What I’m about to say might come as a shock to some: I am a credit union person who once struggled with financial illiteracy.
Going into adulthood, my understanding of money boiled down to four basic concepts: 1.) earn money, 2.) save some of it, 3.) buy things that make you happy and keep you alive, and 4.) continue the process for the rest of your life.
Of course, money management is much more nuanced than that, but for a large part of my early adulthood as a woefully underpaid publicist, my relationship with money was casual, flippant almost. Investing was something only rich people did. Saving was for survival. Retirement was a faraway dream, akin to the afterlife.
Most years I was lucky if I saved enough money to purchase a flight back home for the holidays, saving myself a 10+ hour drive each way. (It didn’t always happen).
But it wasn’t about luck, to be honest. I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back, saving was all about making smarter, mindful choices.
Being mindful didn’t come naturally at first, but it became sort of a game for me, like an “if, then” formula in the spreadsheet of my mind: “If I cook dinner at least twice this week, then I will save $XX by not going out to eat.” I didn’t care about the health benefits of not eating chicken wings five nights a week – I wanted to see my savings account grow!
And it did. Implementing lifestyle changes not only helped me save, but my confidence grew. Getting more comfortable in the kitchen, meal planning, cutting back on social outings freed up my mental burden and time…so much so, that I began exploring the wonderful world of freelancing.
This is a good time to mention that this was 2006-2008, before the gig economy as we know it today. This was also a time of marked economic downturn – the 18-month period known as The Great Recession.
Admittedly, my decision to amp up my mindfulness about spending had very little to do with what was going on with the economy at the time. Maybe it was intuition fed in part by the constant chatter of my two economist roommates – as they dissected current events and trends, I absently played my guitar.
Nearly 15 years later, as Americans face inflation and possible recession, I’ll share how I’ve leveraged mindfulness as a key strategy in going from financially illiteracy to writing on the topic on prominent platforms for a financial services audience. I’ve refined the following strategy over the years to adjust for my family of four and the responsibility of homeownership:
Get comfortable in the kitchen. $100 worth of groceries will take you a lot farther than $100 in takeout, but this applies only if you’re mindful of what you buy (more on that below). Learn the basics of cooking (if you didn’t already learn during the pandemic lockdown days). Leverage herbs and spices to mimic your favorite restaurant dishes. Make sauce from scratch (I promise it’s not hard!). Meat is expensive so consider embracing vegetarian dishes once in a while. And by all means…repurpose those leftovers!
Price shop at the grocery store. For example, my household goes through a “family pack” of lunch meat every week, which costs about $6.50 where I live. Slow-cooking meaty chicken pieces work just as well as a lunch meat alternative for a fraction of the cost. I’ve gone from paying $26 per month to about $20 per month in sandwich solutions – not a lot at first glance, but if you apply this mindset for all your goods, your grocery bill will be reduced.
Don’t be afraid of using credit. I ditched the debit card at checkout a few years ago when magnetic strip scams were rampant. I’ve continued this practice because I receive reward points through my card purchases, which I pay in full every month. Do some research on credit cards that offer low annual percentage rates and rewards (cash back, airline miles, etc.). Reach out to your credit union for additional guidance on card options.
Create another stream of income. Freelancing isn’t just for creatives anymore. While it helps to be proficient in various creative services, if you’ve got the time and motivation, a separate stream of income may provide some peace of mind. It may also boost your inspiration, especially if you’ve hit a career rut. My weekend music gigs have been feeding my creative soul for years and the tips help pay for groceries.
Implementation of these tips will require time and energy, which may be scarce after the holidays. But I can’t imagine a better time than now to explore mindfulness for a better financial future.
Practicing mindfulness can be a powerful tool in helping Americans combat inflation and take control of their finances. By being present in the moment and making mindful decisions about budgeting and spending, Americans can take steps toward financial stability and prosperity.
Change is never easy, but if I’ve learned anything in my several years in the credit union movement, it’s that credit union people are adaptable. Whether you’re interested in tightening up your finances or serve in a member-facing or advisory role, adopting mindfulness as part of your financial strategy may help you achieve your 2023 goals.