In its 2019 survey of stress in the US, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that money is a significant source of stress for 60% of Americans. Managing financial stress can be a daunting task, which is why many turn to mindfulness as stress management tool. Simply explained, mindfulness is “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment through a gentle, nurturing lens.” When applied to finances, mindfulness is being present and aware with your money. This means paying attention to not just what you do with your money and how it makes you feel, but also being aware of money’s broader role in your life – from how it informs your definition of success, to how it impacts your relationships and sense of self-worth. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or even helpless about your personal finances, practicing mindfulness can help you build the tools you need to tackle those stressors head-on. Here are three ways you can use mindfulness to manage your financial stress.
Build a Financial Management Practice
Creating a regular financial management practice is integral to managing financial stress. People tend to only think about money (and money management) when there’s a problem, which over time trains us to associate money with chronic stress. By setting up a consistent financial management habit – whether a few minutes a day or one hour once a week – we can learn to decouple money from stress. It can also make us less likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors when faced with stressful financial decisions. Everyone’s practice will be different, but some basic components include: tracking your daily spending, checking account balances and transactions, and evaluating/adjusting your spending plan. It’s important to schedule uninterrupted financial management time, and to protect that time the same way you would an exercise regimen or date night.
Like other behaviors, most of our financial habits are unconscious. By practicing mindfulness, you can uncover the “money scripts” (unconscious beliefs about money developed during childhood) that guide your financial health and behavior, as well as find tips for replacing unhelpful behaviors. Mindful awareness is also key to addressing financial stress because it encourages you to be completely honest and gentle with yourself. Remember, 60% of Americans say money is a significant stressor in their lives. This means you’re not alone, and your current situation didn’t arise because you failed in some way. Mindfulness allows you to explore your feelings with non-judgmental curiosity, and is necessary for taking control of your money. Journaling is an effective way to build self-awareness, especially if you’re someone who doesn’t enjoy meditation. It also doesn’t have to be a drawn-out event — many people only write for 3-10 minutes a day. Here are some money-focused journal prompts you can use to get started:
- What are your values? What’s authentically important to you?
- Track your spending for the day. What triggered each purchase, and does it align with your values? (Don’t judge your spending as “good” or “bad.” The point is to be aware of your choices so you can maintain a constant sense of your goals and values.)
- Write down the associations you have with money. Where did they come from?
- How did you learn about money? Who taught you about money?
Practice Mindfulness Meditation
Checking in with yourself can stop you from going into an emotional tail spin when checking your account balance or opening a bill. Mindfulness meditation stops this spiral and improves decision making by allowing us to calm our minds and “non-judgmentally focus on the present moment,” instead of obsessing over the past or future. New to meditation? Don’t expect to become a Zen master on your first (or fifth) attempt. Be kind to yourself and remember that no one gives out meditation report cards. There’s no one way for meditation to look — some do it while sitting in a formal lotus position, while others sit in bed for 10 minutes first thing in the morning. What matters is finding a practice that works for you. (PS: If meditating just isn’t your thing, that’s okay too!) Below are three apps for guided meditation. Each app has a ton of meditations to choose from based on your mood or personal growth goals.
- Smiling Mind: A completely free app developed by psychologists and educators dedicated to providing accessible mental health tools for all.
- Liberate: An app created to support Black, Indigenous, and People of Color mental health. It comes with limited free meditations. The paid version has a sliding scale membership model based on your ability to pay.
- UCLA Mindful: A completely free app developed by UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. In addition to guided meditations and tutorials, it also includes a weekly meditation podcast hosted by the school’s Hammer Museum of Art.
If you’ve caught the mindfulness bug and want more information on how to integrate it into your life, there are plenty of resources available online. A personal favorite of mine is the website Ten Percent Happier. It’s important to remember, though, that mindfulness isn’t a magic pill. Building a mindful money management practice isn’t going to dissolve your debts or put a million dollars in your bank account. What it can do is provide you with the mental and emotional tools you’ll need to gain control of your financial life. Mindfulness also shouldn’t be used as a replacement for therapy, especially if you’re living with anxiety, depression, or recovering from past trauma (here’s a link to free/low-cost mental health services in St. Louis). When it comes to the nuts and bolts of managing your finances, the financial coaches at Prosperity Connection are always available for free one-on-one coaching to help you reach your financial goals.
Nay’Chelle Harris, Financial Education Coach