Practice Works, in Yoga and Finances

With money as with asana, small changes that are committed to for the long haul make all the difference.
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With money as with asana, small changes that are committed to for the long haul make all the difference.

by Brent Kessel

Have you ever been in a yoga class struggling to maintain steady Ujjayi breathing in a challenging pose when your drishti (gaze) wandered from your own mat to that of another yogi? Not just any yogi, mind you, but someone who seemed as though they were expending so little effort to maintain the pose, they could easily be serving high tea to the Maharaja of Mysore at the same time. If you’re a human being, your mind may have begun a little rant: “She must have been born that way!” “He’s younger than me, and probably lifted weights for 10 years to get that upper-body strength.” “Teacher’s pet!”

When we see someone excelling at something, we often perceive the impossibility of getting to that level of accomplishment ourselves. However, if you got to know the history of that star practitioner, you’d find that in all likelihood he or she built that practice over thousands of hours of practice, had injuries along the way, and had to make sacrifices.

This phenomenon is equally true around money and wealth. We all know people who seem to effortlessly manifest enough income, spend within their means, and act generously with their money. Our tendency is to assume that they were somehow born with this ability. And while it’s true that we all received very different levels of financial literacy training, most financial success is built step by step, not in one fell swoop.

Many Americans spend slightly more than they earn, resulting in debt (or at least the lack of an emergency fund) and the inability to pursue a vocation they’re passionate about. If they’re staying afloat, it’s with the help of the occasional gift from family or bonus at work or tax refund. It’s extremely hard for people to save enough because there are so many options for immediate gratification, and saving feels like deprivation.

But if set up properly, the difference between spending 100 percent of what you have (or slightly more) and saving can have a negligible impact on your current level of life enjoyment, but a huge impact on your future. For example, someone who can save just 5 percent of their income might end up with more than five times their annual salary accumulated by retirement. And if you look back over the things you spent money on in the past week or month, you can generally find a way to do without 5 percent of the stuff you bought with little or no reduction in quality of life.

Alternatively, what if you took half of every pay raise you get between now and retirement and automatically channel that toward retirement savings: depending on your age now and how you invest, you might end up with more than 25 times your final salary. The caveat here is that in your later years you’ll be saving almost half your income, so you can really only allow yourself to spend enough of each raise to match cost-of-living increases, not to increase your standard of living.

Whichever way you go, like a great yoga practice, saving any percentage of income takes some work, and the more automatic and regular you make it, the better. I like to tell clients and those who attend my workshops at Yoga Journal conferences that just like the captain of a supertanker, you only have to change your heading by one or two degrees, and six months later, you end up in an entirely different hemisphere.

With money as with asana practice, small changes that are committed to for the long haul make all the difference.

Brent Kessel is a yogi by dawn and financial planner by day, having dedicated himself to yoga since 1989 and progressed to the fifth series of Ashtanga under Chuck Miller and Pattabhi Jois. As the cofounder of Abacus Wealth Partners, a financial-planning firm specializing in sustainable investing for individual clients in 35 states, Brent has been named multiple times as one of the top financial advisors in the United States by Worth magazine. An advanced practitioner in both finance and yoga, Brent is the country's foremost authority on bridging these two disparate worlds for personal transformation. He has appeared on the CBS Early Show and ABC News, has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times, and is the coauthor of The Money & Spirit Workshop. Learn more at abacuswealth.com/yoga.