Staying Mindful Can Help You Achieve Your Financial Goals

Aligning your spending with your values is a matter of paying more attention

Mindfulness — in the past year, you’ve probably heard about it, read about it or heard someone rave about how it changed their life. But if I told you to put a mental image to the word “mindfulness,” you probably picture someone sitting on a yoga mat, perhaps on a mountaintop, not a worry in the world. That’s the movie version. In reality, the practice of mindfulness is actually a lot more accessible than you think — and it can have big consequences for your financial life.

What is mindfulness, anyway?

Meditation or a mindset? Actually, a little bit of both. Mindfulness is a form of meditation that asks you to focus on the present moment, from small things like your breathing to larger ones like the actions you’re taking. From focusing on the present, you move on to training yourself to stay in the present. That includes the thoughts in your head and the choices you make moment to moment. The idea is that when you step away from your meditation, you’ll be more in tune with yourself and able to respond — instead of react — to events that come up throughout the day, such as whether to work out or watch Netflix, snap at your spouse or take a deep breath, or hit the sale rack vs. stash the money in your savings account.

How can it help me with my finances?

“The application of mindfulness to money is absolutely a perfect fit,” says Maggie Baker, financial therapist and author of Crazy About Money. That’s because mindfulness asks us to cut back the clutter and distraction and allows us to get in touch with our values. That not only includes making sure our behavior lines up with the things we believe in but making sure our spending does as well. “The growing awareness through the mindfulness experience allows you to bring much more focused attention to what you’re doing, whether it’s thinking about your money, job or relationship,” Baker says. You can bring this heightened, focused awareness to creating spending and saving patterns that better line up with your goals. Mindfulness also teaches us to pay attention to the narratives we tell ourselves — such as why we can’t save — so it can help put a stop to the sort of negativity that leads to giving up on our financial goals.

Start becoming mindful about money

Baker described working with a couple that couldn’t figure out how where their money was going, so she convinced them to track their spending and savings for a month — and they realized a quarter of their income was going to takeout. By paying attention, they were able to recognize a problem and stop it in its tracks. You could do the same by tracking your spending on paper or online. Baker also suggests writing down your values on individual index cards, then sorting them according to your priorities. Then, take a look at your last bank statement to consider whether your spending matches your values. You might notice you spent a lot on clothes or the gym — which doesn’t line up with the index card that says “spend time with people I love” that ended up on the top of your pile.

Other tips and tricks

  • First and foremost, there are some apps that can help get you in the mindful zone. Headspace comes with a free primer on mindfulness meditation and takes you through ten guided meditations for free. Another one, Simple Habit, is designed with quick mini-sessions for people with busy schedules. You can even set reminders to take a few mindful minutes.
  • Next time you’re thinking about making an unplanned purchase (think flash sale or impulse buy, not something on your grocery list), take time for a “mindful pause.” Take a few deep breaths in and out, and think about whether that purchase aligns with your values and goals. Better yet, sleep on it. By taking a moment to think, you can derail impulse spending.
  • Finally, try tracking your spending and saving on paper. It takes a lot of discipline — but if you can do it for a few weeks, you’ll really start to see where your money’s going. Plus, the simple act of keeping track will encourage you to think twice about every purchase.
  • With Ellie Schroeder

    Jean Chatzky

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