“Like many people, I hate talking about money.”

“Like many people, I hate talking about money.”

Written by Neil Hughes

Topics: Work

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.

I find it helpful to divide my values into terminal values (things I actually want for themselves) and instrumental values (things which are just means to an end).

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.

Your Turn

How is your relationship with money? Is it the most important thing, an important thing, or not important to you right now? 

neil_authorbioNeil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, computer programming, public speaking and other things from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you found him at www.walkingoncustard.com and on Twitter as @enhughesiasm.


  1. Maryske says:

    Generally, I’m much like you: I don’t like to talk about money, and like even less to think about it. Generally, it’s very much a means to an end, although I do expect to be paid a reasonable salary for my work.
    When I’m working, as I said, money is very much a means to an end. I don’t really save up for anything, and I pretty much spend it any way I like. I don’t have any loans to pay back, so that helps, I suppose.

    On the other hand, during the sometimes prolonged periods that I’ve been out of work (most of the time with just a very minimal unemployment benefit), money has become mighty important. Like knowing that you have 50 euro to spend during the week, no matter what happens and needs to be done – simply because you don’t *have* any more. It means going through the supermarket with blinders on, ignoring all special offers, avoid websites like Amazon etc, simply not going to the mall… It’s not much fun living like that for a while, but in a way I’m glad I’ve had it. (Though I’d be glad to forsake it for the rest of my Life…) I’ve had enough experience with it to be able to go back to it when necessary. And I feel incredibly rich sometimes when I can just buy anything I fancy. (Which usually are fairly simple and cheap things anyway, like books or dvds. Going to a concert or the theatre feels like a luxury :-)

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Absolutely – it’s all about the context in which we’re in, and whether we have responsibilities (feeding a family, etc). That’s why I tried to emphasise that, yes, money is important, but so are other things: we have to decide for ourselves where it falls in our current context.

      I think the relationship to money is something we have to constantly re-evaluate as our circumstances change, and sometimes I know I need a reminder that I’m still viewing it through the lens of my old circumstances.

      You’re so right, and thank you for sharing :)

  2. Felicity says:

    I love talking about money, but I can definitely still relate to this.

    Right now my husband and I are working on “early retirement” in a few years in our 30s, where we plan on quitting our full-time jobs, travelling the world, and working our way through our random lists a little bit faster. :D

    It can definitely be hard not to hyper focus on saving money, though. I’ve got a very healthy relationship with money now, but it took a bit of overcoming obstacles to get here. It used to be if I forgot to do something like cancel a subscription in time, I would be really upset and mad at myself. Or I might have balked at the idea of paying thousands of dollars on a once-in-a-lifetime scuba diving trip with my grandparents.

    I mercilessly cut out spending that doesn’t bring me happiness or further my goals (yeah, I am NOT spending half a million dollars on a house near work O_o), but I am more than willing to spend money when it really matters. Of course, I’m in a hugely privileged place to be able to make decisions like that in the first place.

    There’s this great book called Happy Money that definitely helped me get a healthier relationship with money. :)

    • Neil Hughes says:

      This is great to hear – thanks Felicity! It takes impressive discipline to both control spending and allow spending like that. I usually do make the right choice, but after a lot of agonising! Will check that book out for sure :)

  3. Nitsan Tal says:

    As a multi that dabs into new fields periodically, money or the willingness of others to pay it for my developing new talent is also a way to affirm my ability in the field. I’m one of those rare people who don’t need to earn money so in every new acupation (photographer, cinematographer) I get my first jobs as favors to friends. Once I feel confident enough, I start charging. It’s my way to feel that people value my work.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Absolutely! I think money and how we value ourselves is another important dimension to explore :)

  4. Jenn P says:

    I dislike money because I don’t have enough of it. I tend to take an Einstein approach to work, which was fine before I had a kid. I could work whatever random job I wanted and have fun and passions outside of it. Now, it wouldn’t make me enough to support us and pay childcare because I couldn’t push myself through school long enough to get a degree. I’m trying to piece to together income streams with my limited skill set that don’t require childcare (so far that is selling used books on Amazon, occasional babysitting, and trying to get a couple more things off the ground). I’d love money to no longer be so stressful.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Yup, this resonates with me. It’s great that you’re building those income streams though – very impressive while juggling everything else.

  5. Elizabeth says:


    I have a very lets “ignore money” approach. I always make sure I have enough money to pay my basic bills: rent, internet, utilities, food and to maintain a high credit score. But from there I spend as I please and hope it works out. I actually get terrible anxiety opening my banking app. I seriously have to muster up the strength to see the balance. (Though it usually is not as bad as I thought). I really have no restraint with spending money and am a terrible saver, who loves quality things.

    I once read “you need to make your money work for you.” I, currently, don’t feel like I am doing that the way I would like to. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Janneke says:

      What came to my mind was automatic monthly/quarterly saving to a saving account. I do that for my kids and for myself. No extra hassle, but the ‘safety net’ is in the back of my mind so I don’t have to be anxious when something big comes up.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Hmmm… I suspect I’m not the person to ask, since this is one area of my life I’ve deliberately not explored very consciously. I think it sounds like it would be worth figuring out what’s at the root of that anxiety, and if there are some simple mentality shifts which would help you to feel more confident in your decisions. If nothing else, it’s great that you budget well enough to handle all the basics, so you should congratulate yourself for that :)

  6. Diane says:

    Yeah, money is definitely a button-pusher topic for many. I often think back to a quote from an Indian sage, advising a balanced approach. It went something like this, “the amount of money you have is like the size of your shoes. If the amount is too small, it pinches. If the amount is too much, it is a hindrance while walking.”

  7. Meg- no no says:

    I personally think money is the absolute worst thing ever. Wherever is money involved, either it’s a mess or it’s just very wrong and unrighteous. I despise it. My approach is relatively simple and pragmatic though, I do strong control over my income/outcome balance, savings for the emergencies, no frills shopping (second-hand buying or self-making). As long as it works good enough for me, it’s just fine.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      I suspect you’re not alone in feeling that, Meg! Such a pragmatic approach is a good solution.

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