Money. It’s a ubiquitous subject in our lives. We spend much of our time pursuing it, amassing it, spending it, and worrying about it. We write books about managing it, keeping it, and making sure that others don’t take it. We invest it and look for profits. We worry about ROIs, a rate of return, interest rates, and market security. Money permeates our physical world and our mental spaces.
However, wealth should not be viewed as simply the liquid cash in our bank accounts. Instead, physical wealth is the sum of both our cash but also the physical resources which we have acquired over time: land, houses, cars, materials, investments, etc.
As we acquire wealth or manage our weekly incomes, we are faced with the continuous question: what should we do with this money? There are, of course, the necessities that we need to cover: shelter, food, and the functions of life. There are discretionary purchases and things we are saving for. But on a deeper level, the question behind the question is this: what does my view (and use) of money say about how I understand the world? And how do money and wealth fit into our pursuit of a life well-lived?
It’s Part Of The Toolbox
In the pursuit of a life well lived, money is one of the many tools in our toolbox, but it’s far from our only area of impact. Wealth is an amplifier and a force multiplier. As we have more financial resources, our ability to express our priorities, values, and create an impact in the world for those same things, will be increased. It’s the reason that the Koch brothers and George Soros can fund political commercials during elections and you and I cannot.
Money is one of the resources we each have in our lives, but too often we think of it as our only resource. Each of us is better equipped than we realize. We possess our own time, attention, energy, imagination, skills, and relationships. Money factors as part of the overall package, but there is so much work that can be done in our lives, using a whole arsenal of resources without spending a dime. It costs us nothing to have a conversation, to dream, to start working on a goal or project. There’s no entry fee for learning new skills, being inquisitive, or finding a mentor. If we elevate money, we too easily lose sight of our other means of growth and improvement.
The healthy use and view of money requires a diminishing of the idea of possession and an increasing of the idea of stewardship. Riches are fleeting and at the end of our life, we will exit this world and someone else will get all of our stuff. Because of the nature of our existence, our wealth is transitory. What we possess financially, we only have in our power for mere moments.
Stewardship is a very freeing concept when it comes to money. While not being a spendthrift with our finances, understanding that our finances are temporary is quite liberating. We don’t need to obsess about our bank accounts, wages, investments, or financial ventures. It’s healthy and profitable to be diligent and responsible with our resources, but as money moves in and out of our lives, we should understand that we are only momentarily dipping our hands into a continuously moving stream. (Recommendation: Pastor Rodney Kleyn has presented a variety of lectures which directly address this idea of stewardship in even more detail).
Too often we mis-align our striving for security with a focus on money. We all live in an uncertain world and we attempt to bolster and protect our lives and households with financial resources. We start to place a great amount of trust in these financial resources and our unwritten scripts turn to some version of the following:
I want to have money to ensure comfort.
I want to have money to buy my desires.
I want to have money to purchase solutions.
There’s nothing wrong with comfort, desire, or solutions; as long as they are healthy, profitable, and assisting us in achieving our goals. But money cannot be our foundation of security or purpose. We should be pursuing a life well lived, and challenging ourselves with difficult questions, regardless of how much cash we have on hand.
How Much Does A Man Need?
According to the conclusion of the widely published 2010 study by Princeton University researchers, an individual income in America of $75,000 is the tipping point of happiness. Up to that threshold, more dollars add to greater happiness. After that threshold, there is a diminishing return for each dollar added. (This conclusion simply follows the tried and true economic Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility) The study was an attempt to put a dollar amount to a truth that many of us intrinsically know: that at a certain point, money becomes less and less impactful on our level of contentment and sense of purpose. I would argue that this point is far short of the $75,000 level cited by the study.
We have an expression in our household: we own a coffee percolator, what more do we need? We joke about it but the expression actually anchors our thinking back to reality: what do we really value and enjoy each day? A hot cup of good coffee. Do we need to kill ourselves working 60+ hours a week, seeking to amass a financial fortune (or even $75,000), in order to enjoy this daily refreshment? Hardly.
Just because we can pursue it, does not mean we should. Just because we can pursue it, does not mean that we even need it. Despite millennia of both religious and secular thought that warn us about the dangers of pursuing riches for riches sake; we often cannot shake our desire for increasingly amassing more and more treasure. How much does a man need?
For many of us, if we reflect on times past when we were happiest, most fulfilled, or most purpose-driven; were we enjoying a wealth of physical riches in those moments and seasons? Oftentimes we were not. Our focus in those times was less about money and more about experiences and relationships, specifically experiences or people which aligned with our priorities and goals. Why do then we associate future success with an arbitrary amount of cash on hand? Why do we think there is a dollar amount that we “need” in our lives?
Instead of pursuing solely money, perhaps we should ask ourselves the following questions:
Are we pursuing comfort or purpose?
Do we seek and desire leisure or usefulness?
And we should examine how we using our money to support our efforts in answer to those questions. Our lives will be an expression of our priorities. For our lives, money simply represents an assignment of value: our priorities and values are shown by where our money goes. We would do well to watch it carefully and understand it fully.
How do you approach money: is it a tool or a goal?
How has your thinking changed about money over the years?
Originally published at fjwriting.com on December 14, 2018.