June was the first month of my journey towards financial health. After sinking into $15,000 of debt and maxing out my credit card, a few months ago I realized I needed to pay off what I owe and heal my relationship with money. Since this realization, I got a loan, paid off my credit card, created a budget, and am now on track towards debt freedom. It’s going to take me a few years.
I spent the last quarter of 2019 preparing for this journey. I tracked my spending with an app, read a few books, listened to podcasts, and followed personal finance bloggers on Twitter. I also started talking about money all over the place: here on the blog, on social media, and with my family and friends.
Along with this practical stuff, I’ve called in some spiritual and yogic reinforcements to keep me on track. Reflecting on philosophical concepts has given me a yoga-informed framework to nourish and guide my actions. Simple daily practices help alleviate stress and strengthen my focus. Because, to be honest, money and budgets bore me! I’m easily distracted and my mind wanders, so I need something to keep me in line.
Baby Steps Toward Financial Health
Before the holidays, I took my first concrete financial step by meeting with an advisor at my bank. This seemed like a good starting place, and the meeting was surprisingly empowering. I experienced no shame or pressure, only support.
The bank guy explained the difference between a loan and line of credit, and helped me decide to get a loan to pay off my credit card balance. In January, the monthly loan repayments started, along with strategic budgeting with the app.
My budget is very generous, with a wide margin of success, including occasional happy hour drinks with friends and a monthly indulgence (a massage, which happens to also be covered by my work benefits). I’m not feeling deprived or a sense of austerity, and it’s empowering to see places where I can tighten up.
I have a stable salary and regular monthly income, so budgeting is pretty straight forward. I’m also privileged to have a day job with good benefits and a pension plan (which will hopefully mean I won’t end up old and poor).
I’ve scheduled weekly money date nights (inspired by Bari Tessler’s Art of Money approach) where I sit down with my app to look at where my money has gone over the week and what’s coming up in the week ahead. I make some tea, nibble dark chocolate, and try to find self-care in a task that I generally think is tedious and painful. (The reframing actually worked; the chocolate definitely helps.)
Yoga as a Living Practice: Right Use of Energy & Rejoicing in Reality
As part of my preparation plan in the fall, I went to a yamas and niyamas workshop at a local yoga studio, taught by two warm and earthy women from northern Vancouver Island. It was a way of embodying the concepts, give myself space to reflect and get out of my comfort zone, yet in a supported environment. I was looking for a yoga-informed framework to navigate my financial relationship.
I was surprised to resonate with brahmacarya, the yama (how we relate to the external world) which I had previously understood as meaning celibate or controlling energy. But I received new insight that it can mean non-excess, or the right use of energy. To stay on financial track, I can’t have excess spending. Instead, I have to stay focused, direct my energy on being mindful of my money and spending, be frugal and responsible.
The concept of santosha–or contentment; one of the five niyamas (how we relate to the internal world)–is going to be a key guiding principle. The instructors defined it as “the art of rejoicing in our present reality,” which is very hopeful and a lovely idea.
When I think back to how I got myself into debt, it’s difficult to account for where the money went. I used my credit card for a flight here, a yoga weekend workshop there, and occasionally for groceries or bills (I was an underemployed freelancer when I lived in Montreal). Then interest compounded on interest and my debt hole just kept getting deeper.
For the past three years, I’ve been making a decent salary, but I’ve continued to sink further into debt. I’ve bought new clothes and shoes, gone on vacations, and enjoyed many meals out.
Reflecting on santosha, I am reminded that I don’t need to fill the void by spending money and buying stuff or meaningless experiences (like hanging out in restaurants and bars). I can find joy in creating boundaries with my spending, and work towards a more simple and frugal life (it sounds easy, but it’s actually really hard!). I am reminded to approach my life with a spirit of gratitude, to be grateful for the richness and abundance.
So 2020 got off to a good start! I feel confident and optimistic about tackling my debt and gaining financial savvy. On a personal level (but affecting my finances), I have an upcoming big move into a new home, which can be expensive even though my monthly rent will decrease.