"Put your heart, mind and soul into even your smallest acts. This is the secret of success." Swami Sivananda
Life is not easy these days, but I'm not sure there was ever a time in history when it was smooth sailing for us humans.
I hear so many troubling stories lately about our youth, too many of whom struggle with a sense of disconnection, both to others and themselves.
When my son's friends go off the radar, they're in monk mode. I wish it were so.
Rather than meditating in nature or reflecting quietly about the cause of their demons, you'll find them locked in their rooms, being swallowed up by an algorithm. Monk mode only in social seclusion.
In true monk mode, one would look deep within, not at a screen with dancing monkeys, but at the random, illusory and discordant thoughts that express themselves just like them.
Outside of the cave, the wisdom of sages has a role to play in personal finance.
There has been plenty said about money, the good, the bad, and the ugly. In the New Testament, Jesus is quoted as saying, "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God".
Not encouraging words for those who might consider themselves religious and rich. I'm no Biblical scholar, but I'd take it as a warning that with wealth comes complexity, and those riches could come at the expense of your spiritual evolution, assuming that's important to you.
It's a bit gloomy for my liking, so I haven't posted it on my fridge. Another musing on wealth from Yogananda contains a similar warning.
"Having lots of money, while not having inner peace, is like dying of thirst while bathing in an ocean."
Now that's a statement I would post on my fridge, if there were room. My partner instead has every square inch of it covered with magnets from his extensive globe-trotting. He's a reasonably wealthy guy, so he has clocked many miles in his day thanks to his wealth, but I'll tell you, when I met him, he was not a happy camper.
Sad, unfulfilled and a bit lost in his wealth. Interestingly, yoga helped him find his way, or at least it helped him to find some inner peace that allowed him to be more comfortable with his wealth.
In recent years, yogic wisdom has enjoyed a revival. It is being mined by everyone from Ivy League scholars and medical researchers, to personal development gurus, and multinationals like Lululemon and Google.
They have encouraged customers and employees to find their zen on the yoga mat or in purpose built meditation rooms and rock gardens.
Eastern philosophy and insights have been dredged up and repackaged for mass consumption. Don't let the commerciality of it make you cynical. Despite the cutesy names and expensive accoutrement, the underlying knowledge is solid.
To truly excel in the outer world, you need first to go within. It doesn't need to be on a mountain top but if that's the only place you won't be disturbed, it may be worth the journey.
The knowledge, lessons and experiences I have acquired through the disciplines of Buddhism and yoga now form part of my underlying view and framework for personal finances. It is the unlikely marriage of these two worlds where I find my personal inspiration and where I believe you'll find the buried treasure you are seeking.
It's time to go monk mode.
When people ask me about money, I always preface the conversation with two points:
Firstly, I can not give you personalised financial advice under NZ laws and regulations. That's the boring bit. While I have over 15 years of experience as a personal finance writer and commentator, I am not an authorised financial adviser. I never wanted to be. Too many other interests you see.
The second bit is more thought-provoking naturally, and it comes in the form of a question.
I'll ask: "What is your story then?"
By that, I don't mean how much you owe, where did you go wrong or please tell me your life story.
The question cuts to the heart of all things money, and it has to do with the story that people tell themselves about money.
Here are some examples, some of which may resonate:
"I've never been good with money."
"I'm uncomfortable with money."
"Money is the root of evil."
"I just can't seem to get ahead with money."
Or my all-time favourite:"
Anyway, money doesn't make you happy."
No, it sure won't do that, but the things you can do with money sure will help. i.e.
Buying a home so you don't have to pay rent for the rest of your life.
Having enough money to go on a holiday when you want.
Not having to work at a job you hate for the rest of your life. Being able to buy the odd nicety for yourself or someone you like or love. So yep, money in and of itself won't buy your happiness. Still, money will afford you some nice pleasures that make life more enjoyable and comfortable.
So the starting point in this conversation is really: "What is your money story?"
You can then table your conscious and later your unconscious tendencies and habits about money, which will undoubtedly reveal a lot about your current position.
You can gain some insight and understanding and start to build a new story and actionable plan with money.
Let's get one thing straight here. While you may be born with blue eyes, you aren't born "bad at" or "naturally good with" money.
This is definitely taught, learned, socialised or conditioned, and it all starts with the story.
So, if your money story is nasty, dull, boring or a nightmare, you will need to rewrite the programme.
I'm not promising that's going to be easy, especially if you've been selling/telling yourself a bad story for a long time, and entrenching a tonne of bad habits on the back of that.
But as long as you keep telling yourself a negative story about money and your relationship with it, things aren't likely to change.
So: "What is Your Story?"
Why not make it a fabulous one.
I'm a big one for exercise. Running, walking, cycling, yoga, gym, whatever, just moving is good for your body and mind.
Researchers at Yale and Oxford Universities found that regular exercise instils greater well-being than more money in your bank account. Read more about that in Business Insider here.
I'm the last to advise against a gym membership, but I would say this.
If you aren't going, you're not getting the benefit, and therefore, it is a waste of money. Gym memberships usually cost $25 a week. That's about the cost of a single drop-in session if permitted. So if you're only going 1-3 x a month, you're not getting your money's worth, even if you feel good post-work for those brief times. If you're a sporadic gym bunny, it is far better to pay as you go. Gyms would far prefer you didn't and don't often have this option but some of them do. So find the right fit. Yoga classes tend to offer concessions cards and the more you buy, the cheaper each class becomes. It's a good incentive to keep going, so long as they don't expire!
But back to the gym...If you don't know what you're paying, you aren't paying close enough attention to your finances.
This week, I was chatting with a friend about money, and she was lamenting the cost of her daughter's gym membership, which she covers. I have zero issues with the bank of mum and dad, and I do the same for one of my sprogs. It's good for their mental well-being, they are super fit kids, and they've encouraged many of their friends to take up fitness because of their impressive beach bods. It's a good investment in your kids' future and mental well-being.
On top of that goodness, research has also found that if you have the discipline to exercise regularly, it acts like a keystone habit that encourages good outcomes, including better grades, better jobs, and savings. This is detailed by Charles DuHigg in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. It's a fabulous read. I highly recommend it if you're trying to reset in 2022.
What surprised me about the gym convo, was my friend said it cost $50 a week! I told her she must surely be confused and that the payments were more likely fortnightly. I double-checked my fees at the same gym to confirm that. She was adamant that $50 was withdrawn weekly for one membership, so I encouraged her to phone the gym ASAP or find a cheaper gym. Sure enough, she reported the next day that they were over-billing her. They fixed it up and said a refund was on its way.
I'm glad we had that chat, as she might have otherwise been paying way more than she needed to for a long time, when that money could have been repurposed to things like debt repayment.
During our talk, it also came out that she was paying for two separate insurance schemes that effectively covered the same thing. It appeared that she had been over-sold on the same type of insurance. That is not the usual problem most Kiwis have, one of the most under-insured OECD countries.
As inflation bites hard and interest rates rise, making your money work harder for you is crucial. Complacency in personal finance, and procrastination, are twin enemies you need to defeat to get ahead.
An easy thing to do, to ward off these financial faux-pas is to print off three months' worth of bank statements, categorise all your spending and scrutinise what is coming out regularly. So many services work on a subscription basis these days. That's handy in some ways and helpful too for those businesses, but they might have outlived their usefulness in your life.
You may have noticed insurance, utility bills, and other automated payments having increased recently without realising it because you didn't read the email warnings. In looking closer, you might have found charges for other extraneous services or stuff you didn't buy, an increasingly common problem with cyber-crimes. I once saw a series of small repeating payments on my Uber account. They were barely detectable because they were so tiny, but they added up. I had to cancel my card and reset the account.
The point is, if you don't pay attention, you have no idea what you are paying. Now more than ever, you can't afford to have your head in the sand.
Keeping your finances fighting fit requires time, attention and discipline, not unlike the gym. But unlike deadlifts and bench presses, you don't need to be that strong. You mainly need to care enough to look.
I imagine PTs would argue you don't need to be that strong to lift weights, given it's an incremental build up. Fair enough.
Like most things, consistency is the key here and strength will be the natural outcome whether it's muscle you are flexing or your financial habit.
The content of this article is purely informational and should not be construed as personalised financial advice. Seek a registered financial advisor if you require personalised advice.
Amanda is a personal finance expert who draws on Eastern wisdom to help you grow your wealth and wellbeing. Money Matters was published in 2013 by Penguin Random House in NZ.