When I first started practicing meditation, it was as a way to deal with stress. At first, during meditation I couldn’t even concentrate my mind for two minutes straight. Gradually, over time, I built it up to six minutes, then ten, then fifteen, and so on. Now I can meditate for about twenty minutes and becoming more mindful helped me understand myself much better. I can now take a step back during stressful periods and observe my own thinking patterns.
Financial habits are much the same. Thanks to credit cards and online shopping, we often spend without thinking. Our financial habits are often difficult to change, and that’s why people struggle with getting out of debt. Even when we understand logically what we need to do, many of us struggle with taking even the first steps towards financial freedom.
The practice of mindfulness is about becoming more conscious so that we aren’t simply reacting on autopilot. We can extend the tenets of mindfulness to our finances to make more conscious choices about money.
Understand Your Wants
Many of us have triggers for spending, and develop ingrained patterns. For instance, I found myself bored when my flight was recently delayed, and I ended up at the airport’s branch of the Body Shop. Later, thinking about this, I realized I often shop as a form of entertainment.
What are your triggers for spending? Perhaps shopping is entertainment for you, as it is for me and for many others. Maybe you’re tired from a long day at work, and you wanted a “treat”.
Once you understand your triggers, take a step back. Many times, we spend because we’re trying to fulfill a want or need, real or imagined. But to fulfill that need, do we actually need to spend money? For example, you might want a nice dinner—it would be even nicer if you were to make it yourself. Or, let’s say you want to go to the movies—you could just borrow one from the local library. Be creative about how you fulfill your wants.
Track Your Spending
In the personal finance world, we talk a lot about tracking your spending. It can seem like a chore, but the importance of tracking can’t be underestimated. When you track your purchases, you immediately become conscious of what you’re actually spending, and your auto-pilot patterns are revealed in their cold numbers. Tracking your spending is the financial equivalent of observing your breathing during meditation.
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What is An Hour Really Worth?
We often think of our hourly rate in purely monetary terms. In the book Your Money Or Your Life, authors Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez talk about how to calculate what an hour is really worth. Not just your hourly rate, but how much an hour costs in terms of the amount of life energy spent. That includes the time you spend commuting to get to work, the amount of money you spend, what you spend on meals, etc.
By calculating what an hour of your life is worth, you can determine if what you’re buying is worth it. Think about it like this: how many hours of life would you have to give up in order to buy a brand new $50 shirt? If the hours it takes to earn money are included, then it might take you much more than 2 hours worth of work (at $25/hour) or 4 hours worth of work (at $50/hour). The real cost might be something like seven, eight, or nine hours of your life. When you look at it that way, it makes major purchase much less appealing. And it makes saving $50 that much more important!
Be Conscious of Consumption
Deep in the heart of many Americans is a belief in the healing powers of self-improvement. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course, but this attitude can lead to a treadmill of dissatisfaction with regard to what you already have. In fact, the American economy is built on the idea of improvement. The advertising industry can skillfully exploit this belief, creating needs and aspirations that you never knew you had.
Being satisfied with what you have is actually easier said than done. So what are practical actions that you can take to cultivate this mindset?
- If you buy something new, you must get rid of something else in your home. I do this with books and clothes, two of my temptations.
- Go on a spending fast—for instance, only spend money during the weekends. Or you can be creative about this: for instance, one year, I gave up shopping for forty days during Lent (I’m not Catholic, but I love the idea of giving something up for a short period of time). It was very helpful in resetting my relationship with money.
- Go cash only: When you make all of your purchases in cash instead of credit, it forces you to think about whether or not it is actually worth handing over hard cash for your wants.
Just like mindfulness, good financial habits take time to cultivate. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t immediately develop them at once. Instead, take the time to simply observe what your financial habits are and become conscious of your own patterns.
Image credit: geribody