What is Mindful Spending?

By Karen Whaley

August 10, 2022

Once you become aware of and actively manage your money, you may become disenchanted with traditional money management. When this happens it’s time you practice mindful spending. So what is mindful spending?

Mindful spending is lifestyle-based money management.

Being mindful with your money is a form of conscious spending or intentional spending. It brings awareness of how you think, feel, and act with money for all spending. Mindful spending uses your emotions to create sustainable, satisfying money management.

Budgeting typically listens to your heart once a month (or less) and has your brain set spending amounts based on math. From then until the next budget cycle begins, your spending is measured against numbers, not your life. This can result in a constant tug-of-war between your brain and your heart.

Budgeting is all about your brain. However, lifestyles are created with your heart.  When you practice mindful spending, you nurture your unique lifestyle – not control it.

The Benefits of Mindful Spending

Mindful spending means a lifetime of less struggle and more enjoyment from your money.

If you have ever:

  • felt guilty for spending money
  • suffered buyer’s remorse
  • struggled to make purchase decisions
  • or hate monitoring your budget

You need mindful spending.

Mindful spending is a long-term cure for spending problems. If you struggle with spending too much or too little you need mindful spending. (Yes, shockingly not spending enough can be an issue too.)

Even if you don’t have spending problems, mindful spending will enhance your life.

By understanding your spending emotions, you lessen the need to monitor your budget numbers. You will gradually begin spending in a way both your brain and your heart agree on.

Depending on your situation, mindful spending may even eliminate your budget completely. Now wouldn’t that be nice?

What is Mindful Spending?

So what is mindful spending exactly? The short answer is:

Mindful spending is an awareness of how your spending supports your goals, values, and human needs.

Yet mindful spending impacts your life so much more than this simple explanation implies. It improves your daily life by routinely shifting the focus from your money to your life.

And life is why you give a fig about money.

Every spending decision you make actively engages your heart. From the gum at the check out to your car insurance provider, your heart is consulted. This is important to your life and your money because science has proven you make decisions with emotions, not logic.

When properly and consistently implemented, mindful spending dives deep into your heart. You discover your life passions and strongest values and spend to support your unique life desires.

Plus you embrace how your spending fits with your needs in every spending decision. The result? Any of your heart’s tugging objections to your brain are calmed.

By now you may be thinking, “But isn’t that what my budget does?”

Yes….and no.

So What is Budgeting?

No doubt budgets make you aware of the choices you have with your spending. They help reduce stress, anxiety, or worry caused by your money. They give you an awareness of your big emotional whys and how your spending fits within your income.

Budgeting is a process providing a holistic view of your income and expenses. Budgets provide immediate support for cash flow issues. Budgeting is a way to control your lifestyle with the purpose of preventing debt and increasing savings.

You take back control of your cash flow when you budget. The controlling nature of a budget provides emotional relief when life feels unmanageable due to expenses (read: spending).

Yes. I know some of you love your budgets. You can’t imagine life without them! Right now you are currently listing all the things that make your budget so much more than cash flow management. You think I’m speaking budget blasphemy.

I understand that too. Promise. I’m in the “budgets are amazing!” camp. Keep reading, I’ll get to your “buts” shortly.

Budgeting is often a starting point in personal finance journeys. You may have picked up the budgeting torch because you have low income, high expenses, or experienced a debt epiphany. Maybe you got hit with an unexpectedly large bill that brought sharp focus to the financial edge you stood upon. Or you started a family and wanted to live on one income so a parent could stay home.

The driving force behind budgeting is often emotional discomfort or pain caused by your spending outflows being close to or more than your income.

That said, you may be one of the lucky few raised with good financial practices and a healthy money mindset. You may budget because you understand it helps you achieve your goals.

Or you started budgeting due to emotional upheaval and maintained the practice because you realized how budgets benefit your life. (See? I got to your “buts”.)

On the flipside, you may have never adopted a traditional budget because your spending hasn’t caused you any obvious problems. Some fortunate souls may never need to use a budget due to high incomes. They can spend how they please today and still blissfully pursue tomorrow.

Regardless of if you have, currently do, or have never budgeted, mindful spending will help you live a happier, more fulfilled life.

How is Mindful Spending Different from Budgeting?

There are three main differences between mindful spending and budgeting. All three are the result of your heart leading the charge in all your spending choices!

1) Purpose

The main purpose of a budget is to control cash flow.

Again, I get that some of you understand how budgets help you achieve your goals. But can you honestly tell me you haven’t felt just a tiny bit restricted by your budget every now and then?

On the other hand, mindful spending seeks to maximize happiness and satisfaction from all spending. When your heart leads the charge, you reduce the tugging between your brain and your heart.

As mentioned above, the driving force behind a budget is often a negative emotion. You have an urgent emotional need to manage your money.

However, once that emotional need is tamed – your heart stops being interested. Can you really blame it? Everyone prefers having choices to being told what to do; even when the telling is self-imposed.

Mindful spending is ultimately about building the emotional bridge between all spending and your life. It’s about tapping into your positive emotional forces to achieve a life you love using the money you have.

2) Time

Mindful spending will not eliminate the time you spend with your money. However, the time spent with your money transforms into an exploration of your life.

Instead of dreading a budget review to look at numbers that tell you “you can’t”, you will seek out the life secret’s your wallet is whispering.

What’s that, you love your budget? You thoroughly enjoy reviewing the numbers? You kept saying, “But Karen…” earlier?

Fantastic! You are already practicing some form of mindful spending. But don’t rush off just yet! You are likely on the cusp of even greater life satisfaction.

Learning a consistent method to apply mindful spending will help you quickly shape your unique lifestyle. Soon the Joneses will be jealous of you.

3) Habits

Mindful spending starts your journey to an un-budgeted life!

Let’s be real, do you honestly want to spend the rest of your life constantly looking at your money with the fine-tooth comb of a budget?

You may think you do – but trust me once income is substantially higher than your spending, you won’t. (I speak from lots of personal experience falling off and getting back on the budgeting bandwagon.)

Mindfulness in your spending infuses curiosity into the money management process. And according to Judson Brewer, curiosity is the key to changing habits.

Habits are what form the picture of your life day in and day out. When you change your spending habits you develop a lifestyle that flows without emotional friction to reflect your life’s passions, values, and needs.

Can Mindful Spending and Budgets be Friends?

Definitely! I highly encourage practicing mindful spending in addition to your budget. Just because mindful spending can un-budget your life, doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for you.

You may still need or want the cash flow support budgets provide. Budgets are a terrific financial tool, whether you have low income, high debt levels, or general drive for efficiency with your money. (I hear you! I’m also in the “efficiency in all things” camp.)

Yet, budgets alone can increase stress if the focus is more on the money than life. They can also cause overspending. Just because your brain’s budget numbers say the money is available for use doesn’t mean spending it in that pre-determined area will improve your life. Only your heart can decide what spending nurtures a life you love.

Again, if you have, do, or never used a budget – mindful spending pulls the most “personal” out of your personal finance.

Mindful spending does not exert mental control over you the way a budget does. It lifts the restrictions of budgets by engaging your heart with each spending decision.

It leads you to spend money wisely by harnessing the powerful force of your emotions. And the more heart you put in each spending choice, the more lasting life satisfaction you can achieve!

Hopefully, you now have a clear understanding of what is mindful spending. This simple but effective lifestyle-based money management empowers your best life!

Mindful spending emphasizes creating a lifestyle – not controlling it. This is why I refer to myself as a Financial Lifestyle Coach.

Do you practice mindful spending? What differences do you see between it and budgeting? How has mindful spending made your life better?

Karen Whaley

About the author

Karen Whaley

Financial Lifestyle Coach
Certified Financial Instructor

I help clients use money to live - not live for money. If that sounds appealing, you are in the right place my friend!

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