Mindful Money Management – Or The Zen of Budgeting
Taking care of yourself so that you are not stressing about money is the ultimate in self-care. It is number one in Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – survival. Creative art expression, indulgences, rest…these are all secondary to making sure that your basic needs for financial security are met.
You can be a millionaire and still be broke because you bought too many cars, houses, or tropical islands. Or you could be an average person accumulating a slew of credit cards in lieu of actual cash in order to fund the things you want. It really doesn’t matter how much you have, but how you go about allocating it.
This principle is especially important because many people hate to think about it. I have known people in every economic bracket who don’t want to take a realistic look at their finances.
Since I have been self-employed my entire life I have never felt a certainty about how much money I could count on. Not having a set salary, I never felt I had the luxury of accumulating debt because I couldn’t count on being able to pay it back. So rather than rely on credit cards and loans, I have mainly lived on a cash basis.
The guiding principle: Keep your irreducible expenses low. Here are some tips I have developed over the years.
There are many ways to live comfortably while still keeping your outflow at a minimum. I happen to live in a part of the country where housing is quite expensive, but I have managed to find inexpensive solutions. I’ve found places on the outskirts of town that had small inexpensive rentals on rural property where the housing itself was very basic but in the midst of beautiful surroundings. I once even lived in a converted chicken coop. Outfitting and decorating a simple home to appear beautiful and exotic can be very creative and fun. Other options include living in a shared community house with a group. Once I got my massage business launched and stable I was able to buy a house in a sweet older neighborhood, but it is fun to remember my early roots.
Beyond housing, which is generally our biggest expense, there are a wide array of options regarding transportation, food, clothes and everything else. My father used to have a saying that went, “Scrimp on necessities so you can splurge on luxuries.” As I write this I am thinking that perhaps this is where I adopted this attitude at a very young age, because in a sense, that is exactly what I do.
For instance, for the past year I have been taking 3-4 days each month to drive off to a little cabin on the coast where I find the quiet ocean setting very peaceful and relaxing. Friends have said they wish they could afford to do this. However, these same people spend money on eating out and purchasing coffees whereas I almost always prepare my own food from scratch and am not a coffee drinker. I figure the cost of a take-out sandwich and a beverage 5 days a week is the same as the amount I spend on my getaways. It’s all a matter of tradeoffs.
I have one friend who lives on a fixed disability income and she is an expert at all the free entertainment we have in our community as well as how to live well very cheaply. She turned me on to the publication Freecycle, where people post things they want to get rid of and are giving away. You can sign up for the edition in your locality.
Budgeting can be very creative. Sometimes it involves more time, such as harvesting seeds from plants to grow new ones, instead of making a trip to a nursery, or making your own food instead of getting take-out, but there is also a great pleasure in taking charge of these things and not feeling helplessly at the mercy of high costs. There is a great sense of peace that comes from spending less than you earn and having a sense of plenty and abundance.
One of my tricks is that I have a number of savings accounts, all for different purposes. One is for taxes, one is where I save for getaways and I have an envelope where I tuck bits of cash to save up to get massages. In addition, I have an emergency account for whatever crazy unexpected thing comes up.
The point is, regardless of your income, if you spend as much or more than you are bringing in, you will always feel strapped and little problems start to become big problems. But if you work at ways to keep your costs down reserving enough to occasionally splurge on pleasure you will feel abundant. This is key in truly taking good care of yourself.