The Yin Yang of Money

You’ve likely seen the yin yang. It’s the symbol that shows how opposing forces create a whole. It’s the balance between night and day, winter and summer, hot and cold, soft and hard. In is the interaction of yin and yang that maintains the harmony of the universe. Yin energy is calm, wet, cooling. Yang energy is hot, fast, dry. Yin is associated with water, earth, the moon and the female; Yang is all about fire, sky, the sun and the male.

Life is always about trying to return to balance. So on hot days we choose cool salads and crave ice cream. On cold days it’s the hot foods like soup, stew and chili that we seek as “comfort” foods.  After a hot day in the sun, we love the feeling of cool cream slathered on our pink skin. After a cold day of skiing or snowboarding, a long hot tub returns us to balance.

I want you to look at the yin yang symbol. Do you see how the white side has a black dot, and the black side has a white dot? Even as yin yang illustrates the whole is made up of disparate parts, there is a nugget of the opposite within each side. Since nothing in nature or in life is purely black or white, the symbol includes a small black spot in the white swirl, and a corresponding white spot in the black swirl. There’s a little Yang within the Yin, and vice versa.

That’s life folks: opposite forces working together, and even within those forces, other forces, all seeking to create balance. And the same is true for money.

You can’t do any one thing to the exclusion of all the other pieces. You must put things in balance for the whole to work. That means saving some money even as you are working your butt off to pay off your debt. It means looking for small ways to cut costs, even as you spend to keep a roof over your head and to enjoy your life. Doing anything to the exclusion of anything else leaves you vulnerable because your money isn’t in balance.

I’ve long extolled how important it is to take care of your money as a whole. We have to look at both sides of the balance sheet to make sure we’re moving along to where we want to be next. It doesn’t matter where you are right now, if you want to be somewhere else – in a better place – you need to look at the whole and create some balance. So if you’ve been shopping up a storm, racking up debt, and having nothing saved for the future, you’re yin yang is out-of-whack and you’ll be miserable. You might not be miserable now as you relish the hot of acquisition and pleasure, but it’s only a matter of time before you feel the cold of bill collectors and not being able to keep a roof over your head.

I try to live my life in balance. It doesn’t always come easy, contrary to what some people think. It actually takes work. Balancing career with family means saying no to some opportunities to make money so that I have the time with my children I need to have to be a good mother and teacher.  Flying hither and yon (which I despise) to make a buck means being able to take the children on that trip that will open up their world and expand their horizons. I’m always balancing what I’ll do for money with what I want to accomplish elsewhere in my life. And I weigh carefully what I have against what I need and what I want so that I don’t end up unbalancing my life in a way that’ll takes heaps of energy to correct.

One of the mantras I use with the children is this: Where we are today is not where we’ll be tomorrow.

If life is good, say thank you and hang on; bumps ahead. If life sucks, know that it’s all about to change; just hang on.

The same is true with your money. There will be times when you run short, have to scrounge to come up with rent, or must work three jobs because the caca has hit the fan. And there will be times when you feel like you’re rolling in clover. If you remember that the point is to find balance, you’ll be able to adjust and do what you must to keep things flowing as smoothly as possible.

Can you see how important an emergency fund is to the whole idea of balance? How about setting aside a little sumthin’ sumthin’ now for the future when you’re not working? How about getting to DFF?

How close are you to balanced? What’s thrown your yin yang out of balance and how have you dealt with it?

39 Responses to “The Yin Yang of Money”

  1. Right now my ying and yang are totally out of balance. I have been spending spending spending and have to stop. Luckily the spending hasn’t caused financial difficulties but it stopped one fortnight’s worth of savings.

    Happened last year, too. Must be because of the onset of winter over here. Comfort shopping! Maybe my house will finish winter with a bulge.

    (Not really a laughing matter, it is causing me some worry)

  2. avatar prettyinpink Says:
    June 10, 2011 at 6:50 am

    Great message! Perfect way to put life into perspective. From a financial point, “thumbs up” on the emergency fund message. I got out of debt about 10 years ago, it has only been within the last 5 that I have created a six month emergency fund. To be honest, the emergency fund has improved my quality of life above and beyond expectation. I continue to put money aside and this is being used for unanticipated expenses that are not “emergency”. This sense of freedom has enabled me to focus on improving other areas of my life. You can never eliminate bumps in life but you can lessen the impact/damage. Keep beating the drum Gail!

  3. As Mr. Myagi (sp?) said in the Karate Kid, “Balance is key”, all aspects in life must have balance, but no place more so than with your money. Well put Gail!

  4. My yin and/or yang is whirling out of control at the moment. One catastrophe at a time is my mantra right now.

  5. If a person sees money for what it is she’d be able to balance things better.

    What is money? A representation of value.

  6. In my marriage I tend to be yin to DH’s yang. He blew up at the bank rep the other day because he didn’t know the answers to the security questions on the account. FINALLY he learned that balance might be beneficial and we had a sit-down to review the details of the account together.

  7. Perfect timing as always Gail. I am stuck trying to decide if I should make an extreme jump or sit in balance a little while longer. I’d appreciate any feedback from my fellow Gail Disciples.

    IF I take my Tax Refund, Bonus, Emergency Fund, and Secret Emergency Fund and add them all together right now, I have enough money to clear all of my debt and be at 0. Debt Free…

    Do I make the jump?

  8. I used to be the gal who always said yes to extra work. We were in deep, deep doo-doo, and needed the money, no matter how much time I spent away from my kids. I’m learning how to say No occasionally, to try to balance home and work life, now that things are getting better financially. I’m still learning, but it is getting better.

  9. @THiNG
    The tax refund and the bonus for debt repayment, yes. The emergency funds, no. You never know when there will be an emergency so you always need to have that money in reserve.

  10. avatar Charlene Says:
    June 10, 2011 at 9:00 am

    Gail, another awesome blog today. It is right on the money so to speak. It is all about balance. I am trying to get this- financially and my family.

    Have a Great weekend 🙂

  11. @THiNG: Only you can decide whether to make the jump. But since you asked…

    It could depend on your tolerance for risk. Remember risk involves meeting/not achieving to your defined goal(s). What do you want specifically from a debt-free life? Consider this question carefully. Based on what you’ve answered, can you tolerate having no cushion for the inevitable “cacas” in life? And what might you risk to become debt-free?
    Sounds like little balance to me. Just my two cents.

  12. In terms of not having an emergency fund, I agree with M that some of it’s risk. But some of it’s $’s too.

    Say it takes 6 months to rebuild your emergency fund of $2000 should you use it to pay down debt. And say you can do this because you have access to debt should you run into an emergency (i.e. you have a $2000 loc you can access). And say that debt will cost $300 in interest over that six months.

    – keep your emergency fund and pay down the debt. Cost $300 interest on debt.
    – pay down the debt, no emergency fund for 6 months, have no emergency. Saved $300
    – pay down the debt, no emergency fund for 6 months, but have an emergency that increases your debt again by $2000. Cost is less than or equal to $300.

    I think if you’re struggling under a debt load, that the stress relief from having an emergency cushion is invaluable. If you’re on the brink of becoming debt free or ar debt free, then perhaps you have a bit more leeway to take some small risk.

    But I stand to be corrected/chastised by Gail :).

  13. @THiNG

    Not worth the risk of using up your emergency funds to be DF. You don’t know what you might need those for, and if you go into debt for an emergency, it might be too easy to you know, add a little more seeing as you’re going into debt anyways….

    Also, — may I ask why you have an EF and then an secret EF?

  14. Thanks for the comments so far, I value all the differing opinions!

    To add to the mess, and so you understand my thought processes, I am expecting a higher than normal revenue stream over the next couple of months, and IDEALLY should be able to replace my Emergency Fund back to where it is by the end of August. But, I hate counting on income I haven’t earned yet…something about eggs and chickens and baskets my mom used to tell me about 🙂

  15. My Yin Yang of everything is askew.

    The biggest stumbling block to my balance is a lack of planning and organizing.

    I’ll just use my crafting as an example… I don’t know what I have or don’t have in crafting supplies… and sometimes that makes me purchase extra. I cannot always locate items that I know I have… so I go out and buy another in frustration (I think I own 4 pencil sharpeners now).

    I allow new ideas to distract me, before finishing projects.

    I have not limited myself budget wise in regards to materials.

    Of the projects I have completed… I don’t have a list so that I don’t duplicate efforts.

    But this is something that I am beginning to tackle in small bunches…. I am hopeful that I can get organized and enjoy myself more with this.

    And that pretty much flows through everything I do…. disorganization. It’s my personal improvement project for me this year… get organized!

  16. @Kat

    I like to pretend to be poorer than I am. Especially to the family. So when the wife is asking about Vacations, I can point to my measly EF and High LOC and say sorry we can’t. But then I have a couple of grand stashed in hidden areas around the property.

    Don’t trust banks too much either. So I like to have a fat wad of cash on hand. In case things get real bad. Ideally, I should keep it in gold…hmmm

    WOW. I just read that back and realised how paranoid it sounds. I swear I’m not hoarding rifles and preparing for judgement day…

  17. Thing – since this is the balance version of the blog, the correct answer is probably keep your emergency fund intact. But….I would be sorely tempted to pay off everything and get that emergency fund in place immediately after again. Just don’t be like those people who consolidate their loans and then run up their credit again.

    I am out of balance at the moment. I concentrated on fun, and ignored the fact that I needed a new sidewalk to my front door. Now I will be using the LOC to pay for it. I will keep my emergency fund intact (I know that I’m contradicting what I said above). Summer always throws me out of balance it seems. It should be something I can budget for. There is always next year!

  18. @THiNG

    Well, in this day of severe reliance on computers etc… I don’t think it’s too paranoid to have a secret stash of physical money at a property – one solar flare and there could be a huge issue.

    Of concern would be the fact that you are keeping it secret from the wife.

    I must admit, I have a stash myself, which my partner is aware of it’s location and amount. Keeping secrets from your spouse is not the healthiest thing.

    I read a story about a person who bought an extremely honest person, who bought a home, and found money in the attic. Literally underneath a floorboard or something… I think it was 20K. He contacted the previous owner’s son (the owner having passed away and the son selling the property) and gave the money to them.

    Apparently the old guy didn’t believe much in banks either….

    I think it’s great that someone honest found the money and made sure it went to the proper person…. but there is a part of me that wonders…. was it really only the 20K that they found?

    RE: Gold — yes, if you really want to be prepared in the event of a “big gigantic catastrophe” then once you are debt free via traditional means without touching your emergency funds, I would purchase a couple of gold coins that will retain their value (no need to go overboard…. a couple will probably do).

  19. @THiNG:
    I would say do it, but in moderation…because if you throw every last penny at this debt, one little thing (new transmission on the car, new water heater, illness, etc) will throw you right back in debt. So pay off MOST of your debt, but keep back an amount you’re comfortable with ‘just in case’.

    Just my 2 cents’!

  20. Thing-I used my emergency fund to pay off my debt…At first I was relieved, but now I’m scrambling to save up so that I can have an emergency fund and hopefully enjoy myself this summer. We will see!

    This blog is awesome. I need to remember that balance is key over and over. My goal is to save 2 months rent/expenses over the summer, save for a mountain bike and start a fund for my friend’s wedding in Chile! I can hopefully do this.

  21. @Kat

    I never keep bad secrets from the missus. Only good ones (christmas presents, birthday gifts, extra money). It’s also my way of reminding her how little she is involved in the finances. She trusts me blindly, and I have FULL control over EVERY financial aspect of our lives. If she looked at the accounts, she would see where the secret funds were coming from ($2000 in 2 months should be noticeable right?).

    Someday she’ll want to be involved. Until then, I will have to keep ‘playing the game’. She’s just lucky that I live for her and my kids. So I only do what’s in their best interests…(I had to force her to take some credit and loans in her name to build her credit history…now I’m working on forcing her to set up RRSPs and a TFSA). I worry where they will end up if something happens to me…

  22. @Everyone else

    Thanks for all the comments. I think I will do a mixture, a little bit more aggressive, but with a small fall back plan. I will pay off everything I can and leave 1 month’s expenses in the EF. Then I will only have a couple of grand left on the LOC and I can nuke that in the next couple of months.

  23. WHOA. The realisation just hit me that I could be debt free by the end of the summer….The Power of Gail….

  24. avatar Christy CC Says:
    June 10, 2011 at 11:01 am

    THiNG… if you are anticipating a higher income stream and will have your emergency fund rebuilt by the end of August… then I advise ou keep your emergency fund and get your debt reppayed by the end of August. Use your tax refund for debt.

    I have been guilty if in the past of justifying a purchase (and really all your doing is purchasing your debt) and then justifying something else and then justifying something else and then before you know it another year has passed and you aren’t where you thought you would have been. August isn’t that far away, stay the course and “things” will all work out. Don’t compromise.

    BTW I am consumer debt free and have an Emergency Fund and being that my EF is in a tax free savings account (that I can’t replenish until the next year without penalties) it encourages me to keep that money in there and not spend it.

    Everyone here has offered 2 cents… I think my asked for adice is worth at least 5 cents! Luagh… cheers and good luck agonizing or your decision.

  25. avatar psychsarah Says:
    June 10, 2011 at 11:18 am

    I preach balance all the time-to myself, to my friends, to my patients. I try my darnedest, but as you say, it’s not always easy. I love the analogy of the yin yang symbol as a visual. Thanks, as always, for adding enlightening food for thought to my day Gail and all of you fellow commenters 🙂

  26. I am learning that balance is truly the key to life and definitely debt repayment. If you focus strictly on debt and never take a penny for yourself to get a hair cut or a coffee with a friend you will burn yourself out with the repayment of debt.

    I have budgeted over the min payment on my debts, plus some money towards an emergency fund, plus i have a planned spending fund for haircuts and birthdays(this money comes from money that comes in over my budget on paydays), I have started a Christmas fund(over budget money as well), I have a set amount of allowance for each week… I am rolling my small change and putting them towards my debt, when my HST checks and such come in I take a little for myself to do something special just for MOI and put the rest towards debt. See… I am doing something for me, paying off debt and putting something aside for EF. I think I am getting balanced.. slowly but surely

    If there is something big I want to purchase I will start a fund for that as well so I don’t have to use credit which I hate doing.

  27. THiNG:
    Tax refund and bonus towards the debt: YES!
    (I am assuming that the bonus and pay increase are different things.)
    Net pay increase towards the debt: YES!
    EF towards debt: NO. That is not the purpose of the EF. The EF is ONLY for real emergencies (losing a job, health crisis…). You are simply trying to remove the sting from having debt. You do not know what can happen in the coming months. Do not touch the EF.
    Time for a talk with the wife about the purpose of an EF. Hiding money around the house can be risky (money found by others and spent, fire …) so a fire safe might be a good investment. Also, a letter at the lawyer’s with the will PoA… describing where the $ is and its purpose is a good idea. I am reading “Easy Money” from a certain author… It is a simple and fast read. She might learn a lot from it.

  28. just my two cents… it’s a common perception that gold is a safe store of value or an inflation hedge, but this is not always true.

    It really depends on your investment horizon. In the short-term, gold prices can be highly volatile and are suitable for speculative investors. Kat’s right that over the long-term (excluding the 1980’s), gold has tended to be a good inflation hedge.

    Also, consider fees. If you are buying physical gold such as coins or bars, the transaction fees charged by the bank can be significant.

    here are some interesting articles about investing in gold:

  29. My Yin/Yang are pretty well balanced right now as we set aside money every pay for things like our quarterly holidays as well as long term items such as a new car, repairs to the house, etc.

    As for our EF, thank goodness for them. One of our clients gave us a bad cheque this week for $5000 which I used to pay company expenses. When it bounced, I just moved the money from my EF to cover the cheques I wrote against it until the client replaces it today. Then I can move the money back to my EF. Without my EF I would have been embarrased because the cheques I wrote would have bounced too.

    By the way, I keep only the amount needed to pay the bills every week in the business account. The rest is squirreled away in high interest E-Accounts and only moved when it is needed.

  30. avatar SophieW Says:
    June 10, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    I am feeling so out of balance for the last few weeks – in my money, career and home life!

    I’m changing positions at work next month which will be great because it means I will no longer have to travel. However, it also means my pay will decrease by ~500 a month… Of course there’s that one last, last-minute, trip that I have to go on, which will be awesome, yet stressful. There’s a good possibility I’ll get to meet the Prince and his new Princess, however I had to arrange for my 72 year old parents to look after my daughter because my ex and his gf are both away at the same time!

    What a mess. I think the stress of it all was why I ‘forgot’ about my virtual jars and I didn’t keep track of my spending for a few weeks. Now that I’ve slapped myself upisde the back of my head I realise I only have $27 in my food jar to make it to the end of the month… Hello cereal for supper… I suppose I could lose a few pounds, but balanced I am not!

    I’ll sort it all out, I’m sure, especially as I will be debt free by September if I don’t explode from all of this 😉

  31. avatar Victoria Says:
    June 10, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    I realised over the course of the last few months that I can only be very disciplined in one area at a time. For example, I have been very disciplined with my time and got a lot done (finished my dissertation . . .) but my food and finances have been much slacker in comparison. No balance. I did splurge on one grand extravagant purchase — a painting, as my symbol to myself of my future dreams (the house it will one day go in) — which I paid for in cash. Now to a year of careful money-management while trying to be balanced in life, which this last year has not been. But I have no cc debt any more and am working on my LOC. I can’t pay it off as fast as I’d like because I have a whole bunch of trips coming up, but at least I know about them and hopefully will be able to save enough to do them all without going into debt. Balance. I feel like I’m on something of a teeter-totter at the moment . . .

  32. avatar Elizabeth A Says:
    June 10, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    My balance issue is like so many of yours, debt repayment (in my case a HELOC) versus building an emergency fund, how much to each. I wrangle with it, and will continue to, it’s not possible to do both very well at once.

  33. My Yin/Yang feels very out of balance at the momment. I’m certain within a year I can get it as it should be though. I’m currently going through a seperation, moving, about to loose my job in a few weeks etc. which makes everything feel uncertain. I do have an emergency fund that should help me while I get back on my feet again. I’m currently debt free, and I hope that by down sizing and leading a simple life style that I can continue to be debt free with the exception of a small mortgage.

    While things seem uncertain at the momment it has been a wake up call in many ways. It really makes you sit up and take notice of the things that are most important to you. Financial security now and in the future for both my child and myself are pretty high on my list. I know that I would rather have a lot less STUFF, and lead a much more richer and stress reduced life.

  34. Not related to this at all, but I just saw that the new season of Til Debt Do Us Part: Home Edition has started on Slice! I particularly like the check in after to see how the couple is doing!

  35. avatar LeslieP Says:
    June 12, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    I am seriously out of balance right now. I had a major shopping spree on clothes for the summer (much needed since I haven’t replenished the wardrobe in a couple of years but not altogether budgeted for) and I still have lots of my list of wants for around the house. One of our boys moved out leaving us with a wonderful spare room that I want to re-do as a guest room. Not an emergency right now but boy do I want to get started on that. Unfortunately I don’t have the money for that so……I am going to quash that impulse. Also I seem to be grocery shopping and then end up picking up fast food this last month. I think the problem is that I am shopping without a meal plan in mind and then when it comes time to put something together I’m lost so I just bring something else in – effectively spending double on food last month. URGH! Need to have a strong discussion with myself.

  36. avatar Corey (female) Says:
    June 12, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    Hello Gail
    First I would say when I watch your show I am inspired to make my debt go away. I believe what you say about the ying yang as when my finances and all other aspects of my life are not in good shape even as little as having the house clean I become out of sorts. My partner doesnt understand this because she doesnt think like I do and I am in charge of most of the financial and household things on top of taking care of my kids, and a bit of my step children every other week. We are both working in the health care profession Dee as a personal support worker with a set income and myself as a companion sitter which I love with a good living but sometimes up and down. I am self employed with no health insurance as well. We recently moved into a nice house together and my aunt is selling her home to come live with us. this will help elevate some of the financial stress but we still could use some help or advise. I have very good credit but alot of debt at this time. My aunt gave us the money to make a down payment on this house and I had some saved. Our expences take most of our income and Dee has non related house expenses like car payments, insurance for car gas and telephone as well as cigerettes. I have alot more obligations including the ones she has I also have insurance for myself and my children and even my dog. I look after 8 elderly clients as well. I am hoping to increase my work load in order to cover all expenses but it is very hard. I also have investments I have made in order to have something when I retire if I am ever able to. We used to do alot of extra things but now not so much it has taken a bit of a toll on our relationship but we can do it in order to get the debt down. I have one main credit card one I use but pay off immediatly and a line of credit.
    OUr home we bought needs work and we borrowed money from Dees family in order to get this done. we pay it back in monthly installments.
    I used to live in rent to income housing and am so proud to finally have my own home but its hard not having the security that I once had.
    Do you have any advise we might be able to use. I have been to the bank for advise as well. By the way we just missed you at the Eatons Centre in Toronto in March we were there but were leaving the day before we would have loved to meet you.
    Yours Corey Irwin and Deirdre Peck (from Ottawa)

  37. My yingyang balance is SO CLOSE!
    Family is fed, clothed and has time to play.
    House is safe, structurally sound and pleasant to be in.
    Work has been sporatic and I’m starting to feel the pinch. We are still above water, but the bills are climbing and the income has shrunk… things are being sacrificed to stay afloat.
    Money is under control (no debt but mortgage), but only by the skin of our teeth. The planned spending account just got annihilated by property taxes (they went up A LOT this year) and the replacement of our 12 year old mattress. So I am very stressed about the tiny balances there. When I probably should just be relieved that we didn’t have to dip into credit to pay for it!
    My solution to campaign harder for more contracts and spend less until the planned spending account is back to a happy level.

  38. I have to say Thank You, Thank You for the timing of this wonderful message. Hubby and I just went camping on the weekend and dipped into our ‘vacation fund’, which we had earmarked for an overseas trip for the campground fees and spent the week’s transportation $ and some of next week’s food budget on snacks in order to do it. That being said, we left Friday morning and came back Sunday afternoon, but I feel like I had at least a week away. Ahhhhhhhhhh. When I got home I felt guilty that we’ll be skimping a little this week, but after reading the yin/yang message I know that it was needed. 🙂

  39. avatar Patricia Briggs Says:
    June 14, 2011 at 5:11 am


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