“I want more money.” “I need to save more money.” “I wish I had more money.” I hear these phrases all the time — and I’ve been guilty of saying them myself, too. While it’s natural to think this way about finances, doing so only creates more stress around money. Why? What’s wrong with “more money?” Isn’t that what we’re all striving for, anyway? A lot of the time, yes, people get caught up in the idea of “more money” as a goal (and as a solution to the problems they currently face). There’s an issue with treating that as the ultimate goal, though. Make “more money” your goal, and you will never feel satisfied that you have enough.
When Is More Money Enough Money?
Money is everywhere in society. That’s a fact, not a judgment. And it’s not a bad thing! Money helps us function every day. It helps us get what we need and a lot of what we want. You need money for everything in life: from paying your bills to covering your other expenses. Money makes life easier. It can even make you happier too. (Really! You just need to know how to use it right.)
Given that money is essential for most people, of course, we’re hyper-focused on it. I’ve never met anyone who can’t generate a list of things on which they would spend money if provided the means to do so. And that speaks to the truth that having “more” as a goal makes it almost impossible to define “enough.”
Understanding Your Commitments and Values
Dream with me for a minute. Step outside your current financial circumstances and make a list of what you would do with $100,000,000 this week. (The amount is minor — the point is to picture a specific, yet hard-to-really-imagine amount.)
Maybe you’d buy a bigger house. Maybe you’d buy lots of bigger houses for every member of your family. Perhaps you’d get a private jet and take off to an exotic destination you’ve only dreamed of seeing. And we’d probably all quit our jobs, immediately.
Now, make another list of what you would do with an additional $100,000,000 next week.
There might be some more material goods on this list; since you got the plane last week, maybe next week it’s the yacht. At this point, though, your shopping list might be all checked off (a hundred million bucks buys a lot of stuff, after all), so perhaps instead you start thinking of things you could do or dreams you could accomplish: Start a business, become a philanthropist, establish an endowment fund, invest in amazing new technologies…
Now let’s say the week after that, I handed you another $100,000,000. What would you do with that cash?
Maybe you have more things you’d buy. But many people start struggling to come up with stuff at this point. Which is the idea: going through this exercise should help you clear your mind of the material items and desires for instant gratification that tend to clutter your thinking when you’re used to operating with a finite supply of cash. There’s always something to lust after; always something that someone else has that you don’t — and that can distract you from what you truly value. What tends to happen with this thought experiment is that, as you exhaust your list of superficial and material items, you start freeing up space and energy to focus on what’s really important to you. That’s the deep-down stuff that you don’t often get to consider in the day-to-day worry about what you need money for at the moment (or even long-term, like the day you want to eventually retire).
It’s when you start thinking about those things — things beyond material stuff and luxury goods and flashy status symbols — you might get a lot of clarity around what truly matters most.
That’s a good place to work from if you want to create a clear vision for how to use your money as a tool to achieve the most important things in life.
Money Is a Tool, Which Is Why You Need Financial Goals Beyond “More”
Chasing more money is a futile journey that will only leads you to stress and perpetual frustration. If your goal is more money, prepare to feel like you never have enough. There is always “more” money to try and get, so you can spend “more” on material and experiential things. It’s hard to feel satisfied when life becomes a series of instances where you find yourself thinking, need more, need more, need more.
Go back to that list you created above and see if you can identify the specific goals that would actually make a positive difference in your life.
That might be something like “take a chance on that business idea I’ve had for years,” or “create a nonprofit,” or “develop a foundation for a cause I care about.” It might revolve around funding a legacy that goes beyond you and your immediate family but touches thousands of people. What you won’t find on the list of things you created is something like “get more money.” Wouldn’t it be ridiculous to add money to a list of things you would buy with a virtually unlimited supply of cash? So why would you ever have “get more money” as one of your specific goals?
Money is a tool. A means to an end… but not it’s not the end itself. If we can understand that money is a tool that we can use to help us achieve what we want, we can set more appropriate goals for ourselves and actually have our finances bring more fulfillment and satisfaction to our lives.
Setting (and Achieving) Goals That Matter
Once you create more specific, values-based goals for yourself, the next step is to categorize and prioritize them by importance. And then you can quantify them.
- How much will each goal cost you?
- What’s the timeline for each of your goals (in other words, by when do you want to accomplish them)?
- Is it possible to save enough money for each by the specified time? If not, can you cut out some of the cost or extend the date? What if you dropped the lower level items on the list and simply focused on the high priority goals?
This process should show you a few things:
- What is truly important to you.
- That money is not actually a goal. Money is a tool that will make achieving your goals possible.
- Goals are flexible and can be adjusted to fit your financial circumstances.
- Satisfaction is within your reach… we just need to plan for it.