Dimitri Vervitsiotis—Getty Images
By Sarah Winfrey / Wise Bread
November 19, 2015

Zen and personal finance — sounds a little “woo woo,” right? Except that there are actually several Zen concepts that can help you gain a different perspective on your money and improve your finances. Give it a try! Here are four ways that going Zen can help you handle your money better.

1. Fight Craving With Self-Awareness

Central to Zen is the idea that craving things causes us to experience bitterness, pain, and unease, and that the remedy for this lies in self-awareness. Basically, we see things (or people, or vacations, etc.) that we want. If we don’t have them, we are unhappy. To get rid of this unhappiness, we need to understand our cravings better, rather than give into them without analysis.

This can be as simple as asking, “Why do I want this right now?” Make sure to always weigh a “want” versus a “need.” Sometimes, we crave something so badly that we feel like we need it — but in reality, we don’t.

2. Understand That Fear Gets Us Into Trouble

Zen says that a lot of people find fear or uneasiness at the bottom of their wants. They crave things because they feel like having them will resolve some anxiety. For instance, one person might want a larger retirement fund, and find at the bottom of that craving is the fear of being poor and elderly.

Finding this fear allows us to make conscious, intentional choices about how to address it. Maybe we do need to save more, not to provide ourselves with full security, but because it’s a smart thing to do. In that case, we can slow down, make a plan, and stick to it, rather than blindly throwing money at our anxieties. Discovering our fears also allows us to address them in other ways, be that talking about them to a friend or finding a therapist

3. Stay Present in the Present

When it comes to money, the very best place to focus is on the present, which is central to Zen philosophy. If, for instance, the market drops suddenly, staying present might help you decide to hold an investment and ride out the swings, rather than sell too low and frantically buy whatever seems like it might be doing well. If you lose your job, staying present can help you deal with the stressful feelings in a healthy, productive way, rather than drowning in depression, trying to fill the void by buying things, or making hasty decisions about future employment.

4. Tell the Truth About Your Money

Shizen is a Japanese Zen concept of presenting yourself to the world as your true self, without pretense or lies. This means ignoring the desire to try and live wealthier than your means, and only buying things you can actually afford. It requires us to be honest with ourselves about how much money we really have. This is a truth we must face in order to live well.

Making a budget can be the first step to finding the truth of your finances. Many of us don’t even know how much money we have or where it’s going. When you write down your income and outflow, you’ll have a much better picture of your situation. This will allow you to make realistic, honest decisions about how you spend.

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