older, I’m finding more time for old favorites: hiking, acupuncture, good meals with family and friends, dates with my husband, and reading for pleasure. I also just joined a health club, so I’m excited to work out regularly again. It’s been a slow process of coming back into my body, but — like everything — it’s a journey.”
Conscious Money Smarts
Financial therapist Bari Tessler-Linden, MA, recommends three simple things you can start doing now to improve your relationship with money.
- Check in with your body. When you’re faced with a money issue, take a moment to see what your body is telling you about the situation. “Doing a body check-in is an incredible way to bring more awareness to how you’re feeling and thinking in the moment,” Tessler-Linden says. “It’s a way to really pay attention to your money reactions and understand your money story and patterns, then consciously change them.”
- Learn a financial-management software program, like Quicken, Mint or QuickBooks. “Managing your finances in a system helps to give clarity to how much you’re bringing in and how much you’re spending,” she explains. “For me, personally, knowing my balances every day helps to reduce my money anxiety and feel in control.”
- Rename the categories of your budget. Tessler-Linden recommends the following exercise: Make two lists — one for your values and one for your basic monthly bills and expenses. As you create your budget, or what she calls the “map of intention,” rename the items in the second category so they reflect your values and the things that give meaning to your life. “Instead of calling your house payment ‘mortgage’ or ‘rent,’ for instance,” she explains, “title it ‘sanctuary’ or ‘gathering place.’ Doing this helps make it more personal.”
For more on the Conscious Bookkeeping philosophy, visit www.baritessler.com.