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Money Is a Tool, Not a Goal

money is a tool that you can use to live the life that you want

❝Don't let making a living prevent you from making a life.❞ -John Wooden

Amy makes $110,000 per year. She barely remembers that five years ago, her main goal was to be able to make at least $100,000 per year. She met her goal a couple of years ago, and it felt good - for a little while. Then she got used to it and she set a new goal of making $150,000 per year.

Ben goes in to see his financial advisor and tells him that his "magic number" is $1 million. He thinks all of his financial worries will be over once he has $1 million saved and invested. Two years later, he had $1 million invested, but it didn't feel like enough. He changed his "magic number" to $2 million.

Cassie wants to be a part of the FIRE movement (financially independent retired early). As such, she hopes to be financially independent and retire by age 40. She accomplished her goal and, at age 41, doesn't know what to do with the rest of her life.

It's common to think that money is a goal, but this is likely to result in regret. Nobody lies on their deathbed wishing they spent more time with their money. Instead, when people look back on their lives from their deathbed, they tend to regret not being true to themselves, working too hard, losing touch with their friends, not expressing themselves, or putting off their happiness.

instead of chasing money, try living life


I was born, and someday I will die. Life is finite. Not only that, but I've already lived some of the life that I have available. In other words, every day I wake up, I have one less day left to live.

You might be wondering why I bring up the obvious. Everybody knows this. If you stop and talk to the first ten people you see, every single one of them will tell you that they know life is finite and that they will someday die.

However, most people don't live their lives with this in mind. People tend to live their lives as if they will live forever. People live their lives believing that there will always be more time to do the things that are meaningful to them.

you have a limited number of years, use them wisely

This questionnaire is an instrument that taps into ten valued domains of living. It assesses the perceived importance of each of these ten life domains and the degree to which you are living in accordance with this perceived importance.


Money has no value in and of itself. Money is only useful insofar as it can be traded for other things. In other words, money is a means to an end but can never be an end itself.

That's why when people look back on their lives from their deathbeds, they never regret not spending more time with their money or ruining more relationships to get more money. You can't take it with you, and there is no value in being the person who died with the most money.

Christopher Walken once said that if you knew how quickly people forget the dead, you would stop living to impress people. What would you do with your life if you didn't need to impress anyone?

money is not a goal


Rather than being a goal, money is a tool. Like other tools, it makes sense to know how to use it. It makes sense to tend and care for it. It also makes sense to understand what it's for. And much like any other tool, it can be used for good, and it can be used for evil. A hammer can be used to pound a nail into some wood, or it can be used to whack me in the kneecap.

Separating the idea that money is not a goal and is instead a tool helps you hop off the hedonic treadmill and helps you break from the endless pursuit of more. It helps you understand how much is enough.

money is a tool you can use to live your life

The Value Compass is designed to help you gain insight into your own values and how they guide your thoughts, feelings, and actions. It can be used to explore your personal goals and motivations, as well as to gain a better understanding of others' values and how they may differ from your own.


Once you understand that money is a tool, you can start to ask yourself what you need to use this tool for. You can define your financial purpose, which describes the role money plays in your life. Your financial purpose can become the lens through which you view your financial decisions to make sure you're using money in a way that is consistent with your financial purpose, most important values, and life aspirations.

having financial purpose allows you to live your life and be happy

Understanding the role money plays in your life helps you view money as a tool so that you can use it to design a life that you would be happy to look back on.

You get one life; live intentionally.


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Related Money Health® Reading
References and Influences

Barker, Dan: Life Driven Purpose

Ben-Shahar, Tal: Happier, No Matter What

Burkeman, Oliver: Four Thousand Weeks

Burkeman, Oliver: The Antidote

Dunn, Elizabeth & Michael Norton: Happy Money

Emmons, Robert: THANKS!

Hefferon, Kate & Ilona Boniwell: Positive Psychology

Ivtzan, Itai, Tim Lomas, Kate Hefferon & Piers Worth: Second Wave Positive Psychology

Kinder, George & Mary Rowland: Life Planning for You

Lindsay, James: Life in Light of Death

Manson, Mark: Everything is Fucked

McKay, Matthew, John Forsyth, and Georg Eifert: Your Life on Purpose

Millburn, Joshua Fields & Ryan Nicodemus: Essential

Sinek, Simon: Start With Why

Vos, Joel: Meaning in Life

Whelan, Christine: The Big Picture

Yalom, Irvin: Staring at the Sun

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.



About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


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