Here’s What Happens When You Merge Your Values and Bookkeeping

written by Bari Tessler November 19, 2023
values and bookkeeping

Dear Money Adventurer,

Welcome back to another loving mug of Money Mocha, my free money support mini-series created to inspire you in your money journey and equip you for the path ahead.

Bari Tessler | Money Mochas

Today’s Money Mocha is a custom blend of personal values, life-honoring meaning, and practical, yet creative money management.

So many of us spend years thinking of money strictly as currency, a unit of exchange devoid of personal meaning beyond what can be bought, sold, saved, or invested. From this perspective, engaging with money looks like boring, restrictive “budgets” and uninspired “bookkeeping” practices meant to get you and your money in line.

But what if you sought authentic alignment instead?

When we learn to infuse our money practices with personal meaning, we create a new framework for our relationship with money, one rooted in our values and goals.

One of the most profound and playfully creative ways I’ve found to do this is the practice of renaming our financial categories. I call it “Values-Based Bookkeeping,” and I promise, it is nothing like your dry, dusty old budget.

This simple practice is a powerful way of showing up to redefine your relationship with money and how you want it to feel: light-hearted and joyful, calm and peaceful, confident, celebratory–the choice is yours.

And when you make that choice, bookkeeping becomes a potent tool that brings more awareness to your money patterns, helps you make better money decisions, and supports you in truly living your most cherished values.

In today’s Money Mocha, I share an intimate chapter of my money story, plus everything you need to know to ditch the dreaded budget and start your own Values-Based Bookkeeping practice. So, cozy up to your cup of coffee and read this morning’s Mocha or listen in to learn all about:

  • The precious gift of money wisdom my beloved, first money mentor, Tamara, left me.
  • The dream that revolutionized my understanding of money and changed my life.
  • How to infuse the practical side of money with intimate meaning.
  • How this simple practice can help you re-frame debt and other financial challenges to honor your priorities and your own money journey.
Values-Based Bookkeeping: a tool for changing how the practical side of money work feels.

In the late summer of 2003, while living in Sebastopol, California, I had one of the most vivid paradigm-shifting dreams of my life. It had been two weeks since my first money mentor, Tamara Slayton, had passed away. In accordance with her wishes, her community had gathered at her home for several days after her death, remembering, telling stories, and honoring the impact she’d had in our lives.

Over the years, I spent many hours reflecting and journaling on our friendship and the legacy she was leaving. I had been privileged to spend the last two years of Tamara’s life with her, soaking up her philosophy on money. She had been my teacher, my mentor, and my friend.

When I had just started my first business doing bookkeeping for creative professionals, she was one of my first clients. We spent countless hours together, reviewing our numbers, setting our goals and intentions, and having brilliant conversations about our own philosophy on money, life’s work, and value.

In my dream, two weeks after her death, a curious package arrived at my door. I ran my fingers over the brown craft paper and through the butcher’s twine looped around it; something about it felt sacred and otherworldly. I tore open the brown paper to see a stunning, scarlet red book, and instantly knew Tamara had made this book and sent it to me in my dream. She had felted the creamy white paper, hand-sewn the edges, and bound it all in red vellum. Inside, I found a ledger of every single moment of Tamara’s life, every idea she had concocted and shared, every piece of artwork, and every activity–and next to each one was a monetary value.

Line after line, page after page, were meticulously inscribed in Tamara’s swirly, flourish-filled handwriting. This red book was Tamara’s Book of Life, an honoring, a remembering, and a financial accounting.

I woke up confused. Wasn’t it somehow sacrilegious to assign a monetary value to these moments and creations in Tamara’s life? My mind couldn’t fully wrap itself around the 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 the sublime and the sacred. Here was the bridge I’d 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.

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 was just one of many moments or significant moments where I knew that I had to incorporate values into bookkeeping. I wanted to bring in the qualities that I was bringing to every other area of my life, which was creativity, and deeper meaning, and playfulness, and compassion, and mindfulness, and on and on. And if I was going to entice people, excite people, get them to sit down and learn a bookkeeping system, set up a bookkeeping system, and interact with it, I knew that I needed to bring all these other qualities in.

And I knew that I wanted to bring in our values so that we could truly see: are we in alignment with our values in the way that we earn, and the way that we spend, and give, and save, and invest?

And so, the light bulb went on years and years ago, that I needed to figure out a simple, yet powerful way to bring in the values into our bookkeeping system. I knew that we needed to rename our categories: we could rename our income categories, our spending categories, our debt categories. And so, here are two examples of how this renaming works.

One example is looking at our rent, or our mortgage, and how could we rename those categories? What do they really mean to us?

In our community, folks have come up with “home,” or “sanctuary,” or “love shack.”

So imagine renaming your rent or your mortgage as something like “home,” or “sanctuary,” or “love shack.”

It simply makes it so much more playful, and engaging, and interesting. And it reflects something that’s important to you, instead of just rent or mortgage, which are just more dry names. They’re fine names, but if we want to incorporate other qualities, this is one way to do it. That’s a playful version of how to rename a category.

Here’s an example that brings in a little deeper meaning to something.

When we think about debt, normally, it’s that “damn debt” that I have. It’s hanging over my head like a dark cloud; I think about it when I’m going to fall asleep and it keeps me from falling asleep. And it’s just that damn debt. I’m not even looking at the number, or coming up with the payment plan, and on and on.

Wait a second. You know, there’s always more going on here. Because in a long life, if we have the honor of having a long life, we’re going to have transitions.

What are transitions?

Transitions can be a phase in our lives when a diagnosis happens of an illness, when we’re going through a health crisis, when we have baby number one, or baby number two, or three, when we are leaving the corporate world to start our own business, when someone close to us has died, when we’re separating or divorcing, and on and on.

These transitions are real. In these moments, we need resources. Where do we go?

We go to the savings that we’ve accumulated, we go to retirement, and we may have to pull out some money there, we go to family money, we sometimes go to a 0% credit card. And that is a debt, right? That is a liability.

I was working with someone years ago who didn’t want to look at the number, was not paying it down, was just, like, throwing it into the closet and ignoring it. We sat down, I said, “what was going on at this time of your life where you accrued this debt?”

She said, “Bari wow, it was a time where I took this whole adventure to Italy that changed my life, changed the course of my life, changed, really, who I am from the inside out in a beautiful, life-changing way.”

And so I said, “Okay. Well, that’s not a “damn debt.” That’s a huge moment in your life that deserves some more honor and love. So let’s rename this debt.”

And she did a more playful version of “My Big Italian Adventure.” But right in that moment, it shifted the energy enough for her that she suddenly was able to look at the amount.

She was able to come up with a payment plan on a monthly basis over so many years to pay that down.

She was able to honor this time, this transition in her life, in a completely different way, just simply by renaming.

So, that’s another example of how renaming can bring in deeper meaning and honoring of life, and who we are, and the different phases that we go through.

Renaming is one of the ways that I make bookkeeping a lot more exciting, and interesting, and creative, and playful, and include a deeper meaning that I know that I need. And that is also a way to help us look at our bookkeeping systems and just see truly who we are, what’s important to us, and if we are really in alignment with our values. We may not be in alignment with our values at all phases of our life, it’s something that we’re working towards, we are striving towards.

This renaming tool is one of my favorite simple and profound tools that we learn in the Art of Money. Thank you so much for tuning in to this Money Mocha. I hope you enjoyed some inspiration, along with your morning cup, and that you feel empowered to write a new chapter in your relationship with money.

After all, money touches everything in our lives.

If you feel called to wade deeper here, pack your financial goals, soul-deep aspirations, and grab your favorite person. My holistic framework blends therapeutic, body-based practices with the real-life tools you need to create healthy, sustainable change in your money life. So if you are ready to begin your money healing journey with the Art of Money today, you can learn more at

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.

I promise you will be amazed by what can happen when you choose your words with intention. Truly. Not only does your relationship with your numbers change, but you might find yourself bringing your dreams to life in a whole new way.

I did.

May this be the beautiful beginning of a new chapter in your money story, too.

With my dearest wishes,

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