Discovering Financial Mindfulness

Tony Xiao
Tony Xiao
Jul 2, 2019 · 3 min read

I’ve been using Mint.com for a decade, and tried dozens of personal finance apps over the last few years. Yet I lost track of my expenses and got myself into financial trouble last year. I had $600 in my bank account and $10,000 in taxes due.

I blamed my financial mishap on the tools being inadequate — automated categories were often wrong so I had to manually correct them, summaries of my income and expenses were inaccurate due to work reimbursements and sharing a house with roommates, and if I ever miss a few months, I’d need to spend hours organizing and cleaning before I could trust the data. So being the builder that I am, I decided to start a company creating better tools for managing money.

Talking to customers really surprised me. I was shocked to learn that for some, even the act of checking their bank account can cause fear, stress and anxiety, so they avoided doing it. For a while, I thought it was other people’s problem, and didn’t apply to me. After all, people just flat out needed more money, and how was I suppose to help with that?

But it just kept coming up — money, emotions, money, emotions. Then one day I had an epiphany while talking to my team.

I have a degree in Economics from Princeton and I’ve used Excel longer than than I’ve known how to speak English, of course I knew how to budget! What’s so obvious in retrospect but so oblivious to me at the time was that I just didn’t want to.

Budgeting made life feel limiting, it made me feel like I was penny pinching on couple dollars here and there and settling for how to make do with less rather than focusing on working toward that never-have-to-work-another-day-in-my-life kind of business I wanted. (The irony of course, is that I love my work so much that I never wanted to retire to begin with. So why am I in such a rush to get somewhere? But that’s a story for a different day.)

So subconsciously I was looking for every reason not to be financially conscious, and the fact that the tools were as flawed as they were made it incredibly easy to make them the one reason why I didn’t stay on top of money.

The truth is, I didn’t like paying taxes, so I just conveniently “forgot” about the $40k in consulting income I had until it “surprised” me next April. And I didn’t like that I needed to cut my expenses when I took a new job at an early stage startup with 60% pay cut, so I waited until I ran out of money in my checking account… to liquidate more savings to cover the shortfall rather than taking a hard look at whether my lifestyle was sustainable for the income choices I made. And I thought only other people had “avoidance issues” when it came to money.

Both my cofounder Danny and I have been meditating for years, and we’ve seen first hand just how much mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques really make a difference in people’s lives. So when it became clear to us that regardless of how much money you have, a key piece of the financial health puzzle is emotional, we decided to bring mindfulness to finance and make it a core part of our product and design.

But what is financial mindfulness and just how does it look like in an app? We’ve written more about our mindful design philosophy and put together a video to show you our first iteration.

Better yet, try out Alka on the App Store and let us know what you think. You can reach us in app or at hello@alka.app.

EDIT: Check out the new Alka at https://alka.app

Alka

Alka — Financial Mindfulness

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