❝If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.❞ -Lewis Carol
I grab a cup of coffee and find a seat. It's 2007 and I'm meeting with a friend, colleague, and mentor. He asks me what I want to do with my career, and I tell him about my career aspirations. This leads to talking about what I want to do outside of work and what kind of life I want.
I'm in the middle of telling him how I want to have an important job title so that I can make a lot of money and have a comfortable lifestyle. In the middle of telling him all this, he interrupts me and simply asks, "Why do you want that?"
I have to admit; I'm kind of offended. What kind of question is this? This is a dumb question. Why wouldn't I want this? This is what everybody wants!
It wasn't until days later, when I reflected on the question, that I realized I was making many assumptions. I was doing what I thought I was supposed to be doing and choosing a path based on my perception of how other people would view me for picking that path.
MONEY IS HARD
Money is the number one source of stress for people in the United States. It's also a taboo topic, so people don't talk about their financial stress. This causes a lot of frustration and envy because we know exactly what it feels like to feel our financial stress, but it doesn't look like anybody else is experiencing any financial stress because they don't talk about it. Add to this the fact that many people use money (that they often don't have) as a way to status signal and represent that they are, in fact, better off than they are.
Instead of judging ourselves, we can give ourselves a break. Money does not exist in nature. Money is an entirely human-invented concept. If you follow your family tree back far enough, you'll come across people who didn't need to have financial skills because there was no money. In fact, all the things that we call healthy financial habits would have harmed your distant ancestors. So we did not inherit financial skills.
On top of that, money touches every area of our lives. There are very few financial decisions that don't impact your life somehow and very few life decisions that don't have a financial component. With other taboo topics, like politics, religion, sexuality, or health issues, you can generally avoid discussing or signaling these ideas when you are out in public. With money, though, we are sending and receiving messages about money whether we like it or not. We can't escape money.
We have a situation where money skills don't come naturally to us, money touches every area of our lives, and we don't feel like we're allowed to talk about it.
No wonder money is hard.
MONEY IS A TOOL, NOT A GOAL
Without thinking about money and its role in our lives, or understanding who we are as individuals, it's easy to do what we think we are supposed to do. We receive these messages everywhere, from our family system, schooling, television, and social media. "Success" is defined as having a good job and a nice house while sending your kids to a great school. And these may be fine things for some people, but it's important to know what is important to you and why it's important.
Our default mode is to try to latch on to other people's values. When we see other people seemingly have their stuff together because we know when our stress feels like and it doesn't look like other people have financial stress, then we tend to do what they're doing because we want in on their (supposed) happiness.
All this is to say that without inner exploration, we tend to view money as a goal. We forget that money is worthless by itself. We assign meaning to money that doesn't exist. Money is a tool. It's an important tool. It's a tool we have to know how to use. It's a tool we have to know how to take care of. But it's just a tool. And it's essential to understand what you want to use this tool for.
WHAT'S YOUR MONEY FOR?
The first step toward using money as a tool is to understand what your money is for. If you are reading this, you probably don't need more money, at least in the strictest sense of the word "need." You could probably sell everything you have, move to a country with a low cost of living, and survive. But you don't want to just survive in a poor country. You want something more than that. But that thing that you want that's more than that is different for everybody. What is it for you?
This is financial purpose. Financial purpose describes the purpose of your money and can serve as a guide to how you want to use it. You can use your financial purpose as a sort of filter that you run your financial decisions through. The trick is not to deprive yourself. Some things will get through the filter, and that is welcomed. You should use your money in a way that aligns with what's important to you (assuming you can afford it, of course). But your financial purpose also helps you stop using your money in ways that aren't important to you. You can stop using your money in a way that is simply trying to keep up with the Joneses.
FINANCIAL PURPOSE STATEMENT
I encourage you to take your financial purpose and craft a short statement, a Financial Purpose Statement. Your Financial Purpose Statement becomes a mantra you can remember and use to remind yourself what your money is for. Additionally, it can remind you what your money is not for.
Your Financial Purpose Statement is not meant to be a deprivation tool. You're not trying to use willpower to prevent yourself from doing something that you otherwise wanted to do. It helps you slow down your thinking process so that you are making decisions on purpose, with purpose.
When your impulse and your actions are too close together, you are reacting. This is the default mode for many people, floating around life from circumstance to circumstance, effectively letting life happen to them. By growing the space between your impulse and action, you are making an intentional decision.
Once you recognize that money is a tool and not a goal, it opens up a world of possibilities where you get to ask yourself what that tool means to you. It helps you recognize what the money is for. By distilling your financial purpose into a Financial Purpose Statement, you can shift from reactive to intentional decisions.
You get one life; live intentionally.
If you know someone else who would benefit from reading this, please share it with them. Spread the word, if you think there's a word to spread.
Related Money Health® Reading
References and Influences
Barker, Dan: Life Driven Purpose
Burkeman, Oliver: Four Thousand Weeks
Burkeman, Oliver: The Antidote
Dunn, Elizabeth & Michael Norton: Happy Money
Fischer, John Martin: Death, Immortality, and Meaning in Life
Hagen, Derek: Money’s Purpose in Your Life
Hagen, Derek: Your Money, Your Values, and Your Life
Kinder, George & Susan Galvan: Lighting the Torch
Kinder, George & Mary Rowland: Life Planning for You
McKay, Matthew, John Forsyth, and Georg Eifert: Your Life on Purpose
Sinek, Simon: Start With Why
Sinek, Simon, David Mead & Peter Docker: Find Your Why
Vos, Joel: Meaning in Life
Wagner, Richard: Financial Planning 3.0
Wallace, David Foster: This is Water
Ware, Bronnie: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying
Whelan, Christine: The Big Picture
Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.