“I don’t have enough money to do basic things I want to do, and I can’t seem to ever save. I’m tired of stressing like this.”
I have heard variations on this sentiment from a few bright, accomplished people lately. At first I was surprised. Small-scale saving and investing- in order to be able to afford what you want and not feel stressed- is not rocket science. With deeper looking, I realized that these people were not suffering from lack of intelligence, but from psychological barriers around money. Accomplishing steps for creating financial security- what we call “financial hygiene”- is as important as your physical or mental hygiene. I would say that tending to one’s own financial hygiene is an act of self-care on all of the four fronts I generally discuss: physical, emotional, spiritual, mental. If you are not tending to your financial life, the resultant lack of funds and stress will affect you in all four of those areas. You may want to go on a spiritual retreat, but you won’t have the funds. Your sleep might be disturbed because of anxiety about your money situation. You may want to see a therapist to work on some emotional and mental growth, but looming far above that would be the question of where you will get enough money for rent this month. If you are reading this article, these downsides of money problems may be familiar to you.
While I am not the person to tell you where to find great jobs, or what funds are best for investing, I can identify some psychological barriers to a healthy relationship with money that you may be experiencing. Most of the people I have ever spoken with who are feeling stressed about money are trapped in limiting beliefs / behaviors around money, which I believe are the primary cause of their distress. The liberating opposites to some of those limiting beliefs and behaviors are:
Awareness– as opposed to Avoidance
Rationality– as opposed to Irrationality
Congruence– as opposed to Incongruence
In order to be aware of your money, you need to pay attention to it. In order to be aware about your debt, you need to pay attention to that. In order to feel like you have a handle on your financial life, you need to pay attention to your assets and your debts- both of them. Avoiding knowledge of your debts or assets- like anything that is uncomfortable- will not make it better. Avoidance makes it worse. The same is true for other forms of self-care. If you have strange medical symptoms and ignore them, rather than researching them and making an educated decision about any necessary medical care, you could be putting yourself in unnecessary risk for serious disease or death. If you avoid knowing about your money, you are not putting yourself in such grave risk- but you are definitely losing money. Every day. When you finally do pay attention, you will probably kick yourself for not looking sooner.
How to pay attention? I’m a big fan of online apps that track your assets and debts for you. Two of them are mint and mvelopes. These apps are logged into your accounts, so you can look at the whole picture, at once. You decide some budgeting and saving goals, set them up in the program, and then watch what happens over time. Simply paying attention tends to move the needle in a positive direction- this has been shown in a few other areas, such as exercise and eating patterns. The reward pathways in the brain are stimulated every time we see something we enjoy- such as a documented larger than usual number of miles walked or cycled, or a list of nutritious, healthy foods we have been eating (rather than sedentary days and unhealthy foods.) That reward experience is desirable, and we continue to make the choices that will give us the neurochemical reward. Eventually, the longer-term rewards of healthy weight or clearing of physical illness symptoms kick in and we have even stronger motivation to continue our positive choices. This is one way to build an enduring habit. The same happens when we see the first $100 saved in our goal of saving $2,000 for a vacation. The neurochemical reward can feel so good, we might actively look for other ways to budget our money (like forgoing the daily $5 coffee so that we can sock away another $150 each month) and reach our goal faster.
Regular asset- and debt-awareness will also mean that if something detrimental is happening, you will see it sooner. Then you can deal with it and avoid the problem growing.
Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh
How often do you have anxious thoughts about the near or distant future? Have you noticed that ruminating about the potential problems of the future is not useful? Paying attention to your circumstances and making good decisions, like I described in the Awareness section, is useful. If you are aware, then you don’t have anything to fear. Let it go. Fear in the face of doing what you reasonably can is irrational. Try a rational approach to thinking about your financial present and future. A rational approach involves noticing when defeating or fearful thoughts are arising, and then managing those thoughts. Either take the actions you may have let slip so that you can rest assured- or notice that you are already reasonably on top of things, and you have nothing to fear.
Above and beyond this is one of my favorite meditations, “I have enough.” Allow yourself to sit and ponder or write about all the material resources you have at your fingertips: how truly, fundamentally, okay you are in this moment and for the foreseeable future. You may only have $200 in your bank account, but if you sit and consider, “I have drinking water, I have enough food, I have shelter, I have a place to sleep,” you will immediately feel relief. Even beyond that: “If I were to come close to losing these basic necessities, I have food stamp / cash aid / unemployment benefit options I can pursue, I have friends and family who are here for me and would move mountains to help me.” If you are suffering with significant mental or physical illness and / or do not have the support of loved ones, there are local agencies in every small pocket of many nations that have social workers who can connect you to shelters and programs so that you will have these basic necessities. In California, they work out of the local county health and human services and behavioral health departments. Allow yourself to bathe in recognition of all the support from far and wide that is coming your way. From even before your birth, conditions were developing to provide you with the caregivers that kept you alive as an infant, the food you have eaten your whole life, the teachers and housing and infinite other conditions that always seem to appear. You have enough, and you are fundamentally okay. When you sit with this for a long time, this meditation cuts through anxiety and the illusion of separation at the level of the heart.
Congruence is when your actions and your statements are in harmony. We can be congruent in any area of life- but on this topic, it is when we say we want financial stability, and our choices show that. We save money instead of buying things we don’t need, choosing simplicity over materialism. We advocate for ourselves in work, garnering the fees, the promotions, and the raises we deserve. Noticing incongruent statements and actions in our lives is important. Just the noticing might be enough- with the help of awareness about your finances- to change the incongruence. However, if you see that your awareness of your incongruence is not changing your reality, you may need to work on a different level: with your subconscious mind. If your subconscious mind is not on board with the idea of being financially secure, you will remain in a place of money stress. Like a lot of other self-care, this situation calls for some deep listening to yourself. What is it that your subconscious mind needs, in order to be on board with financial security? Here is a video of Marie Forleo interviewing Dr. Cathy Collautt that breaks this concept down pretty well.
Important skills you are strengthening:
Subconscious Mind Work
Share Your Experience
If you have some ideas or experience in this area of addressing financial hygiene through psychology, please share them in the “comments” section.