For Tara Stiles Of Strala, Minimalism Is The Secret To Financial Wellness
With an estimated 67 percent of Americans at least a little anxious about paying the bills, and 58 percent worried they won't have enough money for retirement, it's becoming increasingly clear that being financially well is an integral part of overall wellness. Of course, money management isn't one-size-fits-all, so we're talking to people from all walks of life to find out how they've achieved a healthy relationship with their finances. We hope it empowers you to live a life Well Spent.
Tara Stiles, the founder of Strala Yoga, has spent years teaching people around the world how to find ease, flow, and joy through movement. So it's no surprise that when it comes to finances, she doesn't like to feel constricted. In this candid conversation, Stiles, who is also an mbg Collective member and class instructor, shares the money mantras that have always kept her grounded and stress-free, no matter how much money is in her wallet.
What does financial well-being mean to you?
I think it's not being worried about finances—not having a looming stress about money.
What has your financial journey looked like?
Growing up, I never really appreciated how frugal my parents were. They were straight-edge hippies, and they were really into this idea of conserving energy. It wasn't just about using less water, recycling, or eating food from our garden—it was in everything. If I wanted a pair of jeans that I saw girls in my class wearing, my mom would figure out how to make them. It wasn't necessarily because we couldn't afford the jeans. It was more about asking ourselves, "How can we do this without wasting resources? How can we make it more fun so that you appreciate it?"
Then, I moved to New York at 21. I was dancing and doing a bunch of other things. I think a lot of people have a hard time in New York because it's really expensive. But I loved to work and do different jobs and I didn't find it too difficult to keep my expenses as low as possible so I didn't have to stress out about money. I think that's always been a real priority for me: not being in over my head.
I guess I’ve always been adamant about having the ability to walk away.
I never wanted to get an apartment just because I could afford it, and I still feel the same way. I've always lived under my means as much as possible just so I can have that flexibility of being able to turn on a dime, do things, or not have to do things that I don't want to do just because they pay well. I think that's been a lifesaver career-wise too. At Strala we're able to focus on whatever it is we want to focus on and not have to worry about taking a big brand gig or writing another book this year because it would bring in a certain amount. I guess I've always been adamant about having the ability to walk away.
What is your buffer? How do you get to the place where you can be a little bit more free in terms of the work you're accepting?
I think I've always been like that—when I had nothing in my savings account and when I've had a lot. I'm also really willing to work, which has helped. I taught yoga for like 10 years before I started charging anything for it. I was learning, it was fun, and it was a hobby. I didn't want to give myself that responsibility financially to have that be income. So instead, I danced at a company on stilts, handed out flyers, did TV commercials.
Along the way, I was always talking to people about yoga: Why they did do yoga, why they didn't do yoga, if they had any aches, pains, worries, or stress. I think the interest in people kept me financially well too. If you talk to somebody long enough, you're going to get a gig doing something for them.
When yoga and Strala became my full-time income, there wasn't a day like, "Oh yes, now I'm making income doing the thing that I love." It wasn't a goal even. It just started to take up more and more and more of time. It's not really a secret: It's just a desire to work, have fun, and be interested in everything.
Was there ever a point in your life when you were stressed about money?
That got me thinking of this weird habit I was caught in when I was around 24. I was doing TV commercials and the thing about those jobs was that I would get paid once for the day, and if the commercial happened to run on television, I'd get paid more. I called it a "mail lottery" if I got a check in the mail unexpectedly. Then I would take some of that money and go right to Urban Outfitters to buy myself a bunch of crap that I didn't need. I remember temporarily feeling really good but overall really bad. It didn't take me to a really negative place, but it took me into an I-didn't-feel-so-great-about-myself place.
I think that was because I didn't have a better sense of myself or the things that I wanted in my life. And I had a boyfriend who was in fashion, and he was trying to convince me that I needed to have certain brands like Chanel to "be good" in the world. I bought a few stupid pairs of shoes. I didn't feel like myself in them. We all go through that at whatever age; I was definitely not connected to myself at that point.
How has your view of finances changed since you had your daughter Daisy?
Well, I have a lot less free time for myself, so I'm just saving money because I'm doing fewer fun things! I do think New York's kind of weird with the crazy baby pressure, like, "Oh, you gotta do this, and you gotta do this." I've just never been attracted to that kind of stuff either.
My partner Mike and I actually never had this big sit-down to talk things through. We've always just done what we're able to do to the best of our ability. I don't think you need to make a dramatic change in your behavior when you have kids. I would see it as a larger problem if we were all of the sudden like, "Oh we have a kid now and we have to figure this all out." Well, why haven't we figured it out before?
How do you decide whether or not to make a purchase, whether it's for Daisy or yourself?
I really don't buy much, to be honest. I know that's so anti-consumer, but I just don't get a high from shopping. I don't see buying a nice dress for myself or going to the nail salon as a treat. I just feel better when I have less stuff. I'm not perfect at minimalism or being trash-free, but I see it as something to work toward. I'm sitting out on our balcony right now. We built this kind of garden forest with plants and all this stuff; I like spending money on that rather than things that are in stores.
I feel better when I have fewer personal items. I have a joke with Mike. If we're traveling, I'll make him carry the passports and my phone will be in a bag somewhere and he's like, "Where's your stuff?" And I'm like, "This is it. It's you guys!" Just being with the people you care about is a great feeling. I just want more of that and less stuff.
When you want to reward yourself, instead of shopping, how do you find that gratification from within?
From experiences! I know that sounds very millennial, but Mike and I will take a day and go to this indoor pool with a hot tub. Or we'll take Daisy to Montauk or go on a fun trip at the end of a European Strala training. Maybe that's what's changed since Daisy—it's become even more fun to do things and go on trips than buy items for myself.
How do you handle financial decisions when it comes to your company, Strala?
There's this meditation that I once took from Mallika and Deepak Chopra. At the beginning of every day, it's just sitting down with these three questions: Who am I? What do I want? And how can I serve? That's helped me so much with decision-making, specifically with the business of Strala.
For example, years ago, some venture capitalists were coming to me. I wasn't even seeking that out, but it was super flattering and glitzy. I started going to all of these meetings and seeing their decks. I was like, "Oh this is so interesting and cool." And all of a sudden, I felt like it wasn't the direction that we needed to go in at that moment. It was much more of a SoulCycle model, where we'd put out a bunch of studios and all of the instructors would work there and they would be controlled by whatever clothing line we did. To me, Strala has evolved into the instructors and what they stand for—it's more open-source.
I think that these reflective moments really helped because if I was just sitting down with business advisers, I don't think they would point me in that direction. But in the end, a lot of the growth of Strala has happened because I really started serving the instructors and thinking about how we can help more people instead of thinking about how to build a bigger company. The company has gotten bigger because of that question.
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