· Photography by John Mowers/Unleashed Photography
Managing your finances can be an act of self-care. Learn how to make it work for you.
Ah, date night!
A glass of wine, a little music, candlelight. It’s a special time for just you and your . . . bank statements. Or your bills. Or your investment plans, college loans, or a week’s worth of receipts.
This is no ordinary date, after all: It’s a money date. And, just as romantic dates can deepen your relationship with a special someone, money dates — along with other practices recommended by Boulder, Colo.–based financial therapist Bari Tessler — can help you develop a healthier and more successful relationship with your personal finances.
For many of us, even a passing thought about money can stir up “a cocktail of emotions,” says Tessler, author of The Art of Money. Nearly everyone, she explains, has money-related baggage, and ignoring those negative emotions can make financial troubles worse — think bills that sit in a drawer for too long, or debts that linger for years. Poor financial management can drive a wedge between your values and your reality. It can prevent you from feeling a sense of control in your own life.
The solution, Tessler says, requires coming to terms with your money situation — and learning to honor its challenges.
If you exercise or meditate regularly, or treat yourself to a relaxing bath or a movie night when you need restoration, you’re probably familiar with the benefits of self-care. Giving your fiscal well-being the same kind of mindful attention, Tessler argues, can transform financial drudgery into a personal practice that sustains you.
A personal practice is any intentional, nurturing habit that “brings more mindfulness into daily life,” she explains. So, rather than offering hard-and-fast rules, Tessler helps clients identify practices that support their financial well-being as well as deeper self-awareness.
“Money is not something that we learn and are done with,” she says. “It’s an ongoing, evolving process and a lifelong journey.” And if you allow yourself to feel pride and pleasure in your financial achievements — no matter how small — you’ll start to enjoy engaging with your money. You’ll face your financial reality with more confidence and gain clarity about your values and money-related goals.
The following practices can help you establish a healthier relationship with money. Explore them and see what resonates. “Practices take time; experiment for a while,” Tessler advises. And know that your practice will evolve as your circumstances inevitably change.
Check In With Your Body
“If I could suggest just one practice, it would be the body check-in,” says Tessler. This fundamental exercise teaches you to notice your physical and emotional responses to money interactions, and she encourages her clients to use it any time they confront money in any form. “It is the door into awareness,” she says. Make it a habit to notice your emotions before you begin any financial task; it may help you relax a bit more. As you move forward in your journey, you’ll notice how your response evolves.
Practice: Take out your checkbook, and open your credit-card bill or log in to an online account — any financial record you know you’ll have to face sooner or later. As you look at the document or website, pause and take a few deep breaths. Observe your physical and mental states with curiosity rather than judgment. Ask yourself if you’d feel better after relaxing or shifting your body a bit. Breathe and summon a sense of compassion for yourself.
Schedule Regular Money Dates
Each time you sit down and give your money situation your full attention, you have an opportunity to develop helpful skills and infuse your financial life with greater awareness.
Weekly money dates might include paying bills and entering expenses into a bookkeeping system. Monthly dates could entail evaluating how well your spending choices reflect what’s important to you, sending in health-insurance claims, or purging files you no longer need. An annual review — the biggest money date of all — involves looking at your accounts (which have, over time, become well organized and rich in useful data) and evaluating how they align with your most deeply held values and long-term goals.
Practice: Approach money dates as if you’re having dinner with an old friend: Bring an open mind, patience, a sense of gratitude, and a willingness to forgive. Maybe you’d like to light a candle or have a glass of wine or a beer. You might prefer to pay your bills on a table bathed in natural light. Tessler likes to nibble on dark chocolate and drink tea during her money dates. Start with a body check-in and maintain a calm awareness as you move through your tasks. Conclude your dates by celebrating the time that you and your money have just spent together.
Rename Your Expenses
To soften the emotional wallop that often comes with tracking expenses, Tessler proposes using values-based or even amusing names. In place of standard budget-line items such as “Rent” or “Mortgage,” she suggests “Sanctuary” or “Love Shack.” Instead of guilt-inducing “Vacation Debt,” try “Educational Experience Abroad” — and take pride in managing your investment.
Practice: Take out a bank or credit-card statement (don’t forget the body check-in!) and note your major expense categories, listing them by conventional names. Then try some creative renaming. Enter these new names into a bookkeeping program to make them official. Your goal is to make values-based financial decisions less stressful.
Build Your Team
So much of our anxiety about money is tied to feelings of shame, which force us to hide our problems or try to fix them by ourselves. Tessler notes that death, sexuality, and other weighty topics — which used to be similarly private — have in recent years become more public. The same thing is happening now with money. “The reason I’ve taught groups, from day one, was to bring this out of the shadows,” she says. Our money struggles aren’t a sign of weakness or stupidity, she adds. Many of us were not given a financial education, “so we’re learning as adults.”
Practice: Talk about money — including past money stories, money messages you learned growing up, daily events, and long-term hopes and worries — with a trusted friend or with your partner. Take a personal-finance class. Read about financial professionals (you may be surprised by the variety of services they offer), and consider hiring one to help you manage your situation.