Who are you?
For any one human being, the number of answers to this question approaches infinity. There are many aspects that are included in the definition of self. The most common response is to answer with the collection of sounds used to nominally identify yourself: “I am Joe.” Our names, generally given to us by our parents, influence our identity to some extent. In a world with billions of practically identical members of the same species, names help us identify each other quickly.
You might also answer with your occupation: “I am a plumber.” Many adults spend most of their lives training for a certain job or career and exchanging their time and effort within that career for compensation in the form of money. This trade is permission to survive, and in some cases, prosper. It is not surprising that a person would choose to identify herself by the activity that consumes her life and provides the opportunity to continue living.
If you do not have an occupation, you may answer with the way you are considered by the people most important to you: “I am a father.”
This only scratches the surface of who you are. There is more beyond this top layer. How do you view the world? What is important to you? What topping do you like on your pancakes?
I want to focus on “What is important to you.” The details of your finances probably aren’t that important to you. You live, work, and pay your bills. You may be in a comfortable situation financially, or you may not be. Is there a need to fix something that isn’t “broken?”
Most likely you only pay attention if your finances start impeding your life. In other cases, you might keep denying bad situations until you hit a point at which no further decline is possible — rock bottom. At rock bottom, there’s a good chance that the accumulation of poor circumstances or choices force you to suddenly become aware.
In terms of finances, it’s much less damaging if you become fully aware of your money and everything that is tied to money in your life before the worst occurs. Whether you call it Enlightenment, kensho, epiphany, or a revelation, it pays to move towards awareness than let it happen to you.
The first part of becoming aware is understanding your role in the greater economy.
- Assuming you are not a slave or independently wealthy, you trade your time and effort for money.
- You trade the money you earn for food, shelter, and possibly some extras.
- If you are lucky enough to earn more money than you need to survive, some of your money will be diverted to programs that help society in general.
- Companies make money by convincing you that their products are worth spending the remainder of the money you earn, and in general, companies are smarter than you.
I don’t mean to insult anyone with the last point. Successful companies spend a large amount of money to understand the way people think and behave in a consumer society. If you watch television, the commercials you see are targeted specifically to people just like you. These commercials are tested, and only the most successful ones make it to the airwaves. Companies spend money on advertising because they know they will regain that money through new customers as a direct result of that advertising. Advertisers are getting smarter and are adapting to new consumer behaviors, like time-shifting television programs and skipping commercials. It is very hard to outsmart advertising experts who rely on scientific studies of financial behavior. Understanding your role as the consumer in this relationship is the first step to being able to control your finances.
What are some of the creative ways companies try to convince you with your money?
Now that you’re aware of your role, you can begin to quantify your financial identity and place it in context. The next step in taking control of your finances is to expand the definition of yourself by discovering your financial identity.
Image source: Swami Stream
Updated January 16, 2010 and originally published November 10, 2008.