When I think about self-care, I find myself going through my mental checklist of what I need to stay healthy:
Exercise every day? Check.
Vegetables, even when I want to eat cake? Check.
Fresh air, sunshine, and sleep? Check, check, and check.
A balanced bank account? A retirement portfolio? Um, not so much.
Financial health, in many ways, is the single most important contributor to our physical health and well-being. Our financial health affects every aspect of our lives, from our physical selves and relationships, to our emotional well-being and spiritual practices. But for some reason, most of us overlook finances as part of self-care.
“Most of us were not given a financial education on a practical and emotional level,” explains Bari Tessler, 48, a financial therapist and author of The Art of Money: A Life-Changing Guide to Financial Happiness. “And it’s such an important area of our lives that we need to bring attention and care and nurturance and love and compassion to.”
Even the simple act of paying bills, Tessler points out, can be a loving act of self-care that we don’t have to dread, put off, or fear. For some reason, her suggestion of simply lighting a candle and indulging in some chocolate while reviewing finances blew me away. Why do we treat taking care of our financial health as a chore instead of a treat? Isn’t managing our money as women something to be incredibly proud of?
Part of the reason for our mixed and muddled feelings about finances comes from the nuances we’ve been taught about money. We may have been taught as children that talking about money was shameful. We may have learned that money is inherently bad, or missed out on any sort of financial education whatsoever.
Women may inherently recognize money as a tool that can be used against them in a negative way. For example, women all around the world are more likely to experience poverty than men. There are many outside factors that contribute to this, including abusive relationships, or inadequate maternity leave and childcare that can hinder a woman’s financial independence. In some situations, women may not be able to break free from their economic restraints, which can deeply affect not only how they value themselves, but what they believe about money.
Although the tide is shifting as more women take on the role of financial managers in their households and talk more openly about money, there is still a lot women have had to “unlearn” about money. In the U.S., married women weren’t given the full, legal right to open a bank account without their husband’s permission until the 1960s. Women couldn’t open a checking account on their own, let alone manage a financial portfolio, so it makes sense that we may need a little time to reformulate outdated thinking when it comes to women and money.
Research suggests the indoctrination against women and money begins early. Despite early aptitude equal to their male peers, female students take fewer high-level math courses as they move past elementary school and teachers tend to believe boys are better at math than girls.
Whether we recognize it or not, our inherent beliefs about money affects nearly every aspect of our lives. “We project a lot of beliefs around money and it’s important to examine the stories we are telling ourselves,” Tessler explains.
While women may not have been taught that finances are part of our self-care, there are many ways we can change that:
1. Practice body check-ins.
The first thing Tessler recommends to her clients is the Body Check-In, a tool designed to help you pay attention to how your body is reacting before engaging in a financial activity. Before you sit down to pay bills or open up that credit card statement, take a moment to pause, breathe deeply, and without judgement or criticism, notice what your body is doing. Are you tense? Stressed? Feel sick to your stomach?
Acknowledge those feelings and emotions so that you can then move forward into understanding why money is triggering a particular reaction in your body. “Practicing the Body Check-In is a great way to bring awareness and understanding to your money story, which will eventually lead to changed patterns and habits,” she adds.
2. Explore your family upbringing and money values.
You can’t move forward with your financial beliefs and practices before understanding what you’ve been taught. What were your family’s beliefs about money? Were you taught that money was the root of all evil? Did you grow up watching your parent struggle with putting food on the table? Maybe you have inherent guilt about the money your family had. Take time to pay attention and uncover what beliefs and ideas about money you already have.
3. Acknowledge the financial situation you are in right now.
Maybe you’re living paycheck to paycheck or find yourself in a relationship where you have no economic control or stability. Maybe you’re utilizing food stamps or skipping meals to feed your child. Making financial care part of your overall self-care begins with acknowledging your emotional state and beliefs about money — and how they affect your view of yourself.
4. Learn a personal bookkeeping system.
There are many types of personal bookkeeping systems, but the important thing is to give yourself time to learn them and adjust to making it a practice. Tessler also recommends renaming your categories to reflect your values, and assigning debt names that don’t make you feel shameful. For example, you may label a debt category something like “career transition” or “postpartum healing” to honor what that debt was really about.
5. Talk about money.
Getting help with simple things like tracking your expenses and larger aspects like investing in financial therapy are positive steps for overall self-care, not something to be ashamed about. “Learn your money story,” Tessler sums up. “This is a life-long journey.”