Minding Your Money

Three steps to a better relationship with money. 

Illustration by Jason Lee

by Kristi Nelson

Money. We may not be loaded, but it is—with all kinds of baggage. We have to deal with money every day, in ways small and large, pleasurable and stressful. How do we cultivate perspective?

It’s no small challenge. Because money is bound up with concepts of success, self-worth, and entitlement, we often approach it with confusion. We may know intellectually that we are not what we own, and that our lives are not equal to what we earn, but the conditioning we experience goes deep and is reinforced regularly. The truth is, no matter how much of it we have, we all navigate tremendous internal and external pressures about money. Getting free requires an equally tremendous commitment.

Inquiry is a constructive place to start. It’s critical to ask ourselves how we got where we are and how we want it to change. We need to take the time to define our core values, what we truly want money to accomplish in our lives, and how much we actually need.

Here are three avenues of inquiry that can help you build a more conscious relationship with money.

1. Look inside: Start with the money stories passed down in your family. Are they true? Are they true for you? What attitudes about money or class did you inherit?

Examine other beliefs you may have internalized along the way. For example, if you were raised in an atmosphere of scarcity and urgency, you may not know what is sufficient for your life or notice when you have enough. Do you keep secrets about your finances? What judgments do you most fear? Who and what drives your relationship with money? Which of your approaches to money are actually yours?

2. Look outside: Most financial advisors operate with shared assumptions: we all want to be wealthy, retire early, own luxuries, pay no taxes, and pursue financial goals focused on getting more.

That might sound good, but are these actually your goals in life? If so, what price are you willing to pay to achieve them? Is earning more really so important? As for spending, if you go unconscious while scoring bargains or indulging yourself, what larger costs might you be overlooking?

3. Look at the whole picture: Time, energy, love, and money are all forms of currency. What we do with all of these resources tells the hard truth about what matters to us.

Looking at your economy in this way, in what ways are you rich and in what ways are you poor? What are the values you want your life (and money) to express? What is the real cost of having either more or less than you need to your life, relationships, and the world?

Try tracking closely how money moves into and out of your hands for a month—it’s a great way to see the degree to which your core values and actions align.

How do you really want to be with money? Knowing what you stand for, and consistently acting on it, is a powerful cure for being pulled off course by internal and external conditioning. Take the time to know your beliefs and values about money and make them matter.

Kristi Nelson is a financial and fundraising consultant based in Hadley, Massachusetts. She worked for many years with the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society and The Soul of Money Institute, which she helped found. She is now writing a workbook on values-based fundraising.

This article also appeared in the December 2013 issue of Mindful magazine.