Earlier this month, I was incredibly fortunate to spend three fascinating, challenging, and beautiful weeks on the southwestern Malabar coast of India, in the state of Kerala. As a tourist, I was immediately aware of the relative wealth of my home economy compared to the one I was visiting. I have long-standing anxieties around money, and so although it was annoying to be the constant target of street vendors, it was also a great opportunity for me to free myself from the mindset of scarcity with a few healthy guidelines around my vacation spending.
These three guidelines helped me truly enjoy my downtime and also started to train me to relate to money differently. I offer them here to help you release any tension or worry about finances that you might have, whether you’re on vacation or not!
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but it turned out to be the single most powerful strategy for decision-making for me in an environment where a favorable exchange rate made shopping a constant temptation. As in all things, healthy boundaries allow for a sense of ease and freedom. I decided in advance how much was ok for me to spend in total, and then broke it down into categories like accommodation, food, transportation, and shopping. Because I had made a budget, I browsed a lot before I actually purchased anything to take home with me. Then I made choices based on what I wanted most.
Budgeting is equally as powerful when you’re not on vacation, because temptation still comes in the form of flash sales, special offers, and constant advertising. A budget will help you to say no to these temptations and ignite guideline #2, helping to clarify what you want in the first place.
Make a budget.
One thing I had to get used to very quickly in India was the fact that there are no set prices on anything in tourist zones, at least not in Kovalam, the fishing town where we spent most of our days. Initially, this was extremely unnerving for me, in part because haggling spikes my anxiety, but also, interestingly, because I’m used to asking, “Is this item worth this price?” almost before I even consider whether I actually want it or not. It seems an innocent enough question, but the more I thought about it, the more arbitrary it seemed, especially having stepped out of one economy and into another, where prices of most things were different – most lower, but some, inexplicably, higher.
In India, I stopped thinking about prices, mostly because none were marked. I avoided haggling for a while with a no-buy policy for the first two weeks (another great strategy, btw). Soon, I noticed that I was starting to focus on what I wanted and why I wanted it, not on what something may cost or whether it was worth that amount of currency. By the third week, it didn’t matter to me very much how much something cost. If I wanted it, and it was in my budget, I bought it, or haggled so that it would fall within my budget. If it wasn’t in my budget, I didn’t buy it. This shift in focus was a huge discovery for me, and paved the way for guideline #3, severing the absolute value of money from goods completely.
Clarify what you want.
Once I stopped thinking about value in terms of price, I realized how miserable that way of thinking had been making me. In contrast, assigning value to a thing based on my own reasons, like how happy it would make me, how I would use it, how it would beautify my home, or the joy it might bring as a gift, was either neutral or pleasant, and moved me closer to a clear yes or no decision.
For me, the more attached I was to the notion of equivalence, fairness or correctness in the language of money, the more stress I felt. Trying to pin down an absolute value of anything in numbers just wasn’t possible in a market that was constantly in flux, anyway. So, in the end, I mentally severed the tie between money and item. A scarf, I decided, doesn’t equal $30 or $300, it equals the joy I will have when it keeps me warm on chilly evenings, the pleasure I feel from its softness. Yes, of course I need to give someone some amount of money in order to have the scarf, but that exchange, somehow, became a lot less charged for me when I was focused on personal value rather than abstract (and somewhat arbitrary) numerical value.
The stakes for me were very low, admittedly, during this three-week vacation period. I had a comfortable budget and a stable home to return to. Yet, emotionally, I am grateful for having this mini-laboratory to test out a new relationship with money and spending. Now that I’m back, it’s already feeling much easier and less stressful to manage larger monthly and yearly budgets for household spending and business development.
Do you have tips on building a healthy relationship with money? Leave them in the comments!