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When it Comes to Your Money, Make Decisions With Intent and Joy

03/11/2015 12:50 EDT | Updated 05/11/2015 05:59 EDT
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Over the past few years, I have had my feet on the streets talking to people about their lives and how to engage in better conversations about money. Is it money first, life second or life first, money second? Many people have told me that they are overwhelmed by the amount of information, choice and advice on personal finance.

Many of us have tuned out because we don't know where to start or no one is having the right conversations with us. We ignore well-meaning advice or coaching on how to make things right because there are so many varying opinions on what to do. Our conundrum is that we crave financial security and wellbeing, yet no one is reaching us in a way that captures our hearts and minds.

Many of us feel our money is not working for us. Incomes are not growing. Wage increases are non existent. The cost of living is rising. Home ownership is increasingly out of reach. Personal debt is at an all-time high. Some of us may be worth more but we are borrowing and spending more.

But when we turn the conversation on its head, and start talking about what really matters to people, finding joy and meaning right here, right now, many tune back in. The reality is that what we do with our money every day, matters, and could have long-term implications for our financial security. Every day, we are making trade-offs with our money.

Competition for our money continues to grow. We search for happiness. Researchers tell us that how we spend our money can increase our levels of happiness. Researchers are conflicted about whether money can buy happiness.Some believe that more is not better and that there is a satiation point of happiness based on a maximum household income of $75,000. Some believe that there is a direct correlation between higher income and happiness -- more money means more happiness. But this can't be the driving force in our lives if we want to live mindfully and well.

But what we do know statistically, is that people who have more money tend to live longer lives because they are able to afford better nutrition, have less anxiety, more time for friends and family -- all things that contribute to contentment. Living with intent and purpose creates meaning in our lives, and this creates joy. We need to connect the idea of living a joyful existence with our money.

Bad money habits can creep up on all of us and they don't happen overnight. There are plenty of examples: overspending, not saving enough, carrying interest on our credit cards, impulse shopping. These cash-sabotaging behaviours reflect short term thinking and reveals a lack of, planning and purpose.When we have a clear vision for ourselves, our money naturally finds a positive direction.

Every day we make financial decisions guided by our subconscious. We are not mindful or fully aware. We just do it. We often don't make decisions based in conscious choice, where we actually think about the situation, options and outcomes for a while before we act. Why? Researchers tell us we are so conditioned by our subconscious that it 's like being on autopilot. Unless we replace our bad money habits with better strategies or approaches, we will continue to be guided by old paradigms that might not be working for us.

Now might be a good time to really look at our money to see whether it has intent and purpose. Consider these five healthy habits to get your money working for you.

1. Create a Life Plan. A life plan is a series of short and long term goals that will guide you to get where you want to go in life. Goals must be comprehensive: specific, measureable, attainable, realistic and timely. Clarity in our lives comes from having direction, and finding joy in what we do. Goals help promote peace of mind because they keep us focused on what matters to us. It's amazing to see how bad money habits can slowly vanish once we attach to our goals and our money takes on greater meaning and purpose.

2. Think Long Term. Look ahead. We live in a culture of conspicuous consumption and instant gratification. Spending our money today without thought about the needs or goals of tomorrow is short term thinking. Your future self will thank you for taking a long term view of your personal finances. Millennial workers who are saving for their retirement will understand this.

3. Increase Your Knowledge. Knowledge is power. You don't need to become an economist or an expert in personal finance. But you do need to become financially literate and money savvy. Understand the broader picture of how money works and common terms and concepts such as compounding interest and the time value of money which helps you grow your money and reach your goals sooner.

4. Engage in Mindful Decision Making. Each time you reach into your wallet to spend, think about what you are doing. Check in with yourself to make sure you are spending on goal-related pursuits. You may have to make trade-offs in how you spend your money but that's okay. Just be mindful of how and when you spend money, and if you find yourself engaging in mindless spending, stop.

5. Make the Right Trade-Offs. Think smarter. Money is a finite resource and tool. Make trade-offs with your money that will increase your financial security and long term financial health. Remember, the choices we make today could have impact on our tomorrow.

By creating a Life Plan and taking a goal-centred approach to life, our personal finances will find greater clarity and meaning. We will spend our money less on things that have relatively little importance or value and direct our hard-earned money towards our goals to create intent, meaning and bring joy to our lives. It's that simple. Really!

Anita Saulite, Financial Consultant is the author of Food For Thought: The Joy of Living a Delicious & Nutritious Financial Life.

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