Money is Never Your Goal

If you’ve ever made New Year’s resolutions or set ambitious goals for yourself, there’s a good chance that money was involved.

Maybe you want to reach a certain salary. Maybe you’re focusing on your net worth. Perhaps you’re trying to get out of debt, establish an emergency fund, or boost your savings.

There’s no denying that money can be a powerful motivator. If someone offers you enough money, you might well stick with a task you find boring or hard. You might hate ironing – but if you were offered $50 to iron a shirt, you’d probably do it!

However, money itself isn’t the real goal. Although you probably experience a certain satisfaction in seeing the number in your bank account rise – or the figure related to your debt go down – the money isn’t really what you’re after.

What Money Represents

In his book Success Intelligence, Robert Holden writes about a “money meditation” which he leads seminar participants through. He encourages them to hold a large denomination bill in their hand and look closely at the money, reflecting on what it actually means to them.

If you’ve got a coin or bill handy, take a look at it yourself. What does that really mean to you? Perhaps you like the familiarity of your currency (if you’ve ever been abroad, you’ll know how foreign money doesn’t feel “real” because you have to make a conscious effort to assign a value to it). Maybe you like the feel of holding the money.

What should be obvious, though, is that money is a token. A small metal disc or a scrap of paper isn’t in itself of any value. Money is meaningful because it can be exchanged for goods and services.

So, money represents something to you. It may well stand for your dreams: money means that foreign holiday, that new car, that iPad, that dinner at a swanky restaurant. Or perhaps money means something more like security, peace of mind, knowing that you can cope with emergencies, and support your family.

What Does Money Mean to You?

Depending on your financial status and the stage you’re at in your life, money will mean different things. When I was a teen, money was mostly about buying Star Trek magazines and books (yes, I was a geek – still am). As a student, money increasingly became about groceries, rent and large quantities of alcohol. And now I’m in my mid twenties, it’s about building a firm base for the future, and living life to the full.

If you’ve set yourself any goals which revolve around money, pause and think about what money actually means to you. If you have a goal of earning $60k per year, what’s pulling you towards that? It might be a desire for:

  • Freedom – being able to quit your job or live life on your own terms
  • Security – never lying awake at night worrying about the bills again
  • Spontaneity – having the flexibility to go out for dinner or take a weekend break without saving up for weeks beforehand
  • Growth – putting your money into an investment fund or into your small business, so that you can do more for yourself and for the world in the future

You might realise, while thinking about your meaning of money, that your goal doesn’t necessarily require large amounts of cash. Perhaps you could have more freedom in your life by downshifting to a less pressured job and a less expensive city. Maybe your need for security doesn’t require large sums, just an emergency account.

We often feel that money will be the answer to all our problems (and our culture – particularly the media – encourages us to think this way). The reality is that, while money does matter, it’s not always the solution we’re looking for.

More May Not Be Better

Study after study has shown that more money doesn’t generally make us happier. Of course, if you’re struggling to stay afloat, an extra $200 a month might be a massive relief – but once you achieve a certain level of income, having more money in the bank, a bigger house and more stuff won’t in itself make you more content.

The myth of more means that some of us get sucked into chasing after money when our real passions lie elsewhere. Perhaps you feel that you should be making $100k a year because you’ve picked up, somewhere, that this means “success”. Maybe you’ve found riches a convenient place to hang your ambitions; after all, money is fairly straightforward – easy to chase, easy to count.

You might not actually need more money. You may want to budget more carefully with what you have, so that you can feel secure. Or you may want to cut back on spending which you don’t really enjoy, in order to spend your hard-earned cash on things which really do matter to you. (Thursday and I spend our money on books, and we don’t mind being thought weird. ;-) )

Sure, some people have goals which do require large sums of money. If you want to donate a lot to charity, or go on a round-the-world cruise, or run your own nightclub, you’re going to need funds. But if your goals are a little different, perhaps increasing your income isn’t the way forwards.

What’s your real goal – and how does money play into it?

(Image from Flickr user

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4 Responses to “ Money is Never Your Goal ”

  1. There was a recent study (wish I could find it!) looking at people who were only just managing to live within their means, but had now received a substantial raise in salary.

    Given the extra money, you’d think it would be easier to save. But it wasn’t.

    Despite a higher salary, people would (often without noticing) alter their spending to live just within their means. It was as if nothing had changed.

    Apparently we tend toward living off what we have, whatever that amount it is. Perhaps that’s why there are stories out there about big lottery winners who blew the cash in just a few years.

    Now where can I find that study again? It’s so relevant to this post. Sure I wasn’t dreaming it… :)

  2. DIY Investor says:

    A lot of people in our society want more money so they can keep up with their neighbors. Studies show that this in the end doesn’t lead to an increase in satisfaction or happiness.
    To me money provides choices. Sometimes people plan to work to a certain age but they can’t because of illness of just general dissatisfaction with their job. If they have enough socked away they can easily walk away from their job.

  3. Leslie A Joy says:

    I spend my free money on books and ebooks too-have been since I was 4. I don’t think it’s weird at all. :)

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