March 22, 2014

Becoming More Mindful about Money.

Money tree

“Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a poverty of ambition.It asks too little of yourself. And it will leave you unfulfilled.” ~ Barack Obama

People say that “money doesn’t grow on trees.” And I, for one, am glad (most days) that it doesn’t.

The lessons involved when it comes to thinking about and dealing with money (belonging to both ourselves and to others) has the upside of teaching us countless valuable lessons in several areas of our lives that we may not even be aware of.

Many years back, when I was in college and had very little money to my name, I learned a lot about how to budget. It was no cake-walk. I worked hard and had an intimate relationship with triple coupons and sales flyers, but surprisingly enough, I was just about as happy then as I have ever been in my entire life. And I literally had barely enough money to survive the kind of life that I was used to living, which actually was a fairly privileged one when I think about how most people in the world live.

This leads me to a funny aside:

I once asked my father for some extra money when I was in college, as I had run out early that month and had little left. The next day I was FedEx’d a package that contained a jar of peanut butter, enough money for a few loaves of bread, and an article about how one could get by on this and suffer no long-term health issues.

To be fair, my father was very caring and helped me out tremendously during college, but he didn’t coddle me or set me up to grow into a person who would always be dependent on others.

I am grateful for this even though I was madder than heck when that peanut butter arrived.

I came to understand that I was responsible for myself and that I couldn’t count on others to bail me out of financial trouble and the lesson made a huge impression and has served me well.

If you would know the value of money, go and try to borrow some; for he that goes a borrowing goes a sorrowing.” – Benjamin Franklin

But to continue on with my story, somehow, I hardly ever felt frightened by the scarcity of my financial situation during those younger years in my life. I believe that I just made it into a game that might be titled something like, “How to have all you need with barely enough money to scrape by while still being extremely happy.”

I feel that it was also helpful that most of my friends were living the way that I was too. Many of us were broke college students, so it never felt abnormal or problematic.

Since then, there have been more prosperous times in my life, both financially and otherwise, but I will speak of the financial times here, even though financial issues blur into  other areas of life quite a bit.

One would assume that not having to worry so much about money would lead to a less stressful life, but I made a mistake (actually, more than one) that many people do who aren’t used to budgeting when they have extra pocket money beyond mere surviving—I spent beyond my means, bought things that I didn’t need, accrued debt, didn’t invest well, and the worst offence? Eating out all of the time. (And this is the short list)

In fact, there have been a few instances when I overspent so badly that the resulting fear drove me to sticking my head in the sand and not wanting to have any knowledge of my own money situation. The mere thought of it gave me such bad anxiety that I pushed away all inklings from my mind and avoided the topic entirely. I tried to will it all away by banishing any part of the truth from my mind. One can imagine that the result was not good—which is a bold understatement.

I was living blindly in excess and not thinking about the repercussions of what would happen when the bills came, let alone when I needed cash for something important or for an emergency.

And then a book came along that really changed the way that I thought about not only my money, but also many areas of my life called, apply enough, Your Money or Your LifeIt was an eye-opener to say the least!

The main take-home message that I got out of the book was this: Pretend that you are making $10 per hour and you see a shirt that is $40 that you want to buy. This book suggests that we think of buying an item with our life energy instead of money. So instead of looking at the shirt as costing $40, we might want to question if buying the shirt is worth four hours of our life. (Actually, if one takes taxes into account, the shirt may take five hours of your life’s energy to buy.)

The book was not about depriving ourselves either. Maybe that shirt really is worth half a day’s work. And that is okay as long as we are making a mindful decision about it.

Many of us don’t think carefully when we buy a new shirt, or a sandwich or an expensive daily coffee, but we really might want to at least consider it carefully.

This book went into much more about saving for the future, etc. and would be too much to cover here, but I can say that this book made such an impression on me that I changed many of my monetary habits. For instance, I did not eat out but for about once a month for at least a year after reading it.

 “It’s good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s good, too, to check up once in a while and make sure that you haven’t lost the things that money can’t buy.” ~ George Horace Lorimer

If I had been taught the importance of not only saving and then being allowed to spend my money as a child, but also the importance of investing some of it, I think I would have had an easier time when dealing with money as an adult.

And on that note, I found the following quote think it is very true and insightful:

“We teach children to save their money. As an attempt to counteract thoughtless and selfish expenditure, that has value. But it is not positive; it does not lead the child into the safe and useful avenues of self-expression or self-expenditure. To teach a child to invest and use is better than to teach him to save.” ~  Henry Ford

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Editor: Renee Picard

Photo: elephant archives

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