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How to Make Money a Self-Care Practice
~ Excerpt from Chapter 7 of The Art of Money: Money as a Self-Care Practice ~
“Money Practice,” n.
Old definition: A terrifically tedious, stressful, and painful monstrosity that I should do, even though I hate it.
New definition: Everything I do, on an ongoing basis, to help bring more clarity, peace of mind, and success to my money relationship. Something that helps me maintain my money relationship as a steadfast and supportive part of my life.
Something that is constantly evolving, uniquely mine, and deeply nourishing. Something that gives me continual feedback about how aligned I am with my values and intentions, and continues to refine my self-awareness, enhancing every moment and aspect of my life. I get the very best support for my Money Practice that I can, and in turn, it supports me and every area of my life.
So . . . What Exactly Is a Self-Care Practice?
If you came to visit my beautiful mountain town of Boulder, Colorado, you might hear people use the word “practice” surprisingly often, and in a slightly different way than you’re used to. Here in the “Boulder Bubble,” as we affectionately refer to it, people talk about all sorts of practices. A meditation practice. A yoga practice. A healthy eating practice. A conscious sex practice, a gardening practice, a journaling practice, or an authentic communication practice. While this might sound a little precious, it points to an important truth: we can take any area or habit in our lives, fill it up with intentionality, awareness, and compassionate discipline, and reap deep rewards.
Self-care practices like these aren’t merely To Do–style chores: they are essential for keeping us happy, sane, and growing. When we take the time to love and replenish ourselves, we reconnect with our true nature and return to the world more capable of sharing our gifts. For me, self-care looks like a soothing lavender salt bath or a hike up my favorite mountain trail. For you, it might be dancing with friends, a massage, or something else entirely. Chances are, though, it doesn’t look like hanging out with a calculator and a bookkeeping program.
But what if you could turn your “money stuff” into a decadent self-care practice? What if all that money drudgery could feel every bit as luxurious as that bubble bath (or whatever your version of that is)? What if you actually looked forward to your money practice because it made you so much happier, more alive, and mindful? What if it was founded in and reinforced your most cherished values? What if it connected you ever more deeply to yourself, the world around you, and even your spirituality (whatever that means to you)? This is truly possible when we approach our interactions with money as a self-care practice. So let’s define exactly what we mean by this.
A self-care practice is something you do consciously, with intention, on a regular basis, to support and grow yourself. It’s a healthy habit that, over time, provides a cumulative benefit. Every self-care practice I know of contains some version of the following three key ingredients.
First of all, a practice is something you do over and over again (and ideally get better at, over time). One of my most cherished self-care practices is my almost-daily hike up Mount Sanitas, near my home. After many years, my legs have grown strong and my lungs aren’t intimidated by the thin mountain air. Repetition is your friend in a self-care practice and reveals your progress to you.
Just like a daily hike, a true Money Practice is ongoing and consistent. Let’s say you decide your Money Practice includes checking your account balances once a week, on Monday evenings. At first, things might feel awkward and shaky—as my legs did the first few times they carried me up that mountain. But if you’re consistent, this resistance and awkwardness will dissipate. Over time, your nervous system will relax into the reassuring repetition. If you keep showing up to your practice, you will get better and better at it.
Secondly, every self-care practice is supportive and nurturing, in some way. The benefits may be physical, emotional, mental, spiritual or some combination thereof. My daily hike keeps me fit and strong, but it also keeps me sane, calms me down, releases stress, and turbocharges my creativity and spirituality. I get many of my best ideas on my daily hikes. Like any good practice, my daily hike is conscious, compassionate, supportive, and enjoyable.
A regular Money Practice will do wonders for your financial world, of course. By tracking your income, spending, and savings, you can wield more conscious control over this area of your life and align it ever more closely with your values. But the benefits don’t stop there. Engaging with your money regularly can help you bolster your self-esteem, deepen your sense of safety, and strengthen your intimate relationships.
Finally, the best self-care practices connect us ever more deeply to ourselves, to each other, and to our spirituality. This is due, in large part, to the repetitive nature of practices. Every day, I take the same path up the mountain. The mileage is the same, and the steepness never varies. These constants provide a reliable measuring stick against which I can notice how I am showing up differently. On some days, I stumble more often, and realize I’m more anxious than I thought. On days when I seem to fly up the side of the mountain, swimming in the beauty of the ponderosa pines, foxes, and raptors, I know on a bone-deep level that I’m enjoying a particularly easeful moment in life, and I pause to celebrate. Our practices mirror back to us who we are, how we’ve grown, and who we’re becoming. They connect us more deeply with ourselves, which in turn makes us more available to everyone and everything around us.
If you bring love and full awareness to your Money Practice, it will always bring you back to the present moment. If you do the same Money Practice over and over again, it will mirror back to you how you have grown and changed, over time. You may understand yourself better and better, and show up to your relationships with more peace of mind and playfulness. Your Money Practice, like any great self-care practice, can become a training ground where you deepen your emotional honesty, mindfulness, and compassion for yourself and others.
We truly can bring all of our smarts, creativity, intuition, compassion, deep values, and playfulness to our relationship with money. In fact, we have to.
A successful Money Practice is a challenge you engage with consistently and regularly; it nurtures your finances but also much more than that; and it connects you ever more deeply with yourself, others, and the world around you. As important as what a Money Practice is, how we do it is perhaps even more paramount. There are a few elements—a few hows—that we can incorporate into our Money Practice to make it the most successful, fulfilling, and transformative as possible.
GOLDILOCKS IT UP!
An essential element in any self-care practice is finding the right amount of it: that sweet spot that’s not too much, not too little, not too hot, not too cold, but just right. In a gardening practice, for example, you can’t neglect watering your plants for too long, or they will wither; if you overwater them, they will drown, but if you find the just-right amount, they will flourish.
Likewise, in a Money Practice, you need to find the right amount of time and effort to devote to this area of your life. It is up to you to find the perfect amount of attention and energy to put into your Money Practice, so you enjoy the benefits without feeling neglectful, obsessive, or overworked.
RHYTHMS AND CYCLES
Once you land on your just-right amount of a practice, you will inevitably find yourself needing to shift it, as time goes on. This winter, I didn’t do my daily hike for a solid month. I hadn’t planned on this, but my family had been on the road for two weeks, and when we returned home, I was exhausted, it was cold, and I knew that the most nourishing thing I could do for myself was to relax into a deep, introspective winter phase. Rather than push myself to maintain a constant level of hiking practice, my body needed to slow down and rest. Four weeks later, as the snow began to melt, I felt ready and happy to return to my daily hike. Any practice will change like this over time, moving through ebbs and flows, ups and downs, rhythms and cycles.
When you begin a Money Practice, you may have buckets of enthusiasm, and devote an hour each day to it, only to find that, a few months later, you’re craving a break. There may be phases in your life or periods in your year (like tax time) where your Money Practice needs more attention and love from you. Allow your Money Practice to ebb and flow: this is all normal, wonderful, and part of the process.
EXPERIMENTATION AND FINE-TUNING
Thinking you have to practice perfectly can keep you from practicing at all. People have told me they’re terrified of picking a bookkeeping system because they fear they’ll pick “the wrong one,” and be locked into using it forever. Please take this pressure off of yourself and give yourself permission to experiment. You might begin tracking your expenses on beautiful, creatively designed spreadsheets you make yourself, only to decide six months later that you want to switch to an online tracking system. Rest assured, you are allowed (and even encouraged) to shift your tools and practices over time, as feels right to you.
In my own Money Practice, I did my own bookkeeping for many years. Over time, I learned the ins and outs of several software systems, learned to read and understand my financial reports, and studied the ups and downs of my business cash flow so I could craft more sustainable business models. After many years, I decided it was time to make a change: my business had grown to a point where I really needed more professional help with my books. I handed certain aspects of my Money Practice to a wonderful bookkeeper and have been thrilled with the results. I learned a huge amount during those years of managing my own books and sometimes miss it now that my personal Money Practice is less nitty-gritty expense tracking and more strategizing. Like any Money Practice, mine has shifted over time.
FOLLOW YOUR BLISS
My husband and I have completely different systems for tracking expenses. Forest is a techie guy and likes to do everything online. He uses iBank to reconcile his accounts and has even created a custom spreadsheet for cash flow forecasting. When he sits down to categorize his transactions, he treats the activity like a meditation, following the numbers as he would his breath while meditating.
I’m more of an analog girl. For years, I carried around a vintage cigarette case, slipping my receipts into it after every purchase. Every few days, when my little case got full, I pulled out all the receipts on my desk, and placed them under a beautiful black granite rock. I lit my candles, opened my essential oils, and slowly entered my expenses into QuickBooks while nibbling dark chocolate. While my Money Practice looks different now that I work with a bookkeeper, those years of regular appointments—what I call Money Dates—with myself were a tremendous education, deepening my awareness about my spending. But I never would have stuck with them if I had tried to make them look like Forest’s (or anyone else’s, for that matter).
As different as our systems are, both Forest and I love how we track things, because our practices reflect our unique personalities. This is the difference between a bearable Money Practice and a delightful one. We will get into more specifics around Money Dates and infusing your values into your spending in the next chapters, but for now, I encourage you to be on the lookout for ways to make your Money Practice your own. Think about where and when to do your practice, what values you bring to it, and what materials and tools you like to use.
BANISH BEGINNER’S SHAME AND WELCOME GUIDANCE
There’s always a learning curve when we begin a practice, and money is no exception. Please don’t beat up on yourself for not knowing how to do everything perfectly on Day One (or even Day One Hundred and One). If you begin using a bookkeeping system or calling accountants for the first time and find yourself overwhelmed and in over your head, please take a breath, take a pause, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Take some time to dig into a tutorial or visit an online forum and ask questions. Remember to insert Body Check-Ins liberally and go as slowly as you need to, engaging with things in small, manageable chunks, with plenty of breaks to integrate and calm down.
Even if you’re not a beginner and you think you should know how to do your practice by now, there is still no shame in asking for help. This spring, I decided to return to yoga after a hiatus of several years. I didn’t roll out my mat at home and struggle through whatever I could remember; I went to a local studio and let an experienced teacher guide me. There is value in receiving expert guidance, even through familiar terrain.
If you find yourself struggling in your Money Practice, please know: there are people who can help you. You can hire a bookkeeping trainer to show you how to work with accounting software; you can work with a financial therapist to guide you through the emotional aspects of your money relationship; you can even hire a financial coach to help you create and stick to a spending plan. We all need a financial support team of some sort.
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