What Is The Purpose of Money?

Ann Pettifor – The Evolution of Money

Money began as a promise to pay while exchanging goods or services.  For example, if you did something for someone else (like help fix their roof) and they were supposed to do something for you in exchange (like make you three pairs of shoes), then they’d give money as a promise to pay.  Money created an agreed-upon way of exchanging goods and services.

Claudia Hammond – The Psychology of Money – Here is a more detailed, 23-minute video that explains the deeper psychological ties that impact our relationship with money.

A few quick take-aways about money from that video: 

  1. It gives us a societal collective story that we can all share and buy into.
  2. It acts as a future reward.
  3. It’s a system that allows us to trade and trust others who we don’t know.

Purchases Are a Form of Investment

Our expenditures point to the things we value.  Our purchases are an investment, at least the larger ones are.  Obviously we don’t want to take this example too literally and begin questioning our $.25 gumball purchases. However money is a means of investing in the things we value: people, quality time, financial freedom, comfort, health, love, etc.  A common example is saving up money to go on a family vacation. Family vacations are a common way of investing in quality time with our family, making memories, or our sense of rest.

The important piece here is to assess the “why” behind our financial decisions.  For instance, let’s say we are down to our last $20 and decide to spend money eating out.  If that money is spent to connect with a friend, that money can become an investment in our friendships. If we’re choosing to eat at the same restaurant because of its organic healthy nature, that meal can serve as an investment in our physical health.  That same money can also be an investment in our sense of loneliness, boredom, or lack of impulse control if used to buy food that we didn’t need or will later regret. 

Two Quick Questions we can ask ourselves when making medium or larger purchases are:

  1. What am I investing in?
  2. Is this something that I feel happy/proud to be investing in?” 

Asking these two questions allows us to assess how we feel about where our money is going.

What if we don’t know what to invest in to have the most happiness or meaning though?   Below are a few quick places we can invest to help lead a more meaningful life:

  • Ourselves – Kyle Cease (links to his book The Illusion of Money) recommends that even more so than stocks or Bonds, investing in ourselves via classes, workshops, health, or things like mental health enables us to tap into our highest creativity, sense of joy, or love.  
  • Our relationships  – community or relationships are the proven source of the greatest return on happiness
  • Our Passions– What things do we love doing?  Let’s go do some of them!
  • Our Health and Wellness – Working out, drinking water, eating healthy, and counseling are all great ways to boost our Serotonin and leave us feeling a longer-term sense of joy.
  • Our Sense of Happiness – How do we do that? Sit down and reflect over the last month or even year.  When was a time or activity in which we felt an abundance of happiness? Once a thing or two has come to mind, commit to putting that on the calendar this week.

Some Ways We Use Money

  • We use money as a means to meet our needs.  Needs are universal to all humans and are things like acceptance, belonging, love,  and autonomy. We will all need these things at various points in our lives in different amounts 
  • We use money as a means to prove our status or self-worth.
  • We use money to provide us a sense of security.
  • We use money as a means of making more money (investments).
  • We use money as a distraction. Pursuing money gives us an arbitrary (yet socially affirmed) goal to pursue so we don’t need to bother taking the time to figure out what makes us happy or gives our lives meaning.
  • We use money as an attempt to buy happiness ( Type 1 and Type 2).
Try This: What is the Purpose of Money in Your Life?

Join us in this 6 minute activity as we figure out how to give money more purpose in life.

  1. If you could buy any one characteristic or thing, what would it be?
    Free time
    Rest and relaxation
    More options in life
    Mental growth/learning new things
    Physical health/wellness
    Emotional health/wellness
    Play/fun
    Giving to a cause that you believe in
    Quality time with a loved one
    Status/recognition
    Power
    Less stress
    Doing something nice for a loved one
    Other:_______________________

  2. If you were given an extra 10% raise each week, what would you spend your money on?
    1. _________________________________________________
  3. What is the one way of spending money over the last year that you feel the best about?
    1. _________________________________________________
  4. When you get a paycheck, what are you most excited to spend money on?
    1. _________________________________________________
  5. If you could only purchase any one of these things, which would it be?
    1. A new experience/cherished memory
    2. Any one new object/item
    3. A new perspective/knowledge
    4. A better relationship with yourself
  6. After your basic expenses, what is the one area where most of your disposable income goes?
    1. _________________________________________________
  7. If you had to create a philosophy for what you feel money should be spent on, what would it be?
    1. _________________________________________________

The Context Matters

We use various shortcuts to make quick judgments about a product’s worth.  A common example is that a product is viewed as more valuable if we charge more for said product.  While one might think that giving something away for free might be a “kind” thing to do, it could also have the opposite effect, leading the recipient to believe that the product has little value.  When we give little for something, it is subconscious to assume that it will be of little value to you.

Exchanging Small vs. Large Amounts of Money

Cash used to be a common means of purchasing items. Now we can run through our whole paycheck without ever seeing any of that money in cash.  Often times we buy something with a credit card, a number gets transferred to our bank account, the number in our account gets smaller based off of us swiping a piece of plastic, and yet all the while, we’re never seeing this money.  Doesn’t it feel a little more distant than the days of doing chores and getting a $5 bill that we could put in our piggy bank?

Check out the following video, “When Money Isn’t Real: the $10,000 Experiment” with Adam Carroll. In this 16-minute TED talk, we learn how much easier it is to spend and amass debt when we don’t actually see the money.

A dad observed his kids playing Monopoly over and over again, and playing in ways that seemed odd to him.  He thought, “What if they’re playing this way because the money isn’t real?” This concept is called Financial Abstraction, when there aren’t real consequences for spending the money.  So he decided to take out $10,000 from the bank, bring it home, and allow his kids to play Monopoly with it to observe what would happen.

  • He noticed that 2 of the 3 kids played completely differently- more financially astute or managing the money as if it were real
  • He decided to also explore the dangers of ‘playing with Monopoly money’ in real life (such as swiping our credit card, using gift cards, student debt, or other forms of removing one’s self from the actual cash).  Here are a couple highlights from Carroll’s talk:
    • People spend 12% to 18% more using a credit card vs. when they are spending cash
    • Student debt is at an all time high at $1.41 trillion and rising.
    • Many kids grow up equating money with cards (debit/credit), enabling them to spend money without ever physically seeing it.  This situation makes it easier for an individual to get in over their head quickly.
    • A study found that most successful business leaders had the opportunity to step into a position where their results came with serious consequences when first put into positions of leadership and had a mentor to help guide/direct them as a manager/leader
    • He recommends giving kids a budget and letting them spend the money themselves on school clothes or whatever you give them the budget for.  Let them learn the lesson of financial management the hard way when they’re young vs. when they get older and the stakes are high.

We exchange small amounts of money fairly easy, thoughtlessly, and without much thought.   With larger amounts of money (or even purchases like a phone), we will commonly go on a 2 year-plan, owing part of our time/money to, let’s say Verizon.  We’ll also take out 5-year loans for a car without first taking the time to plan out what the next 5 years of our lives will look like.

Quick Question:
What one piece of advice do you wish you would have received when going from school into the real world?

Comparing Price (Value Shopping)

Would you like a Tall, Grande, or Vente? To those who frequent Starbucks, these choices probably sound familiar. So wait, a small is really called a “Tall” and I can get the largest size for only 99 cents more?  Those hip to marketing have discovered that comparison has just as much to do with our perception of value as the value itself.

When it comes to coffee sizes, most people will end up taking the middle option, steering away from the extremes, this is called the compromise effect because it’s compromising between the two extremes.

Kent Hendricks shares how,  “Marketers exploit your desire to compromise by starting with the product they want you to buy and constructing extremes around it to make it more appealing. But when Starbucks dropped the Short size from the menu and added the Venti (larger) size, the Grande (medium) became the middle—and most frequently selected—option. (You might not know the Short size still exists. It’s just unlisted.)”

Choices

Science Daily reveals that, “a company evaluated by consumers as better than its competitors in terms of corporate reputation commands around a 9% premium for its products, and an even higher premium when there are desirable extra features.”  People will pay more for brands they like or trust. Sales teaches that people make decisions with their emotions, and then later justify those decisions with logic.

Money offered/Not Desired (Volunteers)

Going down to the local soup kitchen and trying to give each volunteer a $20 bill for their day’s work might go over poorly. Volunteering is an example of a scenario where money is undesired, or maybe just less desired.  Money is not always the motivation, and even sometimes has a negative connotation when tied to charitable work or work that people do “for the love of it.” Another example might be watching a kid fall off their bike and scrape their knee. Another parent might run over and help the child up out of a sense of contribution or service. If the child’s parent tried to give the Good Samaritan a $100 bill for helping the child, once again, the money would often be refused or maybe even an insult.

Quick Question:
What are a few things, if anything, that you would volunteer your time and not want to be paid to do?

Everything Has a Price Tag

The Birth and Death of the Price Tag

This podcast by Planet Money via NPR points out how now, “everything” has a price tag on it.  Going to a grocery store was once an exercise in negotiation, as they explain:

“The world used to operate like: “Say I have a store and – I don’t know – I’m selling eggs. And a guy walks in, and he looks like he has all day to haggle. And he’s really been scouting out the best place to buy eggs. So I sell him a dozen eggs for a buck 50.
GOLDSTEIN: So then, a few minutes later, somebody else comes in. This guy’s wearing fancy shoes, clearly does not have a lot of time to haggle. So you sell him eggs for twice as much. You sell him eggs for 3 bucks.  This was just the way things were, and almost everybody accepted it,” Except the Quakers, They would have a fixed price. The Quaker would – the merchant would say what the price is, and that price would be the same for everybody.”

Many of us have become accustomed to everything having a price tag.  For instance, walking into most stores, we expect to pay a set price for our groceries.  This fixed pricing though hasn’t completely taken over. The world of non-fixed pricing still exists in many places, based off of supply and demand.  Many flea markets and Bazaars still rely on haggling.  

The emergence of fixed pricing has helped us adopt a more universal concept of product value.  The world has learned to use money to assign a value to almost everything and everyone. We’ve even learned to see ourselves with a price tag. We now go to a job, and become accustomed to a certain amount per hour or per year of work.  This number becomes our value to society, and we can begin to see our worth in tandem with this number. How has this way of thinking impacted us? The following quote by George Lorimer, a former editor of the Saturday Evening Post, offers perspective on remembering the things that we can’t put a price tag on:

“It’s good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s good, too, to check up once in a while and make sure that you haven’t lost the things that money can’t buy.” —George Lorimer

Quick Quiz:
  1. Is there anything in life that you feel should not have a price on it?
    1. __________________________________________________
  2. What is your price tag to buy a day of your time? Feel free to answer using things other than money too, that you would want to be paid in.
    1. __________________________________________________
    2. __________________________________________________
    3. __________________________________________________
    4. __________________________________________________

The Purpose of Money to Us as Individuals

Money is a Mirror

Our spending shows us what we value.  But what if after looking at our bank statement or purchases we say, “Wait, there are so many random purchases on here.  Where did all of my money go?” What story could money be trying to tell us in this case?

One of the most likely stories is that we have yet to figure out what things are truly most important to us.  When this is the case, money can seem like it’s slipping through our fingertips. Let’s think of money like sand.  If we have a purpose for our money and are trying to build a sand castle, it’s easy to conserve each grain of sand and put it to use building this sandcastle.  However, if we haven’t yet figured out a purpose yet for this money, the individual grains of sand can slowly blow away, until we have little left.

Money can also be a beacon to show us our patterns, what we buy when we’re feeling down, our temporary sources of happiness, or how long we’re willing to delay pleasure.

The mirror could also be telling us that we’re using money to try to meet some of our needs.  Common needs we can try to use money to buy are:

  • Acceptance or belonging (buying certain clothes, cars, houses, etc.)
  • Validation or self worth (buying status symbols like watches or jewelry)
  • Short-term happiness (“flashy” things)
  • Connection (eating out or social gatherings)

“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” –Joe Biden

Quick Question:

If an outsider was to only look at how you spend your money, what would they say are your top 5 values?

  1. ________________________________________________
  2. ________________________________________________
  3. ________________________________________________
  4. ________________________________________________
  5. ________________________________________________

Buying a Successful Identity

One of the biggest purposes of money is as an enabler that allows us to express our identity.  We talk about how money impacts our identity more in depth here.  In short:

  • Our purchases help affirm who we are.  We spend money in accordance with our values and use money to create our ideal world around us.
  • Our stories about money form a large piece of how we see and interact with the world.
  • Our various relationships with money range from incredibly practical and mathematical to rooted in the deepest parts of our memories.  To some, buying shoes, a massage, or new clothes might be akin to buying the feelings of love. To others, money is strictly a tool for investing in future goals. 
  • We often connect our means of making money with our place and purpose in the world.
  • Money is used to help meet some of our most essential human needs like safety, love, belonging, and acceptance.
  • Money also plays a major role in helping us feel “successful.”  In fact many look to money and work as the two main factors when examining success.  Money provides a measuring stick for us to compare how successful we are. Success is rooted in social comparison and is mainly about us feeling more successful than our peers.  Success externally is fun to achieve, yet rarely provides the meaningful sense of purpose we desire.  We take a or a more in-depth look at our relationship with success here.

“Money is like water. It can be a conduit for commitment, a currency of love. Money moving in the direction of our highest commitments nourishes our world and ourselves. What you appreciate appreciates. When you make a difference with what you have, it expands. Collaboration creates prosperity. True abundance flows from enough; never from more. Money carries our intention. If we use it with integrity, then it carries integrity forward. Know the flow—take responsibility for the way your money moves in the world. Let your soul inform your money and your money express your soul. ” ― Lynne Twist, The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life

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