Put Your Money Where Your Happy Is
If you read my last post, you know that I've been using this Mercury retrograde as an opportunity to reevaluate my spending habits. I recently did a difficult but obviously necessary exercise to get clear on where my money is going: I went through last month's bank statement, line by line, and considered every single item I purchased. This activity is not for the faint of heart, but it's a critical first step to understanding your finances.
My idea to do such a detailed analysis of my spending came from Sarah Von Bargen of the blog Yes and Yes, who was recently featured on the Healers podcast. I chose that episode as my introduction to the podcast, because the idea of healing my relationship with money sounded incredibly attractive to me. I wouldn't say that I have a completely toxic relationship with money, but it's certainly unhealthy. It's tough for me to even write that, because I've always had enough. I grew up in an upper-middle class household. My parents have never been without work for more than a few months at a time, and I've never wanted for anything. I've had the freedom to pursue my desires and take risks not only thanks to my class and race privilege, but also because my family offered me a safety net. When I moved across the country to take an unpaid fellowship at a human rights organization, they paid for my moving expenses and made sure I knew I could always come home if DC didn't work out. My family isn't part of the one percent, but we're not too far off.
Writing all that, it feels ridiculous to say that I have an unhealthy relationship with money, but it's the truth. I think the reason that someone can have a negative relationship with money, regardless of how much they have, is perfectly summarized in the podcast episode. Von Bargen landed a punch to my gut when she said, "For most of us, our relationship with money mirrors our relationship with ourselves." Oftentimes, our feelings about money are not just about money. Our relationship with money is determined by how we were raised, how we feel about ourselves, how we experience deprivation, how we think about happiness; the list is endless. It goes without saying that experiencing poverty has a massive impact on one's relationship with money, but there are also many other factors that can shift the relationship.
After reflecting on my finances over the past two weeks, I'm starting to realize that my toxic ideas about money are wrapped up in my own insecurities and guilt. Anxiety around making mistakes and therefore being a bad person; earnest desire to please others; a sense of obligation to help deliver reparations; guilt over how hard my parents worked to support me; disgust at the capitalist system and its exploitation of humans and non-human animals; all of these and more contribute to my negative relationship with money. Just thinking about my finances gives me an overwhelming sense of ickiness.
The truth is that I don't know how to heal my relationship with money. What I do know, though, is that there are some small steps I can take to start establishing ownership over my own damn wallet. Thanks to Sarah, I figured out the first three things I needed to do:
- Figure out what makes me happy
- Figure out where I'm spending my money
- Align my spending with my happiness, or, as Sarah says, "put your money where your happy is."
I started by listing the concrete things that make me happy, and there are a lot of them. I thought about everything from the smallest sensory delights to the most elaborate luxuries. Here's a sampling of what makes me light up:
- Swimming in the ocean
- Slow-traveling with my family in leisurely destinations
- Visiting my closest friends in their hometowns
- Drinking a glass of red wine while reading a novel by myself
- Playing soccer early on Saturday mornings
- Cooking new vegan meals with my partner at home
- Snuggling any animal I can get my hands on
- Listening to my favorite podcasts and watching my favorite YouTubers
- Making collages with stuff I find around my house
- Giving friends Tarot readings (when they want them, obviously)
I tried to be as specific as possible, and it wasn't hard at all to think of all the things that make me happy. The theme that I noticed in my list is that everything was a type of experience, though some of them require money. Keep that in mind as I dive into the significantly less fun part of the exercise, which is examining where I'm spending my money. Von Bargen suggests collecting pink, yellow, and green highlighters, and using these to mark up your bank statement. Pink indicates a regrettable purchase, yellow an unavoidable one, and green a joyful one.
The yellow expenditures were the easiest to find, since this category includes the basics:
- Rent and utilities
- Grocery runs to Trader Joe's
- My Turbo Tax fee
I can definitely cut back on my grocery spending, but the numbers in this category didn't surprise me. The green category was relatively easy, too - it turns out I have no problem spending on things that make me happy, which I suppose is good. Favorites of the green category included:
- Tickets to see an excellent movie with my friends
- Monthly donations to local activist organizations
- Soccer league fee for the spring season
- A sip-and-paint night with my coworkers at an art studio
Last, and toughest, is the pink category. The color of regret. In this section I found, among other things:
- Unnecessary trips to Target
- Amazon video rentals that I don't remember
- Pricey coffees and drinks
- An Audible free trial that quickly became not-free when I forgot to cancel it
- A lot of spending that I don't remember
Apparently I black out when I walk into Whole Foods, because there were several significant spending sprees on items I couldn't identify if I tried. There were probably some useful items in those shopping trips, like lip balm and coconut oil, but I can't believe how little I have to show for them. The other top culprits, besides Whole Foods, are convenience coffees and expensive booze that I just didn't need. Don't get me wrong, coffee with a friend or a rooftop round of cocktails can definitely make me happy, but I'm realizing that they need to be well-planned to be worthwhile. All in all, I spent $564.95 on regrettable purchases. Over five hundred dollars. Especially since I'm saving for a round-the-world trip, that number is painful and embarrassing. Ouch-worthy as that amount is, though, it feels good to have it out in the open.
The next step, which I'm starting to work on now, is bringing my spending into alignment with my values. The first items on the proverbial chopping block are drinks out - coffee, alcohol, kombucha, juice, you name it. Only when planned in advance will I indulge in these, because otherwise I know I'll be kicking myself next month. I'm also ditching gratuitous trips to Whole Foods and the grocery store in general. I've started to transition to a lower-waste lifestyle, which will add an additional deterrent to unnecessary spending since it forces me to be intentional about when I go to the store and what I buy. I'm going to avoid renting movies, too, since my Netflix and Hulu subscriptions combined with YouTube give me more fantastic content than I could ever hope to watch. Finally, I'm cutting out spontaneous gifts. Not because I won't still be giving gifts, but because I find that if I don't plan in advance I tend to significantly overspend on either the gift itself or the shipping fees to get it to its recipient on time.
What won't I ditch? Healthy, fresh, whole plant foods; travel to see friends and family; donations to my favorite organizations; the occasional activity such as concert or event tickets. The largest "expense," however, will be savings for my big trip, because that will make me happier than anything I can imagine. I look forward to continuing to heal my relationship with money, and will check in every once in a while. Are you putting your money where your happy is?