Compared to the staid how-to’s on budgeting and investing, books on our relationship with money are still scant. One of the bright spots is Bari Tessler’s The Art of Money: A Life-Changing Guide to Financial Happiness. As a financial therapist, Tessler bridges the gap between understanding emotions and understanding how we act on them in our financial lives. The Art of Money provides a series of thoughtful questions, exercises, meditations, and mantras to help readers work through the emotional minefield that money decisions often produce.
Tessler interweaves her own personal money stories with those of clients in a way that many readers will relate to. Facing feelings that money brings up – fear, greed, shame, guilt, for example – isn’t easy. Tessler advises lots of “Body Check-ins” to pause and notice what happens, physically, when we think about certain aspects of our money history, behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes. She also advises lots of breaks, especially chocolate breaks. I think the word “chocolate” appears on every other page. While she does provide other suggestions of ways to take a break; because I struggle in my relationship with sugar, the chocolate theme did go overboard for me.
The culminating exercise of the book is the definition, on an expense-by-expense level, of your “Basic Needs,” “Comfortable,” and “Ultimate” lifestyles, while paying attention to the emotions that are brought up with each. Though time-consuming to produce, once completed, you will have the beginning of a road map to achieving goals that might have been more nebulous. Tessler encourages couples to decide if they want to do the exercise together, or individually, and then compare. Whichever way you decide, having a well-thought-out definition of each is excellent preparation for the conversation with your partner about your long-term goals and dreams.
After working through this exercise, the rest of the book was a downhill page-turner. I had difficulty putting it down. Tessler demonstrates why the title of the book includes the word “art.” It’s refreshing, yet challenging, NOT to be given the exact how-to’s and you-should’s. Tessler encourages readers to do two important but difficult things: 1) figure out for yourself what you need from money, emotionally; and 2) accept that money flows in and out of our lives in cycles that we can’t always control or prepare for.
As a financial planner, I found Tessler’s book accessible for all levels of financial wisdom, whether beginner or expert. I could see her book benefitting clients who seem to get stuck repeatedly at the same type of place in their money journey. I suspect there is a deep-seated feeling going on behind their stuck-ness, but I’m not sure how to help them discover what it is. Tessler’s book will be one tool worth trying.
Whether you are a financial expert or beginner, if you have an interest in exploring the mystery of why you do what you do with finances, and want to do even better, pick up The Art of Money.