I was in a client meeting recently and the client said to me, “You really have this money stuff down,” implying that I understand money — how it works, how to use it, what to do with it. I replied, “I’m as messed up about money as anyone. What I do understand, though, is my relationship with money.”
By understanding my relationship with money, I can watch when I am letting my background get in the way of making good personal and financial decisions. It doesn’t mean that I will still go ahead with the better choice, but it means that I may be more aware if I am not doing so.
In Leah Weiss’s new book, “How We Work: Live Your Purpose, Reclaim Your Sanity, and Embrace the Daily Grind,” she refers to the concept of Dampa Sum, which means “good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end.” Applying this to our financial life is an important step in developing a better relationship with your money.
Being good in the beginning involves setting our financial intentions. When we set intentions, we can see how the decisions we make move us closer or further away from those objectives. But how we set them is important.
Being good in the middle is acting on the intentions we set. If we want to spend less money is it because we want to be more conscious of our money decisions, or we need to get out of debt, or we are not valuing the things that we are buying? We may have different strategies depending on our reasons.
Being good in the middle determines the best strategy for meeting the intention. For example, being more conscious of our money decisions may mean that we set an intention of pausing to reflect on each purchase we are about to make so that in that stillness we can determine if this is aligned with our objectives.
Being good in the end is reflecting on the choices we made and learning from them. What were the outcomes and how did they fit with our expectations? What occurred that we hadn’t considered? What would we change?
Your intentions don’t have to be these massive things that feel overwhelming. If you and your partner seem to be in money disagreements, you can set an intention before your next money conversation to listen closely, not interrupt and try to see things from their angle.
As Weiss suggests, you want to determine “the smallest thing [you] can do to move the needle on the pain that [you or your partner] are experiencing. Good in the middle during this conversation would be reflecting back to your partner what you heard and relaying your own goals. And good in the end will be taking time to review the conversation and see where it went well and where it may have gone off the rails. Setting intentions leads to incremental progress, not necessarily wholesale changes.
A misguided intention we often set is around work-life balance. The more we create discreet aspects of our lives, the less integrated our lives become.
Each of those subsections — work, family, personal, spiritual, health, friends — end up competing for our attention. Weiss says, “we end up pitting one against the other.”
A better question to understand is what is the big picture. Are there things that we can do to bring more coherence in our day to day activities?
One of our clients was building their corporate career while they also had children at home. Balance was out of the question, but integration wasn’t. She decided that she would give her full attention to work while at work, come home for family dinners and give her full attention to the family, then clean up what she needed to do the next day after the kids went to bed. She and her husband would walk the dog at night to get their time with each other. She would pack a lunch if she wanted to get a workout in. She could handle all of this because she felt that she was clear on her purpose — she wanted to have an impact wherever she was and to do so, she needed to not be thinking about what was next, but to be completely present where she was.
While most of us may not have this type of discipline, if we understand the big picture, we are more likely to have congruence between our actions and values. I like to think about getting to the big picture by looking at regret in advance. How can I not want look back and lament, “If only?”
We can incorporate the principles of Dampa Sum in almost everything we do. We can easily set our intention for the day, act on it, and then see how the day went. But in doing so, we are going to have some days that don’t end up anywhere near how we had hoped.
When this happens, we need compassion, which Weiss describes as “an awareness of our imperfections that lends us the ability to be patient with other people’s imperfections.” We can be compassionate toward our flawed selves as we also are compassionate to others.
Ultimately, our relationship with money is about our relationship with ourselves.
Ross Levin is the chief executive and founder of Accredited Investors Wealth Management in Edina.