zen habits : breathe

How Taking Care of My Finances Changed My Life

By Leo Babauta

Looking back on my life a decade ago, I just wasn’t taking care of myself.

I was overweight, deeply in debt, a smoker, junk-food addict, stressed out, clutter piling up all around me, I didn’t floss … my life was a mess.

And the solutions were so simple: little acts of self-care that really add up over time.

They’re so easy: go for a walk, do a few pushups, meditate for a few minutes, clear a little bit of clutter, take a minute to floss. But I put these things off, avoided even thinking about them, and my problems piled up.

One of the most stressful problem areas was my financial life. I had unpaid bills that I stuffed in a drawer because I didn’t want to face them. I had creditors calling, collection agencies whose calls I avoided. I borrowed money from family, even from my kids’ piggy banks, just to put food on the table until my next paycheck. I’m not proud of any of this.

I was constantly stressed out, and even though I avoided thinking about the whole mess, it was always on the back of my mind. Some of you know the feeling of desperation that you’re not going to make it, that you won’t survive until your next paycheck. That’s what I was going through. And then there’s the feeling of helplessness when you don’t think you can get out off the hole you’ve dug yourself into.

So what happened to turn things around?

I took some small steps of financial self-care:

  1. I made a simple list of all my bills and the amounts I owe.
  2. I prioritized them in terms of urgency, and made a plan to pay them off. If they were equally urgent, I paid off the smaller ones first just to shrink my list of bills.
  3. I started canceling subscriptions and other payments I didn’t really need. I eliminated all but the essential.
  4. I started saving, even if it was just $20 a paycheck at first.
  5. I started regularly reviewing and taking care of my finances (weekly).
  6. Eventually I increased my savings and started investing as my debts became paid off.
  7. I took on extra jobs to pay off debts faster.
  8. I learned how to automate my finances so I didn’t have to think about them as much.

It was a slow process, but these small steps of self-care changed my life. Soon my debts became manageable and then became zero! My savings slowly grew, and then I transitioned to investing in low-fee index funds. My bills came under control, and I developed a fundamental financial safety that has been a keystone to my peace of mind in the last 10 years.

It didn’t happen overnight, but it did change. And I’ve been so much happier ever since.

What can you do if you’re in a similar situation? Start to see these simple financial steps as a part of taking care of yourself. Just as you should take care of your hygiene, you should take care of your bills and savings. That doesn’t mean you need to think about it every minute of the day, or even every day … just regularly.

Once you start this simple form of self-care, you’ll be amazed at the changes you’ll see.



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