A Money Mindfulness Intensive: 7 Days to A New Attitude

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If you are reading this post, you have a computer or iPad or smart phone — or at least access to one of these.

This tells me a few things about you without even knowing you.

First, you are clearly intelligent and curious. And I’m not saying this because you are reading my particular post. But you’ve taken the time to read an informative post on a personal development blog, seeking valuable information. You want to learn, and that’s smart.

But the fact that you are reading this post also tells me that you are in a better financial situation than the majority of people in the world. Almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.

I know many people reading this are dealing with financial stress and struggles, and I’m not trying to diminish this very real concern. Financial worry can sap the joy from your life.

But there is an interesting and somewhat surprising relationship between salary and day-to-day happiness.

Recent studies have shown that it doesn’t take a lot of money to be happy. The tipping point is somewhere between $50,000 and $75,000.  If you make below $50,000 annually, you might feel stressed about your financial situation and making ends meet.

However, if you make over $75,000, the trade-off of working longer hours and having more job-related stress might not be worth the perks. Depending on where you live and the cost of living, there’s a sweet spot of happiness potential somewhere in-between that salary range.

If you have enough to pay the bills, stay out of debt, and enjoy a few perks in life, then you’re doing OK, and you’ll likely be just as happy on a daily basis as someone who is wealthy.

I entered young adulthood in the ’80′s when the accumulation of money and material things was the standard of a successful and (supposedly) happy life. Over the last few years on my blogging journey, I’ve been amazed and delighted to see how many people in the generation behind me are disconnecting with materialism and focusing on experiences and meaningful work as the path to happiness.

This first came to my attention when I got to know Leo Babauta of the blog Zen Habits. In a course I was taking with him, I remember him saying, “Every time you pull out money to buy something, ask yourself if this is something you really need.” Of course, quite often, we spend on things we don’t really need.

I’ve written before about mindful spending and the negative emotions that often motivate mindless spending. Simply becoming aware of how and why you spend the way you do can foster a mind shift in the way you think about money and happiness.

Here’s a little experiment that you might want to try for a week. Let’s call it a Money Mindfulness Intensive.

If you are up for the challenge, this little experiment will do three things for you:

  • You’ll save money. Woo hoo!
  • You’ll become more aware of your spending habits and what is truly important to you.
  • You’ll stretch yourself by doing something challenging and succeeding at it.

Hey, it’s only for a week. You can do this.

Read the instructions below and see if you are up for the challenge.

Mental Preparation

For the next seven days, you won’t be living the lifestyle you have been living up until this moment. This Money Mindfulness Intensive will be an exercise in financial and emotional dieting. But there will be positive results in the end if you stick it out. Have a journal handy to write down your thoughts about this process as you proceed.

Savings Jar

Get a jar for savings. Pull out any one, five, and ten dollar bills you have in your wallet and put them in the jar. You can keep any twenties or higher, but once you break those bills, put the ones, fives and tens in the jar. You can keep getting twenties from a cash machine if necessary. But you can only keep twenties or higher in your wallet.

Meals

Go through your pantry and refrigerator to take inventory of what you have in stock right now. Using the food you have in the house, write a menu for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for the next seven days.

If you don’t have enough food in the house for seven days, plan menus using very simple, inexpensive, but nutritious ingredients that you can purchase. Go buy those ingredients at the grocery store, purchasing store brand items if possible. This will be your one and only visit to the grocery store this week. Do not purchase any other items except what is on your list.

Now, calculate your average weekly grocery bill. From that number, subtract the cost of the groceries you just bought. Write down the remaining number and shove that piece of paper in the savings jar.

Credit Cards

Unless it’s an absolute emergency, do not use a credit card during this week. An emergency is a hospital visit, a flat tire, or a hold-up at gun point. Not too many robbers take credit cards anyway. Make it easy on yourself, and take your credit cards out of your wallet.

No Starbucks, No Fast Food

Sorry. Make coffee at home. Pack your lunch. If you regularly purchase coffee or fast food during the week, calculate about how much you spend on those purchases per week. Write down that number on a piece of paper, and put it in the savings jar.

Dinners Out, Entertainment

For the next seven days, you must not eat dinner out. Every meal must be either eaten or prepared at home. Any entertainment must be free. So no movies, concerts, or other activities that cost money unless you have already paid for them.

Spend some time finding free ways to have fun. Do some research. There are great web sites about cost-free fun. Consider spending time in nature, playing games with your family, reading, exercising, or doing creative projects. Or use the time to clean, reorganize, and pull out useless stuff to sell or give away.

Spend Mindfully

Any time during the week you start to pull out your wallet to buy something, ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” You probably don’t, but if it is something you absolutely do need, ask yourself if it can wait until next week. If you don’t buy it or you delay buying it, write down the cost of this thing and put the paper in the savings jar.

What You’ll Be Buying

Not much. You can pay necessary bills. You may need a few groceries. You may need to pay for parking and gas, although you might find alternatives to driving. Cancel any lawn or housekeeping services for the week. Your kids may have events or activities to attend that cost money. If they are optional, bag them. Wherever you cut back, write down the savings and put it in the jar.

Add Up The Savings

At the end of day seven, sit down with your family and open the jar. Add up the money that you saved by creating your own Money Mindfulness Intensive. Write a check for the total amount and put it in your savings account, along with the cash in the jar. Pretty amazing, huh?! (This is a great opportunity to talk with your kids about saving and spending.)

Make It A Habit

Consider participating in a Money Mindfulness Intensive once a month or at least once a quarter. In between, stay mindful about your spending. Keep asking yourself, “Do I really need this?” Keep a running total of your savings from each Intensive, and total it up at the end of a year.

I’d love to hear back from you on other ideas for a Money Mindful Intensive and how this experiment impacted your attitude about money and happiness.

Comments

  1. What a great idea! Thank you for this post. I don’t normally carry cash. Do you think I should get some just for this experiment?

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Kristen, I’m so glad you like it. I almost included an instruction to get $100 in 20′s at the outset of the experiment. So yes, get some cash to get your started. But not too much. You don’t want to tempt yourself to spend. Remember, you won’t get to spend the change from your 20′s. So break them wisely!! :)

  2. Great post! I am currently saving up to move out of Alaska (11 years on an island is enough for me!) and although I thought I was already saving as much as possible, I see a few ways I can add to my move $. Thanks again Barrie! You always seem to post the perfect thing for me right when I need it :)

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Whoa Marley — 11 years in Alaska. Girl, you need to come down here where the sun is shining and the air is warm!! Keep up the saving. I know Alaska is beautiful, but there are some pretty scary grizzly bears up there, not to mention really cold weather. :)

  3. Filomena says:

    What a great idea! I did the grocery thing last week, before going on vacation, in order to clean up the freezer, but I am sure I can use up all the rice, pasta and canned goods I have in my pantry! This is a wonderful thing for me to do right now. And I will!

  4. Fawzi Musallam says:

    Thank you Barry
    Great tips
    I would also add to the list is mobile phone, and other gadgets bills and minimizing the usage of it.
    thank you again

  5. Barrie I love your posts and the synchronicity of the universe. Last night I was talking to my video coach and he said we need to talk more about money in a healthy way – tada here is your post. Thanks.

    Mindfulness, spiritual connection and loving yourself make such a difference with money, There have been times in the past where I was fearful, far from mindful and I couldn’t pay all my bills. The next month my attitude changed, I had faith, was very mindful and easily paid my bills. Same bills, same salary but different choices.

    I will apply your suggestions and let you know how it goes.

    With aloha, Susan

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Susan,
      I’m so glad this post came to you at the perfect time! It’s so easy to get fearful around money, but if we look back over our past, everything generally turns out OK. We make it, we survive whatever perceived crisis might be around the corner. Please do let us know how it goes.

  6. Your post is specific things.
    Here are my opinion
    We need write any things that we spend money to paid.
    With a month we review what really necessary to buy.
    And we can see what happen with our money.
    Thank you

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Chu Nam,
      Yes, you are so right. When we keep track of our spending, it really helps us understand where our money is going and how we can save.

  7. Cathy | Treatment Talk says:

    Hi Barrie,

    This sounds like a good plan. I was just at the grocery store today and thought about the idea of going through the refrigerator and freezer and eating up all those things that I’ve been storing before I buy more. I like the jar idea for a week. It’s sounds like a wonderful reminder to save, so I will definitely try your challenge. Thanks for sharing. Have a great weekend!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Cathy,
      When I think about all of the food I’ve thrown away over the years because it’s gone bad before we could eat it — it makes me cringe. I’m at the stage now where it’s hard to plan when my kids will be home for dinner, so I shop less and try to figure out how to make something from what I have in the fridge or pantry.

  8. Hi Barrie

    Great post! Conscious spending keeps coming up for me a lot. I felt really happy as I read through your post being able to say… don’t do fast food, don’t eat out, don’t buy coffees. I meal plan as well, but like your idea to take stock of what i already have in the pantry, fridge and freezer and meal plan from that. I suspect I could feed our family for a couple of weeks at least before having to spend any money on groceries! Love the jar concept as well. Looking forward to putting some of your suggestions into practice. :)

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Lynne, that is fantastic. That takes a lot of discipline and planning.

      • I think the takeaways and eating out was a mind shift heavily motivated by the fact that I am unable to eat wheat, gluten, dairy or eggs. That was a challenge to begin with, but I found it an easy change after a little bit of education. In the case of takeaways, I’ve also found that in the time it would take to ring and order something for my family, then receive it, I can make something tasty and yummy in the same time or less. When I realised that, it became an easy transition. I totally agree with you on the planning front. I find it takes me a bit of time to plan what I am going to cook for the week. It’s like my compass for the fortnight though as this process also provides me with the list of things I need to purchase at the groceries which helps to keep food bills to a minimum. We’ve kinda fallen into the thinking that after the groceries are done, apart from buying top up milk and fresh fruit, we don’t go to the supermarket at all. This little gem alone has saved us so much money! After your post, I’ve just taken stock of what we have in the freezer and pantry and we’re living off that this fortnight. Will be interesting to see how we go. I have lots of choice! :)

        • Barrie Davenport says:

          Good for you Lynne! It sounds like you are really mindful of your spending already. I’d love to hear back from you after you try this experiment to see how it went.

  9. These are some great suggestions! I’d like to add that mindful spending can be far easier if you can minimize your exposure to advertising. I certainly have nothing against advertisements in general, but a good ad will create a “need” within us that compels us to purchase something. It’s very rare that the products or services that are advertised are things we actually need.

    So, from a practical standpoint, that would mean cutting down on our consumption of media. Watch less TV, don’t listen to the radio as much, and spend less time surfing the internet.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      I agree totally Mikey. And I will also add staying out of stores and malls. I was at the mall yesterday with a friend who needed something. Just being in there makes you think you need all of the sparkly things you see. I had to close my eyes and keep moving!

      • That’s very true. A few weekends back I was in Atlantic City and there was this shop that had all sorts of exotic sauces and flavorings….personally I’m a sucker for that kind of thing, but it was totally unnecessary and overpriced.

        As you emphasized in this post, if it’s the sort of thing that would have really given me a lot of satisfaction it could be worthwhile. But I don’t need to spend seven bucks on a jar of strawberry jalapeno sauce when I could make that kind of thing myself.

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