Have you ever had a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife you want to see again the moment he or she is out of your sight? Has love ever felt like a drug, something you need every minute, and you need more each time? Have you ever failed to understand why you constantly desire a lover who treats you poorly? Perhaps you long for the guy or girl you knew twenty years ago, a fleeting infatuation. Like love, it’s possible for any one person to have a differently relationship with money than the next individual. Love may be a mystery, but money is usually concrete.
What role does money play in your life? I’ve seen everything.
1. Money is the goal itself. Working in the financial industry, this attitude comes as no surprise to me. When the ultimate goal is to accumulate an impressive bank account balance or net worth, the unconditional love of money helps people rationalize their behavior; the end, being wealthy, often justifies the means with this attitude. Never mind the good that can be done with this money; often, those who are obsessed use the wealth they accumulate to buy items that exist primarily to show that wealth off, not items that increase happiness. The philosophy is that displaying wealth to the world increases the chances of attracting more wealth. Even if there is some truth to that, there are other costs, as well.
I may be critical of those who place their faith in money alone, but I’m not anti-wealthy.
2. Money is evil. At the other extreme, you might find people who turn away from wealth at all time. They may have had a bad experience with money in the past. Perhaps they watch the news and take to heart the latest scandals and scams, and assume that money always makes people to awful things to one another. Nations war and people die over money. Bad behavior is often rewarded in the marketplace. How can money be a positive force when it encourages people to make bad decisions? People who think money is evil may not trust the banks to hold onto savings accounts.
This approach is dangerous because it helps those who hold this philosophy to avoid financial freedom, the ability to live mostly on one’s own terms.
3. Money is a tool. This is my camp. Money didn’t exist forever, and happiness itself is a modern concept as well. Money only increases happiness to a point, so why accumulate more money than you need to achieve maximum happiness? There are good reasons. If you set relevant life goals, like helping eliminate hunger in your country, providing all opportunities possible for your children, or encouraging education in the arts, money is one of the strongest tools for reaching your goals. These goals don’t stop at a certain dollar amount. More can always be done.
When I hear someone say their life goal is to have a nest egg of $1 million when they retire, the question I think of is, “Then what?” I understand that decades of hard work can make someone long for retirement and an end to the rate race, but it’s the financial freedom that should be important, not a monetary target. Targets are useful when deciding how to allocate and invest your wealth as it grows, but money is not the purpose intrinsically.
Squirreler shared his thoughts about the role of money in his life, putting money on an equal ground with health and relationships. Health and relationships contribute to happiness. Wealth contributes as well, but only insofar as it fosters health, relationships, and other things like experiences, self-worth, and independence. Therefore, I would not put wealth in a symbiotic equilibrium with anything else. It’s another layer that helps amplify everything else; people who have a positive outlook on life while improve with wealth, while people who take a destructive approach to living will only become more dangerous.
Wealth makes life easier and helps you reach real goals, but money is neither inherently good nor inherently bad.
Published or updated December 12, 2011.