When my husband first suggested I start meditating, I was intrigued–and skeptical. I’d heard of the benefits and seen the effect it had on his anxiety and depression, but it seemed like such a chore. Sitting silently for an extended period of time sounded like my personal version of hell. How meditation can affect your finances wasn't even on my radar.
But once I committed to the practice, I was hooked. My stress levels plummeted, my focus increased and I just felt like a better version of myself. Three years in, I’m still noticing new improvements in my mental health and cognitive performance.Meditation can affect your finances by decreasing anxiety and depression, help you slow down and make better decisions, and improve your memory.
How Meditation Changes Your Brain
The benefits of meditation go beyond vague feelings of wellbeing, peace or spirituality–it causes concrete, measurable changes to your brain.
Meditation can increase your brain’s executive function, which is the part of the brain responsible for paying attention, managing time, planning and more. This also impacts overall cognitive flexibility, which is the brain’s ability to switch between different thoughts and actions. (Here's what WebMD has to say about this.)
According to a study conducted by Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar, people who meditate regularly develop more gray matter in their frontal cortex. This is the portion of the brain responsible for working memory and decision-making skills.
After only eight weeks of consistent meditation practice, parts of the brain responsible for mind-wandering regulation, empathy, compassion, and learning were bigger.
The amygdala, a piece of the brain responsible for the fight, flight or freeze response–as well as a significant contributor to generalized anxiety–decreased in size. Lazar said studies from other scientists found meditation helped with emotion regulation.
How Meditation Can Affect Your Finances
Mental problems and financial problems go hand-in-hand. According to a 2016 article from Psychology Today, compulsive overspending can lead to anxiety, depression and other issues. People with depression are also more likely to end up in debt. Those who attempt or commit suicide or who have substance abuse issues are also likely to have debt.
Reduce Anxiety And Depression
Meditating regularly may decrease anxiety and depression, which can help people with their financial problems. When you start meditating regularly, you may feel less stressed and happier in general. If you’re less stressed on a daily basis, you’ll be less likely to worry about financial problems that are out of your control.
Meditation also helps your brain slow down and recognize when you’re making decisions because of anxiety. If you have a sudden urge to use retail therapy as a way to deal with stress at work or relationship problems, meditation can give you the awareness to notice those thought patterns before you overspend. You also may be able to avoid panicking and cashing out your 401(k) when the stock market tanks.
With increased executive function, you may improve your budgeting skills because you’ll be a better planner. That can allow you to save more for retirement and other savings goals.
Meditation can even improve memory. If you have a better memory, you might recall that your friend has a black dress you can borrow instead of buying a new one. You may also stop and think about how you can save money before you buy something. You might remember to use a coupon, search for a discount code, or dig through your wallet for a gift card.
I had this experience recently while ordering a custom frame from Michael’s. My husband and I were excited about finally getting a map framed and hanging it above our mantle. I did some research on what it might cost and we agreed to go to the store later that day. I looked around for a custom framing coupon on Michael’s site but didn’t see one.
Right before we left for the store, I remembered that Michael’s honors competitors coupons. I searched on Joann’s website and found a 50% off plus 35% off coupon for custom framing. Before the coupon, the total price was $250–it was only $81.25 after.
I can say with confidence that meditation helped me remember that little fact. In the years since I started meditating, I’ve noticed a significant increase in my ability to remember important details.
Older people who meditate regularly may avoid some of the poor decisions that their peers make. In a study, Lazar found that 50-year-olds who meditate had a similar amount of gray matter as adults half their age. Instead of being the 70-year-old who wires money to a Nigerian prince, you may be the 70-year-old who ignores that email.
Meditation can also make you a better employee, particularly because anxiety can be detrimental to productivity. Because meditation improves focus, concentration, and memory, you may become more creative or better at problem-solving. This can result in a performance boost and eventually a raise–a surefire way to improve your finances quickly.
Other Ways Meditation Can Help
Meditation has been proven to help other aspects of the body besides the brain, likely due to its ability to reduce stress. People who are under a lot of stress have more cortisol in their system, a hormone that can cause an increase in anxiety, depression, headaches, heart disease, weight gain, sleep issues and more.
Researchers from Kent State found a link between meditating and lower blood pressure. They did an eight-week study with people whose blood pressure readings were slightly elevated, but not enough to take meditation. They found that mindfulness meditation had the same effect on these people as eating better and exercising. Read more about this study here.
If you have elevated blood pressure and don’t take action, it can become a serious problem. Frequent doctor’s visits and a hefty medication regimen can be stressful and financially draining, especially if you have poor health insurance coverage.
By reducing your blood pressure, you also save money on medical bills. According to the Journal of the American Heart Association Report, people with high blood pressure pay $2,000 more a year for healthcare costs compared to patients with regular blood pressure.
Life insurance rates may also be higher for those with high blood pressure since it can cause heart attacks and strokes. If your blood pressure is extremely high, it may be too expensive to purchase life insurance at all.
How To Start Meditating
What stops most people from meditating is the uncertainty of how to begin. Even though it sounds intimidating, you don’t need access to a meditation center or Buddhist temple to start meditating.
The meditation app Headspace has a list of guided meditations chosen specifically to ease financial anxiety. To access these, you’ll have to register and sign up for Headspace, which has a free two-week trial. After that, it costs $12.99 a month. You can cancel anytime. Check out their list of meditations for financial anxiety here.
This may seem pricey, but using an app can be helpful for people new to meditation or who are unsure how to start. You can also find some free guided meditations on Headspace.
Calm is another paid meditation app. There’s a 30-day free trial, after which it costs $59.99 a year or $399.99 for lifetime access.
If you don’t want to pay for a meditation app, the app Insight Timer lets you create free timed meditations with background ambient sound. They also offer some free guided meditations, as well as paid guided meditations in the form of in-app purchases.
The mindfulness you’re trying to cultivate from meditating can take months or years to really sink in, depending on your stress levels, general mental health and how often you practice. Only meditating once a week won’t help as much as a daily practice, for instance, and ten minutes won’t have the same effect as 30. Still, a little can go a long way.
Like starting a new exercise routine, don’t jump headfirst into meditation. Start out with five minutes a day until you feel more comfortable. Once that seems easy, increase the amount by five-minute increments. If starting with five minutes is too hard, begin with one minute.
Most studies show that 20 minutes of meditating is an excellent baseline to receive both mental and physical benefits, but you don’t have to reach that in your first month. The best approach is to be consistent and build on your practice over time.
Do What Works For You
Find a time to meditate that will work with your schedule, and don’t skip unless you have an emergency. There’s no perfect time of the day to meditate. If you can do it when you first wake up, commit to that. If after work is best, that’s fine too.
You don’t have to create a zen garden to meditate effectively. I have a friend who meditates while riding the subway to work. Another friend goes to his car on his lunch break. When my husband and I take a road trip, we’ll alternate meditating in the car while the other one drives.
Guided meditations offered by apps and online resources can be helpful, but you can also just focus on your breath. Pay attention to the sensations of air entering and leaving your nostrils, and try to notice any thoughts that arise. When you notice your mind wandering, gently return your attention to the breath.
You can also try the mindfulness-based stress reduction program that Harvard researchers used in their study. It’s available for free online and provides a solid baseline for people completely new to meditation. Check it out here.
Meditation can have a huge effect on all areas of your life, including your finances. There are both free and paid apps to help you get started, but really you don't need any special tools. Just your breath.
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