I subscribe to a newsletter called Money Musings put out by certified financial planner Landon Tan. He opened December’s edition – titled “A Budget Is Not A Body” – with a story about being on a cringy conference call with the Seattle Times for a piece on money makeovers:
“The idea that dollars are like calories, budgeting is a diet, and financial advisors are personal trainers is wrong, but I hear it all the time from people in the industry… Weight loss is triggering for many people and especially traumatic for fat people… It just does not need to be invoked in financial planning.”
I decided it was time to give Landon a call and see what other gobsmacking wisdom he had to share for the start of 2022, when people are often setting financial (and weight-loss) goals.
Keep reading if you want to learn what “intuitive spending” is.
Tan is quiet and thoughtful over the phone. He takes pauses to make sure his answers are precise and also to let new ideas sink in. He begins by sharing that the world of finance invokes fat-shaming ideology all the time. Phrases like “trim the fat” or “tighten the belt” are, according to Tan, fatphobic and unacceptably ubiquitous.
Tan identifies as fat positive and draws a lot of parallels between the pitfalls of diet culture and those of mainstream financial attitudes: an over-emphasis on personal choices (when they are typically not the most important factor), a connection between restriction and morality (fake news), a whole lot of needless shame (that won’t likely actually change your financial future, he says), and the tendency to utterly miss the point of everything: to live your best life right now.
In his December newsletter Tan points out, “Personal choices are not the biggest component in our wealth. Personal choices are not the biggest component in the expression of our bodies either.”
He’s quick to follow up by saying this doesn’t mean that we can’t have autonomy and awareness, but maybe a middle-ground could be something he calls “intuitive spending.” Instead of shame-spiraling over doing the “wrong” or “right” thing financially, we can ask ourselves, “How does it feel to spend like this? How does it feel in my body?”
“It’s considered immoral to be poor or indebted because these things are connected to the idea of being out of control.”
Higher body weight is highly stigmatized culturally for very similar reasons. “This creates a situation that potentially puts too much emphasis on what restrictiveness can actually do for someone’s finances or their body size,” says Tan. “So often people will completely avoid their money. They don’t know their credit score or what they’re invested in because there’s so much shame around money. There’s a feeling that we’re supposed to be doing a certain thing. It’s all trapped in shame.”
Tan shares that he often sees clients agonize over spending decisions, and reflects that in his experience spending habits are relatively fixed whether we agonize over them or not.
“People’s spending tendencies are generally pretty fixed. There are people who struggle to save and people who struggle to spend. I do think people should save. However, there are people who are going to drain their investment accounts no matter what. There’s nothing really to do about that.” Tan believes that we can work with the emotional side of our financial decisions in order to find methods that work for us. “If you’re someone who’s a little too frugal, you can create a spending account. If you really spend a lot, create a system that makes it really hard to get to that money. Then you can really enjoy your life and not think about it. People, in a sense, are going to be who they are and when we know what those habits or patterns are we can create systems that work for them.”
“Sometimes we get caught up in asceticism and diligence with our money and we forget what the money is for. It’s for you to live the life that you want to live,” says Tan.
He points out that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model when it comes to a person’s finances. Some people value thrift. Others want to seize the moment and really live their life to the fullest. What if we were just honest about who we are and what matters to us? What if we shamelessly accepted that we’re already spending or saving in ways that align with our values? What if we trusted ourselves?
And, finally, Tan asks us to consider this: what if we believed that our worth as people had nothing to do with how we spend or save?