Our relationship with money

Our relationship with money

Just like technology, money is a tool. It is not something to be worshiped. It’s not something that should break up marriages and cause stress and sometimes suicide.

Money is a means by which to achieve our goals and live a life of happiness. Happiness is the end goal, or should be. I attended a women’s networking lunch yesterday, and the only one who truly grasped money’s place in her life was the youngest one there, a girl in her 20’s who had been hit by a car when she was 12. As you can imagine, that girl has no fear and is unabashedly optimistic and determined. She fought for her life in a hospital for over a month, so what does she have to fear from little pieces of green paper?

Setting an arbitrary “goal income” amount for yourself is silly. Making $200,000 a year might give you more spending power, but will it make you happy? Not if it means you have to work 100 hours a week, never see your family, not have any leisure time and incur tremendous amounts of stress. What amount of money would make you happy? And is part of your ability to be happy wrapped up in material possessions? Will you only be happy if you own 1,000 pairs of shoes? If so, it’s time to examine your priorities.

If you have an unhealthy relationship with money and material possessions, you should do some personal work to understand why and gain a better sense of what is truly important to you. Money is in abundance in your life, but time is not. Once you’ve spent that, there is no earning more or borrowing from the past.

Being self employed (as I am) means that there is not always certainty about your income stream, especially if you are single and live alone. Planning is required, and it’s good to have some savings to cushion the ups and downs. Of course, even those with a regular paycheck can benefit from an emergency fund since most people live tightly within their means.

It seems like whatever people earn, they will spend. We all want to live at the highest level our income allows. So, how does making $200,000 a year help you if you then spend $200,000 each year? You’re in exactly the same position as when you made $50,000 – except with added stress.

What would make more sense is to live at least one notch below your ability and have extra money to play with. Would you live in 500 less square feet so you could have a really nice vacation every year? Living without a car in an urban area is said to save almost $10,000 a year. Would you live without a car so you could travel to South America for a month every year?

Most people see their choices as limited, but it’s actually their behavior that is creating this sense of lack. We all have so many, many choices we can make every day about how we live our life. Sometimes we don’t want to make them or we’re not imaginative enough to envision them. But we do have choices, and if you have an extra $10,000 to spend on your car every year, then you could be traveling around the world instead.

I’ve got a news flash for you: just because the average American owns a car doesn’t mean you have to. Just because average American houses have grown in size by 100% doesn’t mean yours has to. All this bigger, bigger, bigger has nothing to do with happiness and has, in fact, made us much less happy. Big houses come with big expenses and big responsibilities. All it does, in reality, is make more money for the people who supply the materials, build the house and maintain it when you live in it. But don’t forget the real estate agents. They’re really raking it in as well.

I want my life to be fun and low stress. Every decision I make about money should achieve one of those goals.

I live in a very small apartment. Low rent, no maintenance = low stress.
I use money to travel. Travel = fun.
I use money to go out for coffee and go to events. Fun.
I don’t own a car. No car payment, maintenance or insurance = low stress.
The only debt I have is a student loan. Low stress.
I got my graduate degree! Fun!

If your sole goal in life is to earn more and more money, you do not have a healthy relationship with money. Your goal in life should be to see the Taj Mahal or sing on Broadway or just go to Broadway or learn to golf. Making money should not be a goal. Making money is how you reach your goal. And sometimes it’s not. You could make a connection that could help you achieve a goal. You could enter a contest. You could earn it through volunteering or a fellowship. There are a million ways to achieve each one of your goals, and if you focus only on making money, you are missing out on about 999,999 of them that would be just as effective and possibly easier (and more fun).

Think about what you REALLY want out of life. And then make a list of different avenues to get there. You’ll find that money can’t reunite you with an estranged parent or make someone proud of you or make you a better person.

And often the religion of money requires that you tithe with your happiness, integrity, uniqueness and freedom.

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