Find Your Money Chi

Light the incense, roll out the tatami mat, don some hemp garments, and print out those Quicken spreadsheets. It's time to find your money chi. Or, in the sage words immortalized by Andre 3000 and Big Boi of Outkast, "Git up, git out, and do something. Don't let the days of your life pass by."

How can progressive rap and the ancient Chinese art of spiritual awakening improve your finances? Well, they can't hurt. People find their inner money peace all sorts of ways -- as a reaction to sudden financial hardship; via an influential mentor; through chilling childhood bedtime tales.

If financial insights have eluded you thus far, maybe a less conventional approach is due. How about taking a cue from the art of tai chi? This mild form of exercises opens the mind and muscles through a series of slow movements to improve energy flow. The goal is to move gracefully from one posture to the next.

For our purposes we'll concentrate on unblocking the gray matter muscle so you can move seamlessly from one money goal to the next. We'll leave the background music choice up to you.

1. Remember that every financial decision you make is emotionally informed by your past. The defining lessons in money management are often based on childhood memories -- it's not uncommon to draw a straight line from your past to your present financial affairs. (Readers have shared their defining money moments from childhood with us.) If you must, you may blame your mother. But keep it between you and your therapist.

2. Regularly take time to think about how you handled past financial situations. Don't simply dwell on your distant past, but analyze decisions you made even just the previous week. What would you do differently if you had it to do all over again?

3. Perform a money reality check. Don't just guess where your money goes -- track it. The simple act of "paycheck awareness" will remove a lot of the angst you may be feeling about household finances.

4. Set goals. Sure, it sounds simple, but failure to form an honest list of your future wants and needs -- and how much cash they'll require -- can put a serious crimp in your chi. Some of your goals will require serious cash; others, not so much. Make sure you have both short- and long-term goals. It's hard to work toward achieving your dreams if all the payoff for each one is years away.

5. Keep your most important goals in the forefront of your mind. How about making 2005 the year you made a significant move toward securing your retirement? When eyes and wallet begin to wander, strike a wake-up gong (with your goals Post-it-noted to the mallet). If it helps, carry around a list of your goals so that with every dollar you spend your cash is directed toward the things that bring you joy. If you don't mind the cleaning lady psychoanalyzing your lifestyle, post your list of goals -- including the dates you want to achieve them by -- on the fridge or your bathroom mirror.

6. Perform regular reality checks, especially if your financial situation changes. Life happens, and goals change. We won't think you're flaky if you write your list in erasable ink. If you are unsure about what the tab will run on a particular dream, do some extra research. If you want to buy a chateau in Provence or a French Mastiff puppy, chat with someone who already has done so. Get a sense of what it'll take to get there.

7. Lastly, to borrow a line from the self-help bookshelf, don't sweat the small stuff. Go ahead and take some money management shortcuts. We won't tell.

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