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The Comprehensive Guide to Spending & Saving

Talking money isn’t easy. If you’re the kind of person who logs into your bank account with eyes closed or you’ve ever experienced that particular breed of dreadful panic when an unfamiliar bill arrives in the mail or your phone rings from an unknown number…you know what we mean. Thankfully, the women behind Mana Financial Life Design are here to help. Read on for their comprehensive guide to saving, investing, and getting your finances in order, anxiety-free.

There are tons of surveys that show that a vast majority of Americans spend more than they make and are not saving enough. When someone wants to make a change to their spending—to stop living paycheck-to-paycheck—Mana recommends these steps:

Rip & Tan: You describe your service as “compassionate finance” and “holistic planning”—was it a conscious choice to use language like this to soothe the financially anxious? (If so, it’s working!)
Cristina Behrens: Money comes with a whole range of emotions—notably, anxiety. We’re used to clients feeling initially hesitant in wanting to talk or think about money, proving to us even more that the need to openly talk about money exists. We try to use language that lets our clients know we understand where they may be coming from. When someone comes to us for help, there is no judgement on our end. No matter where someone is on their journey, we’re prepared to meet them there and be their guides to move forward.
Rip & Tan: What is behavioral economics? How do you incorporate them into your business model?
Cristina Behrens: Behavioral economics is the study of how our society, culture, brains and psychology affect the economic decisions we make. People make money decisions every day and very rarely stop to think about why they’ve made them. To take it one step further, people actually go out of their way making major life choices in order to avoid having to think about money. Our process is designed to develop mindfulness around money so that our client’s decisions will ultimately maximize joy in their life while minimizing the regret they inevitably feel after they’ve chosen to do something unsupportive of their long term plan. It’s a design that also relieves our clients of a lot of unnecessary stress or work trying to blindly earn “more.”

For example, traditional economics says that if the US stock market went down, the rational person would add more money to their investment. However, behavioral economics has taught us that people aren’t rational (especially when it comes to money). Our process takes into consideration many of these factors to help our clients make better decisions.
Rip & Tan: We hear things like, “Have 5 times your income saved by the time you’re 30,” but that’s not realistic for a lot of us. Is there a barometer for saving money that isn’t quite as intimidating as that one?
Cristina Behrens: We think that generic financial rules of thumb tend to confuse more than they help. What (we think) that rule is trying to get at is the importance of having a cushion of money that you can tap in the event of an emergency, like if you get laid off, get a cavity or get in a car accident. It’s important that you have cash to tap instead of having to use credit cards (with punishingly high interest rates) to get you through a rough patch. After going through a bad experience, the last thing you want to have to take on is paying off debt. After paying off debt, you should aim to have an emergency fund equivalent to three months of your take-home pay. If you have a family, that fund should equal six months of take-home pay.
Rip & Tan: There is a statistic on your website that is shocking, but not totally surprising—61% of American women would rather talk about their own death than their financial future. Where does this fear come from, and what tools can we use to not be afraid to look at our bank accounts?
Cristina Behrens: Women in America have historically been excluded from money decisions in the household, a tradition that’s thankfully beginning to be corrected. But in our experience many people, not just women, fear money. Feelings like anxiety, guilt and shame are common feelings when faced with money decisions. One thing I learned in my twenties is that fear thrives in the shadows; once you shed light on that fear, it begins to dissipate. A simple exercise is to get in the habit of looking at your bank account and credit card transactions on a weekly basis. Print your transactions out (or export them to Excel) and go through each transaction, highlighting the purchases that brought you joy. This simple exercise will get your brain to start associating happiness (instead of fear) with money and it will also help you make more mindful decisions about your money on a daily basis.

"Spend less than you make and invest the rest. It is so simple, but that message never really hit home until I turned 30. In a world where impulse spending is designed into our culture, this piece of advice is one I continue to remind myself of daily."

Photos by Jen Kay