And, honestly, I’m not a big fan of thinking about it, either. Of course, I don’t mind having it, or spending it… which means I have an avoidance problem. I don’t much value money for it’s own sake, but I do require it, in order to spend it, in order to live.
For me, money is an instrumental value: it’s not an end destination, but a step on the road to somewhere else, which in my case is happiness.
This might sound obvious, but for some money is a terminal value—they would sacrifice time, comfort, even happiness (either temporarily or permanently) in order to have more money.
I’m not criticizing that approach—it’s one of millions of valid ways to live a life. And our values can change depending on what’s happening in our lives, so it’s fluid too. Right now, money is merely a means to an end for me.
Putting money in context
Because money is an instrumental value for me, I tend to avoid analyzing my relationship with it, which can be really counterproductive in the long run.
Of late, I’ve been looking at an idea that Emilie talks about in How to Be Everything: The Ingredient Approach to Money. Like all great ideas, it’s simple: “Money is but one ingredient for a happy life.” (Fans of formal logic might recognize this as “money is necessary, but not sufficient, condition for happiness.”)
See, when I do think about money, it stresses me out and I focus on it to the exclusion of all else. I think this is a natural reaction. It’s easy to get caught up in the fact that we essentially require money simply to get by. This makes our survival instincts kick in and we fixate on money. It’s a short step from there to internalizing the belief that we always need more to be happier.
But this sets us along a treadmill which never ends, doesn’t it? There’s no stopping point to this line of thinking. Am I sufficiently happy once I have a house? A bigger house? A house decorated exactly the way I want? With a car? A better car? A better car still?!
In this world, we can’t escape the fact that money is a requirement, but by itself it isn’t sufficient. It’s only one ingredient.
Don’t drift. Decide.
Sometimes, though, I have the opposite problem. In the bliss of not thinking about money, I drift aimlessly, spending money here and there, without thinking about it too much.
I avoid thinking about money, and perhaps that causes me to spend too much or not prioritizing earning enough.
In this case, I need to remind myself: money isn’t the only ingredient in a happy life, but it is still an important ingredient.
Whatever works for you
In her research about the financial side of being a multipotentialite, Emilie was inspired by John Armstrong’s book How To Worry Less About Money.
In short, Armstrong’s approach is all about finding a balance that works for you. Maybe you’re fine with “survival” amounts of money: enough for shelter and food, along with time to pursue your passions. At the other end of the spectrum are those who need a higher income for comfort or prestige, or due to financial obligations.
Most of us fall somewhere in the middle, having some “wants” that we prioritize along with our basic needs. Personally, I would struggle to cut out regular trips to my favorite coffee shops. These are undeniably a luxury, but aren’t so crazy that I can’t budget for them.
The key insight for me is that I must not forget about money, but I mustn’t focus on it exclusively either.
Whether you need to remember that money is also an important ingredient or money is only one important ingredient, thinking of it this way may help you to get perspective on the state of your relationship with money.
How is your relationship with money? Is it the most important thing, an important thing, or not important to you right now?