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Find Your Money Chi

Light the incense, roll out the tatami mat, don some hemp garments, and print out those Intuit (Nasdaq: INTU  ) Quicken spreadsheets. It's time to find your money chi.

How can the ancient Chinese art of spiritual awakening improve your finances? Well, it can't hurt. People find their inner money peace in all sorts of ways -- as a reaction to sudden financial hardship, via an influential mentor, through chilling childhood bedtime tales, even in the dressing room at The Gap (NYSE: GPS  ) .

If financial insights have eluded you thus far, maybe you need a less conventional approach. How about taking a cue from the art of tai chi? This mild form of exercise 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 big gray muscle in your head, so you can move seamlessly from one money goal to the next. We'll leave the choice of background music up to you.

1. Remember that your past emotionally informs every financial decision you make. 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 with us their defining money moments from childhood.) 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 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 make a significant move toward securing your retirement? When eyes and wallet begin to wander, strike a wake-up gong, and have your goals attached to the mallet with a Post-it Note. (Here's a general pecking order of how to invest that retirement dough.) 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 by which you want to achieve them -- 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're 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.

To get started building a financial plan, kick the tires on a 30-day free trial of Rule Your Retirement. There's no obligation to subscribe, and a trial includes access to all back issues, interviews with other expert money managers, retirement calculators and how-to guides, and the Fool's dedicated discussion boards, where you'll find hordes of like-minded investors sharing wisdom, ideas, and analysis.Click hereto learn more.

The Gap is aMotley Fool Stock Advisorrecommendation, and Intuit is aMotley Fool Inside Valuepick.

Dayana Yochim owns none of the companies mentioned in this article, but she swears she's going to start doing yoga before 2005 is over. Click here to read The Motley Fool's enlightened disclosure policy.

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