When considering financial statistics in America tell us that around 80% of workers live paycheck to paycheck, nearly half of all families have no money saved for retirement and over 75% of adults are weighed down by some form of debt, it becomes easy to understand why most citizens are skeptical about their chances of ever achieving true financial freedom. Even for those who bring in substantial amounts of income, any combination of steep living costs, the monetary strain of raising a family, bad investments and sky-high interest rates can make it feel as if they’re stuck in an unescapable financial trap.
While money can be a nagging headache for even the rich and famous, this fortunately doesn’t have to be the case as it’s certain that each and everyone of us, regardless of our life circumstances, can improve our financial situation by mindfully managing our money. That’s to say that by utilizing the practice of mindfulness to gain both financial clarity and a contented vision for the future, we can free ourselves from the anxieties and fears created by lackadaisical budgeting, saving and spending.
The Practice of Mindfulness in Modern Times:
Although meditation and mindfulness have been utilized by mystical Hindu sages and modest Buddhist monks for hundreds of centuries, as a way to gain insights into the true nature of themselves and the universe at large, the practices have only become popular in the western world within the past few decades. Where as spiritual seekers have long meditated to move closer towards the ultimate goal of enlightenment, however, mindfulness is being secularly taught in the west today for a wide variety of evidence-based health benefits.
In addition to being broadly promoted as an activity to boost well-being, the practices of meditation and mindfulness are now utilized in a variety of more specific ways including as a tool for weight-loss, an aid for overcoming addiction and an indispensable life skill for students. So what exactly is the often misunderstood practice of mindfulness? Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of the life-affirming program known as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), tells us:
Mindfulness means moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness. It is cultivated by refining our capacity to pay attention, intentionally, in the present moment, and then sustaining that attention over time as best we can. In the process, we become more in touch with our life as it is unfolding.”
When looking at how mindfulness practice can help us more effectively manage money and move us closer towards true financial freedom, there are a number of important reasons we should consider. First, because meditation and mindfulness lead to greater awareness of one’s self, others and the world at large, we can gain an enhanced ability to objectively view money and our financial situation from a place of clarity that’s beyond the limitations of cognitive biases and social influence.
Second, by adding this improved awareness together with a greater sense of self-control, which is similarly promoted in mindfulness meditation, we’ll be able to better observe our spending habits and make financial decisions that aren’t based upon impulse. Lastly, because life-affirming attitudes such as contentment, acceptance and gratitude are found at the heart of mindfulness practice, we’ll be able to transform our unquenchable desire to acquire and consume into a financially freeing sense of contented bliss.
The Purpose of Money and Fallacies of Wealth:
Before we begin looking at how mindfulness can specifically help us achieve financial freedom, it’ll be useful to examine the purpose of money and fallacies of wealth from a Buddhist perspective. To help us with this, we can call upon an old Buddhist parable that illuminates how our views of the world are oftentimes faulty and our experiential perceptions are unceasingly obscured by mental illusions.
In the tale, it is said that, while walking home one night on a dark path, a Buddhist monk is spooked by what appears to be a snake. After approaching it in a state of fearful hesitation, however, he comes to realize that the ready to strike serpent is nothing more than a coiled up rope. Just as the monk’s mind tricked him into believing the rope was a snake, causing both a faulty perception and negative emotional response, culturally created illusions about money and wealth lead all too many people down a path of financial strain.
For some, the illusion that making money is the sole purpose of life results in an enduringly unsatisfying quest to rise the ranks. For others, the illusion that happiness is found in material possessions leads to unnecessary spending on impermanent objects, which only provide fleeting feelings of pleasure, while knowing full well they should be saving for retirement. For others yet still, making financial decisions based upon illusionary stock market speculation or deceitful claims made by ‘get-rich-quick gurus’ keeps them locked in monetary turmoil. The globally beloved Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh further illuminates the fallacies of wealth by telling us:
People with great wealth and power also suffer tremendously. They feel lonely because they do not have any real friends. Children of wealth people also suffer deeply: often their parents have no time for them because they are so preoccupied with maintaining their wealth and social status. The suffering of many wealthy people shows us that money cannot buy us true happiness.”
Fortunately, although illusions such as these have distorted most people’s views at one time or another, we can gain clarity about the purpose of money and essence of wealth with the help of mindfulness. That’s to say that by making the effort to consciously think about financial management, while striving to nurture an attitude of contented acceptance and celebrating the many blessing already in our lives, we’ll be able to cut through habitual ways of thinking and achieve whatever monetary goals we may set.
Mindfully Transforming Financial Management Skills & Beliefs:
To use the power of mindfulness to transform both your beliefs about money and financial management skills, it’ll be vital to develop your awareness capacities with the help of a regular meditation practice. As you learn how to bring your attention into the present-moment and distinguish yourself as being separate from the constant mental chatter in your head, you’ll then be able to monitor your spending, assess your financial situation and plan for the future without the burdens of misguided perceptions and impulsive desires.
Additionally, by learning to live more mindfully in the present moment, the impermanent pleasures of consumption will come clear into focus and you’ll discover that true wealth is based upon factors such as meaningful experiences and relationships much more so than it is on the size of your bank account. Better yet still, if you gain understanding of spiritual teachings related to topics such as generosity and abundance, you’ll be able to break free from the illusionary beliefs that tell you happiness and well-being are determined by wealth and possessions alone. The immortalized Japanese industrialist Konosuke Matsushita, who’s considered as ‘the god of management’ by many in his country, reminds us:
Possessing material comforts in no way guarantees happiness. Only spiritual wealth can bring true true happiness.”
While the ability to mindfully manage our money is certain to come over time with regular meditation, there are also mindfulness practices we can use to more effectively manage our finances in the here and now. For example, whenever you’re dealing with a budgeting or purchasing decision, you can take a mindful pause for a moment, by stopping to focus your awareness on your breath before consciously analyzing your intentions, so your making decisions from a more grounded and rational place.
Achieving Financial Freedom with Mindful Money Management:
Now that we have illuminated the purpose of money, the illusions of wealth and the ways in which mindfulness can help us better manage our finances, we can put it all together by mindfully creating a financial management roadmap that’ll move us in the direction of true financial freedom. While each and every individual’s mindful money strategy will look different on the surface, because of differences in income, life circumstances and visions for the future, it’s important to build your strategy upon the foundational elements of clarity, simplicity and contentment.
Additionally, it will be vital to mindfully answer the corresponding questions, presented throughout the four mindful money management stages, with analytical reasoning rather than the headless attitude that leads all too many people in the direction of financial turmoil:
Honestly Assess Your Financial Circumstances:
The first step in mindful money management is to determine where you are in life by laying out your financial circumstances with the outmost honesty. Once you have clear understanding of where your financial situated right now, you’ll then be prepared for the planning and implementation stages of the process.
To help you accurately assess your situation, you can ask yourself the following questions and record the numbers-based answers: ‘What is my income?,’ ‘What debts do I have?,’ ‘What assets do I have?,’ ‘What external opportunities and threats are there?,’ and ‘What are my costs of living?’.
Mindfully Develop Your Longterm Vision:
With the financial assessment complete, you’ll then want to determine where you want to go in life. In this step of the process, it’s important to remind yourself of monetary fallacies and mindfully develop your vision while keeping the true essence of wealth in mind. Remember, to truly employ a mindful money strategy, financial and material prosperity can’t be the end all be all. In the vision development stage, it’ll also be necessary to be pragmatic and avoid conjuring up some dream like scenario or betting your future on an illusionary get-rich-quick scheme.
Some questions you’ll want to ask yourself here may be: ‘What are my greatest strengths and talents?,’ ‘What gives me meaning and purpose?,’ ‘What is vital to achieve in the future?,’ ‘Where would I like it to be financially in 1, 5 and 10 years?,’ ‘What cost related items can’t I live without?’ “Are there ways I can live more modestly?’ and ‘What do I want my retirement and legacy to look like?’.
Proactively Plan with Achievable Stepping-Stone Goals:
With clear understanding of your current circumstances and a vision for where you want to go, it’s time to mindfully plan with achievable stepping-stone goals. Here, it’s vital to not get ahead of yourself and to keep the heart of mindfulness in mind by limiting your focus to the here-and-now. Of course, you’ll want to consider your longterm vision but your primary concern should be to outline actionable steps that you can focus on achieving in the present-moment.
To help you develop your mindful money goals, consider the following questions: ‘Are there ways I can more mindfully manage my money as it relates to spending, budgeting and investing?,’ ‘What lifestyle changes can I make to better position myself for the future?,’ ‘What daily financial actions can I take to incrementally move myself closer towards achieving my longterm goals?,’ and ‘What can I do within the next 6 months to move myself toward true financial freedom?’.
If you struggle to answer any of the goal-setting questions, you may find these financial tips to be useful:
- Start simplistically with only a few clear goals and actions. Make it easy to remember what your need to do each day and find ways to limit your susceptibility to both the cultural illusions of money and you’re own financial blindspots.
- Mindfully and modestly keep your spending in line with your income. Remember that you don’t need the fleeting pleasures of every new product or overly-processed food. You’ll be happier in the long run if you reduce anxiety by becoming financially secure.
- If you need to save more, as most people do, start by just putting away a small percentage every time you get your paycheck. Once you get used to putting a small amount away, up the percentage and keep upping it until you can’t feasibly cut anything else.
- Know that while there is always some risk, prudent investment is necessary to keep up with inflation. By acknowledging your emotions and not letting them control you, you can avoid the stock market failures of those who follow the sell-low buy-high philosophy.
- Remind yourself to be mindful before making investment decisions. One of the pillars of mindfulness is to accept what is outside of your control. Start simple with options like index funds to reduce your exposure to uncontrolled risks and reinvest everything you earn, especially at the start. Remember, compound investing made Warren Buffett the wealthiest man in the world.
- Consider what financial management skills or knowledge you’re lacking and commit yourself to gaining the given abilities and understanding through educational courses, books and audio programs. Keep in mind that a get-rich-quick formula isn’t what you’re after, but rather mindfully calculated advice from the world’s foremost financial leaders.
Monitor Progress & Adjust Plan with Patience & Compassion:
While the previous three steps can help you mindfully create a blueprint for achieving financial freedom, perhaps the single most important aspect of your mindful money management plan will be to stay on top of it with continuous monitoring and adjustments. Because it may take years to get to where you want to be, success will only be possible with an unwavering sense of patience and focused effort in the present-moment.
By allocating one day each month to analyze your progress and make adjustments based upon what the previous month taught you, it’s certain you’ll be on your way to achieving your goals. Yet still, you must not forget to practice self-compassion, another cornerstone attitude of mindfulness, whenever you make financial mistakes and to use your setbacks as opportunities for learning and growth. With that being said, we’ll now leave you with some simple advice to commence your mindful money journey from the prolific Canadian author and entrepreneur T. Harv Eker:
The single biggest difference between financial success and financial failure is how well you manage money. It’s simple: to master money, you must manage money.”