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Manage Your Money:
Sufficiency and Spiritual Practice

by Dan Millman

Money is neither god nor devil,
but a form of energy.
Like love or fear,
it can serve you or bind you,
depending upon how you manage it.
By clarifying your goals
and using your gifts,
you can make good money,
doing what you enjoy,
while serving
the highest calling of your soul.
Using money wisely, and well,
you share your material
and spiritual wealth
with the world.

Road Map: The Flow of Money

In the context of personal growth, money is more than a means of exchange or ready cash. Although most of us have experienced periods of financial scarcity, our relationship to money reflects our relationship to energy and service and spirit, our ability to function in society, our openness to pleasure and abundance, our reality check. Money mirrors the quality of our interactions with other people, our ability to receive and to give. Money represents survival, security, safety, shelter, food, family, livelihood.

More complex, it turns out, than balancing your checkbook.

If spiritual life begins on the ground, money forms a foundation on which to build. Shivapuri Baba, an Indian Saint and yogi who walked around the world on a pilgrimage when he was nearly 120 years old, was once asked about the best way to begin a spiritual life. He advised, "first build a foundation—manage your money." (He had acquired a small bag of gems in his younger years, through hard work and simple living; he drew upon these gems as needed.)

Everyday Enlightenment by Dan Millman

Money in Everyday Life

Pam, a friend who read an early version of this manuscript, said, "I don't think that the chapter [in Everyday Enlightenment], Manage Your Money, is as important as the chapters about taming our mind or facing our fears—" Abruptly, she looked at her watch. "Oh, my gosh, look what time it is! The bank’s closing in ten minutes!" Wondering about why money was so important, Pam had to run to the bank.

On the way to the bank, Pam later told me that she realized how much of her time, thoughts, and attention revolved around money—paying the bills, balancing checkbooks, discussing costs of the room addition for their growing family. After the bank, she went food shopping, then stopped by the furniture store to check prices on a new bed for one of her children. All activities dealing with money. Like Pam, most of us have money concerns of one kind or another—striving to make more, or make do with less—learning to live simply, comfortably, spiritually.

Poor people may be forced to think about money a lot of the time, related to food, shelter, subsistence, and survival. Rich people may also think about money a lot of the time, related to status, travel, freedom, influence, and options. But managing your money does not depend upon becoming wealthy or declaring vows of poverty. Rather, it is about creating stability and sufficiency—a balanced flow of monetary energy through your life. This kind of management liberates you from survival issues, so that money concerns no longer occupy your mind or monopolize your attention. When money flows in, you spend it in a matter-of-fact way where it needs to go, where it will do the most good. You pay bills gladly, knowing that your money helps to support other people who in turn provide services for you. If something breaks, you write a check and get it fixed without further concern. Free from cycles of scarcity, your attention can ascend to higher levels of awareness and experience.

Money is like sex;
you think a lot about it
when you don’t have it,
and think of other things
when you do.
—James Baldwin

Spiritual Stereotypes

You can probably conjure up images of pure and holy people quite easily—monks with begging bowls, Indian ascetics, priests and nuns from every tradition who have renounced money in order to live a more spiritual life free of worldly distractions. Images of Jesus expelling money changers from the temple and quotations about money being the root of all evil and rich men having a tough time entering heaven and the meek inheriting the earth are quite familiar. Such images and ideas help create stereotypes that equate poverty and spirituality in the minds of many.

I don’t like money
but it calms my nerves.
—Joe Louis

Managing your money begins by acknowledging any mixed feelings, guilt, or negativity you may have about money and about those who possess it in abundance. If you associate voluntary poverty with humility, goodness, and spirituality, then with what do you associate wealth? It is worth pondering, because what you believe about money will determine, in large part, your effectiveness in acquiring it.

What Money Cannot Buy

Money cannot buy security, because security is a psychological state. To some, it means having enough food to eat, clothing on your back, a shelter over your head, or someone who loves you. To others, security requires millions of dollars in tax-free accounts around the world.

Money can’t buy love and happiness either. In one telephone survey, 275 people in the San Francisco Bay area were asked if they believed that they would be significantly happier and more loving if they had a million dollars. Seventy-six percent of the respondents replied, "Yes. Absolutely." Then the research company contacted ten millionaires, and asked them, "Did making your first million dollars make you a happier or more loving person?" The response was unanimous: "No."

The best things in life—the sun in the morning and the moon at night—are free. And money doesn’t guarantee happiness. But financial abundance does offer a number of practical benefits. Sleep, for one thing—very few affluent people stay up late worrying about having too much money. Money also buys privacy, space, and silence.

Three things help me
get through life successfully:
an understanding husband,
an extremely good analyst,
and millions and millions of dollars.
—Mary Tyler Moore

Wealthy people do have problems, but they have less to do with survival. There may be some forlorn rich people and some delighted poor people, but on the whole, managing your money certainly gives you a leg up.

Simple Principles for Sufficiency

In Walden Henry David Thoreau described how by living frugally, growing his own food, building a hut with scrap lumber he’d found on some land near Walden Pond, he would only have to work for six weeks a year to earn enough to live a quiet, contemplative life. There is much to admire about his experiment (which lasted a season or two), but such a life is not for everyone. You may not want to follow Thoreau to Walden Pond, but here are some simple principles that you can follow:

Live Below Your Means

Many of us believe our main money problem is how to make more of it, but how we spend it is in fact more important. Because as our income increases, so do desires and expenses. It’s all a matter of scale. Many wealthy people end up in debt.

No matter how much money you make,
if you spend more than you earn
you shall be eternally poor.
—Noah Webster

Money is so easy to spend that an alarming number of us have put away little or nothing toward our later years. Applying fiscal discipline is a central part of managing your money. Most affluent people become and stay that way due not to extraordinary incomes, but to an unassuming lifestyle and the self-discipline to spend less than they earn, while investing the rest.

Pay Yourself First

Make it an ironclad rule to pay yourself by putting away ten cents of every dollar you ever earn until you are seventy years old, and teach your children to do the same. Before you pay the bills, before you pay the IRS, before you give to charity, put that money away as if it never existed and learn to live on the rest, no matter what. Put that ten percent aside in a safe nest-egg account or very conservative investment and let compound interest work for you all day and all night over the years. Never mind the fancy investment strategies, schemes, and experts. If you do have money to experiment with, that’s icing on the cake. In a true emergency, give yourself a few days to decide if you really need to draw out any of the principal to spend. Never draw out more than half of the principal. At the age of sixty-five or seventy, it is yours to do with as you wish.

Earmark Your Money

Whether your income is derived from a salary with taxes withheld, or whether you are self-employed, one of the most practical steps you can take in managing your money is to create a budget, clearly earmarking your money for distinct categories. Once you’ve created the budget, then stick with it. While this is not a radical idea, few of us put it into practice, given the level of credit card debt in this country. Unless you already have tax withholding at your work, divide any income as follows: For every $1,000 you make—

  • Immediately put away $100 (10%) in your savings.

  • If you are self-employed, put aside whatever percentage of your gross income that goes to state and federal taxes.

  • If you are committed to donating a share of your income to charities, earmark that fund next; don’t wait until the end of the year to see if there’s anything left. If you decide to donate five percent of your gross income to charities, that would be $50 out of each thousand.

  • Put $50 into a rainy-day fund.

  • Put $50 into an account for Christmas, Hanukkah, or other holidays.

  • Put $50 into a vacation account.

That’s a total of $450, leaving $550 (out of every $1,000 you make) for household expenses: the mortgage or rent, food, utilities, medical care, etc. The exact percentages may vary from household to household, depending upon the makeup and age range of its members, but the principle is the same —earmark and budget your money. Exerting this financial discipline will eliminate a great deal of pre-tax as well as post-retirement stress. You gain self-reliance and self-respect by taking responsibility for managing your money in this way.

The Two Essentials of Business Success

In order to succeed in nearly any business enterprise, whether you work for a large corporation or are self-employed, you must operate on these two principles:

  • First, be good at what you do. That means ongoing study, practice, innovation, and refinement. Treat your work as a form of skill training. Never believe that you are as good as you can get. Each day, each year, strive to master your work. No matter what you do, if you become one of the best in your field, you will do well (if you also pay attention to the following principle).

  • Second, be good at promoting what you do. There is no telling how many exceptional, gifted people exist in every field who are not successful because they were unwilling to promote themselves. I know extraordinary musicians whose songs will never be heard by more than a few people, while the top forty charts include many forgettable but well-promoted clichés. It’s a sad irony that those most dedicated to their art or craft, who most love what they do, understandably want to spend their time getting better at what they do but fail to grasp the need to promote themselves.

Ask yourself: Am I good at what I do? Do I provide a valuable service? If the answer is no, then stay out of sight and work at improving what you do. But if your answer is yes, then blow your horn! You can’t help anyone if they don’t know you exist. Whether or not you have any innate interest in promotion and marketing—whether or not you enjoy it—it has to become at least half of your job, your energy, and your attention at the beginning stages of a new venture. Promoting your business helps you to help others and provide a valuable service in the world as only you can do it.

The service you render others
is the rent you pay for your room on earth.
—Wilfred Grenfell

The Soul of Money

It is easy to get lost in the practical details of managing money and forget the higher purpose of this gateway: to provide a foundation for spiritual practice and to free your attention from the task of survival. Lynne Twist, co-founder of The Hunger Project, put it this way to Michael Toms on New Dimensions Radio:

Money is an inanimate object [but] we can assign to it a spiritual meaning and voice and power if we choose to, and give it some soul. Money doesn’t have any soul, but we do, and we’re the people through whom money flows and with which money speaks . . . And when our spirit is unleashed, what’s unleashed is the prosperity of the soul, of the heart. . . and in that truth, the whole world belongs to you.

When I became committed to teaching whatever I learned, more information poured in. In the same way, as you contact the joy of sharing your abundant spirit, more spiritual wealth pours down from the heavens, bathing you in its light. Managing your money is provides another arena of practicing everyday enlightenment.

From that point of awareness, we turn now to the source of all beliefs—to the mind. It serves as a prison for some, but for you can also hold the key to freedom.

Copyright 1998 by Dan Millman.  From the book "EVERYDAY ENLIGHTENMENT: The Twelve Gateways to Personal Growth" (Warner Books, 1998).  Reprinted by permission. 


The Laws of Spirit by Dan Millman

Living On Purpose by Dan Millman

The Life You Were Born to Live by Dan Millman

Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman


Dan Millman is a former world trampoline champion, Stanford gymnastics coach, and Oberlin college professor. His eleven books, including Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Everyday Enlightenment, The Life You Were Born to Live, The Laws of Spirit, and Living on Purpose have inspired millions of readers in 20 languages worldwide.  His website: www.danmillman.com


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