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Cheap...or Mindful?


"What if doing what's considered 'NORMAL' is the problem?"

-Carl Richards


It's 2008 and I'm walking through the food court at lunch. I work downtown and get to ride the bus to work, so I'm fortunate. I'm lucky because my car doesn't work. I haven't driven it in months. Lucky for me, there is a car dealership in the same building as the food court.

I walk in and look around. I'm talking to a salesperson who tells me about a smaller sedan. He walks me through the cost and the monthly payments. I can swing the payment. Just out of curiosity I ask how the bigger sedan. I can't comfortably afford the monthly loan payment, but the salesperson tells me that, for just a little bit more, I can get into the more expensive car if I lease it.

I don't really know about leasing vehicles, but I work at an investment firm with people who drive nice cars. That draw is strong. I end up leasing the car, getting myself into a car that is more expensive than I need.

I don't value fancy vehicles; I never have. Since my car is broken down at my apartment, I realize I do value reliable transportation. But reliable transportation is not the same as having a fancy car. I let the thought of coworkers and colleagues influence my spending (even though they didn't know they were). I spent my money in an area that wasn't important to me.

I spent more money than I needed to. I leased a car instead of buying it. I didn't want to be thought of as cheap, and I paid the price for it.

you're not cheap, you're mindful

Talking About Money is Hard

Money is probably the biggest taboo in our culture. People would rather talk about politics, religion, sexuality, and even gross problems before they'll consider talking about money. If you are ever stuck in a conversation you don't want to be in, try asking the other person how much money they make or how much money they spent on their car. We hate talking about money.

Money touches every area of our lives. It's a window into what's important to us - or at least it should be. The minute we open our mouths and start talking about money we open ourselves up for judgment from others.

money leads to judgments

This judgment from others - or fear of judgment from others - can make us second-guess what we think is important to us. If what is important to us isn't the same as what we think is important to other people, then we start to shift our spending. We spend in ways that match how others spend their money, or how we think others think we should spend our money.

talking about money makes us afraid of being judged

What's Important To You?

It is often stressful when we learn that we are spending money in ways that don't energize us. Sometimes this is simply just us spending money on the wrong things, but it can go so far that we overspend and undersave.

align your money and your values

The antidote to misaligned spending is to get clear about what is important to you. What are your most important values? How can you design a life that fits with your values?

The idea is to live intentionally, rather than floating through life reacting to everything. Bringing awareness to what's important to you and how you spend your money brings a certain peace of mind.

That all starts with understanding your values. Your answers should not look like mine, your friends', or the Joneses. This is personal, and it pays dividends to spend some time pondering this.

everyone's values are different

Building Your Confidence

Getting clear about what you want out of life, who you want to be, and what's important to you helps you live with more money mindfulness. Our awareness of our personal finances has been stripped away from us. Bringing your finances into conscious awareness leads to more confidence in your financial life.

conscious spending leads to confidence

Increasing your confidence shifts the conversation (and your behavior) from "where did my money go" or "I think I need to spend my money this way" to "here is where I want my money to go.

Knowing what the money is for and what money's role is in your life allows you to take the blindfold off and pay more attention.

choose where your money goes

Shifting Your Mindset

You might be thinking this isn't as easy as I'm making it sound. That's fair. I'm not trying to make it sound easy. Changing the focus from reactive living to proactive living, aligning your money and your values, and becoming comfortable with not caring about what others think of your use of money is not only a lot to try to do at once, but it can be incredibly difficult.

My only point is that these are efforts worth pursuing.

change your mindset

Even though it's not easy, it's worth it. Once you shift your mindset away from what others think and toward your needs and values, financial decisions are no longer a question of right or wrong. It becomes a question of differing values and needs.

mindset change for money health

Change the Discussion

This is all great in theory, right? But you have friends that can always get you to spend money in ways that aren't aligned with what's important to you. We don't like to call it "peer pressure" when we're adults, but social pressure still gets us.

First of all, know that the boost in confidence that you gain from having a better understanding of what money needs to do for you will go a long way. Remember, our perception of what others think about us is almost always more negative than reality. People are more concerned with what we think about them to even notice us.

Having said that, try simply saying "no." If someone asks you to go on a trip, go do an event, or otherwise do something that either you can't afford or doesn't fit with how you choose to spend your money, simply say, "No, thank you."

If you want, try using the word "but," but always put the good at the end of the sentence. For example, "Thank you for thinking about me. I appreciate the offer, but I can't make it," isn't the same as, "I can't make it, but thank you for thinking of me. I appreciate the offer." They are the same words, but people remember what you said second. Leave them with your gratitude.

If that doesn't work (which is rare), you can create rules for yourself. "I have a rule that I don't go out of weekdays." "I have a rule that I don't buy tickets to a game that's within a month of the game because I like to plan ahead." "I have a rule that I stick to my spending plan and it's not in the cards this month."

change the discussion

People are understanding. Nobody wants you to be irresponsible with your money. People generally want you to be happy. Don't spend your life trying to appease everyone else. Live your own life.

You're not cheap, you're just mindful!

You only have one life. Live intentionally.

organize your financial mess

Related Money Health Reading:


Simon Sinek: Start With Why

Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.


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About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


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