Just getting on the mat is the hardest part.
Do you do yoga? Do you love yoga? I do. My yoga practices goes back 20 years (because, evidently, I’m Old), and I don’t know what I’d do without it. Over those years, I’ve accepted a lot of the lessons that yoga tries to teach you.
And recently, musing over how to most effectively communicate with clients about their finances, how to help them actually make changes to their finances, it has dawned on me just how many parallels there are between a good yoga practice and good personal financial planning.
If, like me, you love yoga, but, unlike me, don’t particularly dig financial planning, you might just find this instructive.
I follow Yoga with Adriene nowadays for my practice, and Adriene frequently says something like that opening quote. And it’s true! Getting over the mental hump of deciding to do yoga is so much harder than doing the actual poses.
Similarly, just reaching out to a financial planner, or reading your first personal-finance book, is sometimes the hardest part. Breaking through the anxiety, the inertia is so much harder than the tasks you’ll need to do to improve your finances.
See which of these yoga lessons you might put to use in your own financial life or working with your financial planner.
Lesson #1: Breathe.
If you find yourself moving too quickly for comfort, slow down and focus on breathing deeply. This will help you focus on the here and now, tune out unhelpful distractions, calm your crazed nerves.
Lesson #2: The instructor is your guide; you are your best teacher.
Your yoga instructor went through teacher training. They’ve likely been practicing and teaching yoga for years. They know sooo much more than you do about anatomy and yoga pedagogy and sequencing of poses. But what you know infinitely better is how your body and mind work.
And the right yoga for you is the yoga that accommodates your physical, emotional, and mental state. Whether you’re feeling down or tired today. Whether you have a bum shoulder. So, you need to take what the instructor tells you and filter it through your knowledge of yourself. Or ask the instructor how you can modify the pose for your needs.
Just replace “instructor” with “financial planner” and you’ve got a great description of a financial planner’s role in their clients’ lives: The planner is the technical expert. The client is the Client expert. And the best work comes out of a collaboration between them.
Lesson #3: Don’t pay attention to the person on the mat next to yours.
I have admired—okay, envied—many a lithe, powerful body over the years of yoga classes. I still remember the dude who could start in Dandasana, and then hoist himself up, bringing his legs back through his arms, in one smooth movement, into a handstand. Daaaaaaannnng.
But we all know, intellectually at least, that someone else’s yoga practice is irrelevant to our own. Other people have different bodies, different minds, and different lives.
In my work as a financial planner, people often ask me if their Net Worth is “good” or “bad” or how it compares to my other clients’ situations. I understand the impetus: Most people have no idea how to assess how they’re doing financially, and comparing yourself to others is an easy way to do it.
It’s just not a very healthy or helpful way of doing it. Those other people have entirely different lives than you do: different histories, different interests, different goals, different families. Why would their financial situation be at all relevant to yours? And if you’re focusing on someone else’s finances, you’re more likely to make a decision that’s not right for yours.
Lesson #4: Create a strong foundation first.
I made a video about this a while ago. A strong financial foundation has a cash cushion, the right insurance coverage, and a few other tidbits.
Lesson #5: Incremental and regular is the best approach.
It’s much better to do yoga for “only” 20 minutes a day, every day, than go to 90-minute classes each day for a week…and then nothing for another month.
Similarly, your finances—and your comfort with your finances—are going to benefit by chipping away at it a little bit a time. Don’t try to fix everything at once. In my experience with my clients, when I get All Excited about All The Stuff We’re Going To Do In Your Finances and give them a laundry list of tasks…know what gets done? Not much. And that’s a failure on my part.
But when we sprinkle out the tasks—Increase your 401(k) contribution here. Sell some company stock there. Apply for that supplemental long-term disability insurance policy after that—after a year…wow, look at all we’ve done!
Lesson #6: You don’t need fancy yoga clothes to do yoga.
I love yoga clothes. Sometimes I fantasize about a less shabby collection. I am here to attest, however, that you can do perfectly good yoga in cheap, stretched-out, 10-year-old Marika leggings and t-shirts that you got as shwag at your last professional conference. I’m pretty sure my sun salutation wouldn’t be any better were I wearing the latest Prana gear.
In the realm of personal finance, there are all sorts of special tools and geegaws that catch the eye because their interface is so slick or everyone’s talking about them. You’ve probably heard of popular services and apps for:
- Tracking your spending/making a budget: Mint, YNAB, Tiller
- Investing: Robinhood, Betterment, M1 Finance
- Eeking out a little extra savings here, a little extra there: Qapital, Acorns, Digit
Maybe at the tender age of 42 I am just Old and Grumpy, but so often when I hear about this slick new solution to a personal finance challenge, I think, “You know, perfectly fine solutions already exist.”
Take Betterment, for example. Vanguard has offered target-date retirement funds or balanced funds for years now, which are “set it and forget it” like Betterment is, and much cheaper! They’re just not as sexy, and I’m guessing their marketing budget isn’t as huge.
Take the savings apps. You can simply set up your paycheck to automatically direct savings to the appropriate accounts before you ever get your grubby little mitts on your money. Or set up automatic transfers from your checking account to a savings or investment account. Anything that makes it into your hands, you’re free to spend! This capability has existed for years.
Take the spending apps. Alright, you got me here. (Does this make me a hypocrite?) I think that understanding your spending is the foundation of personal finance. Because your spending reflects your values (let that sink in for a minute!).
When I was growing up, my parents tracked their spending with a piece of paper and pencil. But I think in this modern world, we simply spend way more often than is reasonable to track with paper. Although, that does suggest that perhaps we should constrain our spending to a frequency that makes paper tracking doable! Could be an interesting experiment…
Lesson #7: Setbacks will occur. How you respond to them is everything.
Maybe you overdo it on sun salutations and strain your rotator cuff. Or you get in a car accident and now your whole body is Ow. Or life just gets in the way and you can’t practice for a while.
The glory of the yoga practice is that it can accommodate all of this. You can do different poses. You can alter the way you do a certain pose. You can just lie there on your back the whole time with your legs up the wall. You can do some deep breathing while sitting in the doctor’s office because that’s all you have time for. The only wrong way to do yoga is to give up because you can’t do it a certain way.
In your financial life, setbacks will occur. You get laid off. Your husband has an accident. Your once-trusty company stock loses half its value overnight.
The question is: How will you respond? What are the resources—financial, social, familial, personal—that you can draw on to recover for the set back? Can you reduce your expenses? Can you take a loan against your home equity? Can you ask your parents for money? Can you reach out to your professional network for leads for a new job? Can you delay buying a home for a few more years?
Maybe you could even come up with several more similarities between yoga and personal finance. In general, I find that having a different perspective on the Same Old Thing (in this case, personal finances) can really help me change my thinking or my behavior. So, if you’re a yoga devotee and have internalized these lessons from yoga, maybe you can start usefully applying these same lessons to your own finances.
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Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. I encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Meg Bartelt, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.