Values + bookkeeping: Every transaction has a story. Every moment, a value.

written by Bari Tessler October 16, 2015

Welcome to a sneak peek treat, adapted from the rough and uncut manuscript of my upcoming book, The Art of Money: A Life-Changing Guide to Financial Happiness (coming out Spring 2016). After writing for a grueling (and beautiful!) 7 months, we’re currently in an intensive editing process with my dear publisher, Parallax. So what you’re about to read might be significantly different (or completely missing) from the final version of the book. I adore these ideas, though, and couldn’t wait to share them with you. Enjoy!


I awoke with a start. Soft morning light suffused my bedroom, filtered through those majestic Sebastopol redwoods I had a near-spiritual connection with. It was late summer, 2003, and I had just had one of the most vivid, paradigm-shifting dreams of my life.

It had been two weeks since my first money mentor, Tamara Slayton, passed away. In accordance with her wishes, her community and I had gathered at her home for several days after her death: remembering, telling stories, and honoring the impact she had had on our lives over the years. My husband, Forest, built the simple pine coffin she was be cremated in. Those few weeks after she died were some of the saddest, most vulnerable, and beautiful of my life. I spent many hours reflecting and journaling on our friendship and the legacy she was leaving. Tamara was wise and deep, and had impacted a huge number of people.

I had been privileged to spend the last two years of Tamara’s life with her, soaking up her philosophy on money (much of it inspired by the teachings of Rudolph Steiner). She wasn’t just a client: she was my teacher, my mentor, my friend. I had just started my first business, doing bookkeeping for creative professionals, and she was one of my first clients. We spent countless hours together: reviewing her numbers, setting her goals and intentions, and having brilliant conversations about her own philosophy on money, life’s work, value, and so much more. My outlook on money was forever changed by this time with Tamara. And that intense, two-week period of grieving and honoring her culminated in a spectacular dream — which felt like a gift from Tamara, herself — that gentle August morning.

In the dream, a curious, large package arrived at my door. I ran my fingers over the brown kraft paper and through the butcher’s twine looped around it. I could already feel it: this was something sacred, impactful, even otherworldly. I tore open the brown paper to see a stunning, scarlet-red, book. In a flash, I knew: Tamara had made this book and sent it to me. She had felted the creamy white paper, hand-sewn the edges, and bound it all in red vellum. But when I opened it and realized what it really was, my jaw dropped. Inside was line after line, page after page, meticulously inscribed in Tamara’s swirly, flourish-filled handwriting: this was a ledger of every single moment of her life, every idea she concocted and shared, every piece of artwork, and every activity — and next to each one was a monetary value.

This red book was Tamara’s Book of Life. An honoring. A remembering. And a financial accounting!

I awoke stunned. Wasn’t it somehow sacrilegious to assign a monetary value on these moments and creations in Tamara’s life? My mind couldn’t fully wrap itself around this strange concept, yet my heart knew: this was as far from sacrilegious as you could get. This Life Chart of Accounts was the full integration of Tamara’s esoteric vision and financial teachings. It elevated money matters to the realm of sublime creativity and profound impact.

Here was the bridge I had been searching for, for so long: between heaven and earth, between heart and money, between deep values and tangible moments.

While it took me a few years to fully unpack the message contained in this vision-like dream, it forever and instantly changed my relationship with bookkeeping — both in my own life and in my work as a financial therapist. This dream revealed an utterly new relationship between life and money. In that red book, I glimpsed a radical new way of interacting with financial numbers: one that not only reflects our deepest values in the world, but honors them, strengthens them, and brings them to life in a tangible way.

This dream eventually grew, deepened, and evolved into one of the main pillars of my money teachings: Values-Based Bookkeeping. In this realm, we translate intrinsic values into extrinsic actions. We close that illusory gap between money and our dreams, creativity, and desires — and honor how directly intertwined they all are. Here, we transform boring budgeting into a powerful vehicle for carrying our dreams into reality.

Values-Based Bookkeeping: A Sacred Vessel

Long before I had this dream about Tamara’s Book of Life, I knew that I wanted (and and desperately needed) to make dry, dusty “bookkeeping” more creative and meaningful — both for myself and for the deeply creative and spiritual folks I was teaching.

So many of us affirm our strongest commitment to our deep values: creativity, sustainability, intimacy, or personal growth. Yet so often, we assume that money must be utterly disconnected from all of these very values that make the rest of our lives beautiful, meaningful, and truly our own. We relegate money (and especially the nitty-gritty practice of bookkeeping) to some shadowy, cobwebby room in the attic. We rarely visit, and when we do, we check our values and dreams at the door.

Values-Based Bookkeeping reimagines money practices entirely.

Instead of separating money from our deepest values (or aligning them in some hodgepodge, hit-or-miss fashion) we make money a sacred vessel: one that holds, protects, and even nurtures that which matters most to us. Values-based bookkeeping is a practice where we reach to the heavens, pull down our visions, dreams, goals, and greatest gifts, and birth them into day-to-day reality. Tracking our spending, earning, saving, and investing becomes a way to track (gently, gently, gently) how aligned our intentions are with our daily life.

In this phase of the money journey, we reimagine money as a sacred bridge: between heaven and earth, between our dreams and reality, between our values and our actions. We inventory our values, we set intentions, we act-into-existence our dreams. We place our finances in service of our true purpose, however we define it for ourselves. And we live with ever-more mindfulness and presence, every day, every month, and every year.

If all of this sounds highfalutin and vague, I invite you to consider a little mind experiment. Many years ago (long before I began this deep money work), I stumbled across a provocative passage from Gloria Steinem that got me thinking about values and money.

What if, she wondered, one day, as I was crossing the street, I got hit by a Mack truck? Temporarily stunned, I’d lie on the ground, and a crowd would gather to help. No one would know my name, what I did for a living, or what I believed in. But if one of them picked up my checkbook (thrown from my purse by the impact), what would she see? Would those check stubs reveal the kind of person I was? Would they know what mattered to me, based on where I spent my money?

When I read this little passage back in my twenties, it opened my eyes to a different way to “do” money. It challenged me to bring more mindfulness — and more of myself — into those bank statements and check stubs and moments at the cash register. It invited me into a more masterful, sovereign role with money: one where I was no longer a victim of circumstance, but intentionally directing how and where money flowed in and out of my life.

Every number, every transaction has a story.

This passage from dear Gloria Steinem, along with my visionary dream about Tamara’s Book of Life (and many years of hard, hard work) eventually came together and grew into a full-fledged practice in my own life. Eventually, I began sharing this radical reconception of bookkeeping with my friends and clients — and it struck a chord. As my community was delighted to discover: we really don’t have to scuttle money away into that dim attic.

We can practice valuing ourselves, financially, by identifying what our values are, and living from there.

We can devote ourselves to pouring as much money (and time and energy) as possible into what matters most to us. We can do our very best to earn, spend, invest, save, and gift our money in alignment with these values. And we can craft a smart bookkeeping system that’s not only completely coherent with these values, but actually reinforces them on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis. In this way, bookkeeping becomes a powerful tool: one that brings more awareness to our money patterns, helps us make better decisions, and supports us in living out our true goals, intentions, and dreams.

“To be a wise and good steward of money is simply to save, spend, and invest it in ways that align with my truest desires and deepest values. It’s that simple (and that hard sometimes, too).

~ Lisa Byrne, Mama and Founder of the Well Grounded Life

So … how do we actually do this, in practice? One of the simplest, most profound and playful ways I’ve found is the practice of renaming the categories within our tracking systems. (If you don’t use a tracking system yet, here’s some really good advice on how to choose one.)

If you feel even the slightest hint of resistance about beginning a bookkeeping practice (or continuing the one you already have), this concept of renaming just might have you singing a far happier tune. As always, add in big, big doses of love, curiosity, and compassion for yourself as you learn about this practice.


How can you value yourself, financially?

Identify your values …

And do your best to bring them into your earning, spending, saving, investing, and gifting.

Allow your bookkeeping practice to become a sacred vessel for what matters most to you … 

Let it be like a bell of mindfulness, regularly and oh-so-gently bringing you 

back to your values, 

back to your intentions,

back to yourself.

This is one powerful way to value yourself with money. 


Imagine looking over your budget (or, as I like to call it, your “Money Map”) for the month. Your expense categories might include: Mortgage, Student Loan Debt, Car Payment, Groceries. Does your chest tighten a little, just reading that? (Mine does.)

Now, consider a new Money Map, with these categories, instead: Home Sweet Home, Fabulous Education, Stylin’ Wheels, Delicious Nourishment. Does that feel better to you? Does it inspire you to get just a little more engaged with your finances?

is the beauty of values-based bookkeeping. Renaming our categories is one of the simplest, yet most powerful, colorful, and creative parts of the Money Practices phase of this journey. I promise: you’ll be amazed by what can happen when you shift your words. Truly. Not only does your relationship with your numbers change … but you may find yourself shifting the very course of your life.

Get clear about your values. Track how much you really spend on them. And take action to bring them to life.

You can turn your bank statement into a genuine
statement of who you are. It can reflect who you truly are, what you stand for, what you life for, and what fills you up. It can honor how the different energies of your life move through your sphere of influence. Realizing this gives bookkeeping a whole new glow for me. Accounting is an opportunity to actualize, to bring into reality, what I’m dreaming of and wanting to give birth to in my world. For me, this looks like shifting out of a deficit mentality into a place of sufficiency. My bookkeeping is a practical tool, helping me craft the life my heart yearns for.

~ Naree Shields, Art of Moneyer

Values-Based Bookkeeping is one powerful way to breathe life into your hopes and live your way into your dreams — day by day, baby step by baby step. It’s one small (but mighty) way to start creating your very own red, Book of Life — in your heart, in your days, and in your check register.



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