The Three Phases of Deep Money Work

written by Bari Tessler March 14, 2017
Three Phases of Art of Money methodology

It’s hard for me to believe, but it was over 16 years ago that I led my first money workshop. I didn’t feel ready, in the slightest — I had only been consciously working on my own money relationship for several years. But my first money mentor, Tamara, lovingly pushed me out of the nest. “Bari,” she announced, “it’s time for you to lead your first workshop. I’ll host it. Get ready.”

I panicked. While I could feel, deep in my bones, that this money work was what I was here to do, I had no idea how to structure and articulate the insights I was just beginning to understand, myself.

I thought about my community: wise, creative, generous people, all of them. I was surrounded by therapists, artists and creative entrepreneurs, dancers, mamas and students. And most of them were berating themselves for not “being grown up” yet, with money. (Sound familiar?)

Some of them had never tried to work on their “money stuff,” and opted to shove it as far under the rug as humanly possible. But most of them had tried one or two approaches to money work over the years, only to “fall off the wagon” or hit a wall of resistance — and then beat themselves up about it, even harder.

The approaches my community members tried back then are the same ones I see people trying, today. Even though they’re well-intentioned and contain some smart elements, each of them misses at least one crucial piece of the money puzzle — so they ultimately fail. Do you recognize yourself in any of these approaches?

Fractured Approach #1: Nuts ‘n bolts ‘n nothing else

You read a no-nonsense article or book, which treats money as just the facts, Jack. It instructs you to check your credit score, hire an accountant, open an IRA, make a budget, pay down your debt, and on and on.

There’s probably a “tough love” or “just do it!” edge, and it might even subtly shame you for not having already done all these things.

You start working your way through the gargantuan checklist of financial tasks, driven by shame and urgency (and, yes, maybe a little hope). You force yourself to check your credit report (like ripping off a Band-Aid, you tell yourself), make a budget, and start calling your credit card companies to lower your rates.

But before you know it, you start shutting down. Maybe you find yourself crying, and you don’t even know why. Maybe you get so overwhelmed, you have to physically leave. Or maybe you start swirling deeper and deeper in a shame spiral, upset with yourself for being so far “behind” with your money stuff, and not being able to just get this done, already.

This is what happens when we focus on the external practices in our financial life and while neglecting the inner, emotional work.

Fractured Approach #2: Heart in the clouds

In a flash of insight, you realize something about your emotional patterns with money. Maybe you realize you’ve been playing out the same, overworked martyr pattern you inherited from your mother, or realize you’re still smarting from the scarcity you experienced in childhood, despite a comfortable cashflow.

Or maybe all of your “money work” is spiritual, in nature: you’re working on the Law of Attraction, reciting abundance mantras, and trying to think your way into wealth.

But you might soon notice: nothing has really changed. You don’t have a vehicle to express and embody these insights and aspirations. Not only do you fail to get much traction, you might even fall right back into old habits and emotions.

This is what happens when we only do the introspective, inner work around money and neglect the ongoing, nitty-gritty, practical component of our money life. We all need frameworks, systems, and rubber-meets-the-road practices to translate our insights into reality.

Fractured Approach #3: Pretending life is a never-changing plateau

Just when you think you’ve got your “money stuff” handled, a Big Life Transition sweeps through: career change, a divorce, the birth of a baby, or a health crisis. Suddenly, you’re back to square one in your money relationship.

Budgets fly out the window, old ways of earning, spending, and saving become obsolete, and you scramble to find utterly new footing in your relationship to money.

Money isn’t something you figure out, once and for all, and then comfortably coast for the rest of your life: it evolves, deepens, and changes over time, right along with you and your shifting life.

Money is a practical, emotional, and ever-changing endeavor. That’s why we need an integrated, multi-faceted framework if we want to mature our relationship with it.

16 years ago, with my first workshop looming, my head was spinning with all of these different money approaches: wondering why they weren’t working, wondering how to articulate what I felt was missing, but couldn’t quite put words to, yet.

So I did what I always do with huge, seemingly unsolvable questions: I took them to the woods. I went on a hike in the apple orchard behind my home, determined not to return without some answers.

I walked. I prayed. I implored the trees and the sky for answers. “Everyone in my life is in so much pain and confusion around money,” I said silently, “how can I help them? What am I supposed to bring back to them? Please give me a framework, some concepts, something to ease their suffering.”

I walked and breathed and listened some more. After many hours I returned to our ridiculously tiny log cabin with … something.

With the help of my then boyfriend (now husband), Forest, I mapped everything out. Flip chart paper everywhere. Colored markers. Four hundred square feet of wild excitement. Somehow, an elegant solution appeared seemingly out of nowhere. I believe there was an audible zap. We had mapped out a complete, three-phase methodology:

Phase One: Money Healing
Phase Two: Money Practices
Phase Three: Money Maps

Since that day in that tiny log cabin, these three phases have deepened, changed names, and evolved—but the core of what they represent has remained the backbone of my methodology.

These are the three different kinds of work we must engage with to create healthy, sustainable changes in our money relationships. Because most other approaches to money only incorporate one (or maybe two) of these phases, it’s no wonder they don’t stick. Here are the three phases in a bit more detail:

Phase One: Money Healing

This is the emotional work of creating an honest, mature relationship with money. Here, we dissolve shame. We get clear on the “Money Story” we’ve accumulated over the course of a lifetime (and all the patterns we’ve inherited from our family of origin, lineage, and culture). We identify and unwind patterns that no longer serve us. We claim our value. We learn mind and body-based practices to support our journey, and ensure we are working with self-care, acceptance, and love along the way.

Phase Two: Money Practices

This is the practical, nuts ’n bolts, number crunching, systems and habits of an ongoing and clear-eyed relationship with money. Here, we gather data. We learn the language of money. We set up daily/weekly/monthly/yearly practices to engage with our numbers. And we do it all in ways that are personally meaningful, aligned with our deepest values, and feel creative, playful, and life-affirming. (Bye bye, dry dusty budgeting. Hello, values-based bookkeeping!)

Phase Three: Money Maps

This is the Big Picture of your goals, dreams, and plans, how they’re unfolding, and how money can fuel them. Here, we learn to make great money decisions, based not only on the numbers but also on your values, phase of life, and more. We look at where you’ve been in your life, what’s on the horizon, and how this moment fits into the grand scheme of your money relationship—and your precious human journey.

Putting it all together

The Money Healing phase gives us the emotional support and foundational tools to dissolve the resistance, shame, or other emotional patterns we all have around money. The Money Practices phase translates these deep insights into real-world actions, breathing them to life. Finally, the big picture visioning of the Money Maps phase situates all of this within the unfolding narrative of our unique lives—and infuses it with personal meaning.

In my year-long Art of Money program and in my book, I recommend going through each of the Three Phases in order: Money Healing, then Money Practices, and finally Money Maps. Each phase provides foundational tools and practices that lead into the next phase.

However, you certainly don’t need to completely finish one phase before moving onto the next — and in fact, that’s not even possible! That’s because, ultimately, all three phases are always happening in your life; they’re fluid, interwoven, and evolve right along with you.

Now that you know a bit about the Three Phases, I hope you can see a little more clearly what’s “up” for you and needing loving attention, in your money life, now and in the future. Sometimes, simply naming what’s happening in the moment can provide relief and actionable clarity: is this moment in your life calling for a ton of Money Healing, for example? Or is it perhaps time to widen your lens and engage with longer-term Money Maps?

However you choose to engage with these Three Phases, please go easy on yourself. This isn’t a quick fix framework, but a large set of tools and practice to learn, integrate, and fine-tune for years to come. (Really, we should all be learning practices from these three phases in small increments, from grade school on up!)

Remember: this money journey is yours to enjoy. Make it as luxurious or playful or creative or lighthearted as you like. And think of the Three Phases as your constant and resourceful companions along your money journey — wherever it takes you.

Resources to Go Deeper

My Fave Money Healing Articles:

The Antidote to Money Shame. Learn my top practice for Money Healing (which only takes 60 seconds).

What’s a Money Story? We’ve all got one. Learn to start understanding, honoring, and even changing your Money Story.

How to claim your value. What’s money got to do with your value? This is such an important conundrum for so many of us.

My Fave Money Practices Articles:

How to Take Yourself on a Money Date. What if completing all those financial To Do’s wasn’t painful — but could feel luxurious, loving, and playful? Here’s how.

The non-scary way to pick a bookkeeping system (and stick with it). We all need frameworks and systems to support our finances … here’s a great, pain-free guide from my very own bookkeeper!

Who’s on first? Meet the members of your financial support team. No clue what the difference between a bookkeeper, accountant, and financial planner is? No problem. Let me lay it all out for you.

My Fave Money Maps Articles:

Why I hyperventilated at the car dealership: a live case study in making money decisions. How on earth do you make a good money decision? What does that even mean? Here’s a helpful framework to get you started.

How to create your end-of-year money ritual. OK, so you’re ready to zoom out and see the bigger picture of your finances … so, what do you do, exactly? Here’s a guide, which you can use any time of the year.

This is what happens when you use a Money map in your intimate relationship. This is a fabulous guest post from one of my dear community members — I love showing you real-life stories like this!

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