What is the true value of money? This seems like an academic question doesn’t it? One I could answer with a two-second Google search, but somehow I don’t think Google will provide the answer I’m looking for.
The Value of Money: Purchasing Power
Over the years I’ve valued money for many different reasons. When I was a kid I used money solely for fun and games. I bought toys when I was a tiny tot and concert tickets as I grew older.
In college, money bought my groceries and allowed me to pump gas into my beat-up old car. After graduation, it paid for my rent, car payments, and utilities.
Beginning at the ripe old age of nine I began to exchange my time for money. I performed chores for my parents and babysat for the neighbors. Later I worked as a teacher’s assistant, desk receptionist, and intern for a state senator. I provided museum tours, produced marketing materials, and wrote code for a living too.
After graduation the power of money was obvious. Left on my own to pay the bills I recognized the true value of money. Money paid for my food, shelter, and transportation. It covered the first rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Money paid for my basic physiological needs and enabled me to survive.
In the beginning, it makes sense to view money this way. You can’t focus on the greater purposes of money if you are simply trying to feed yourself and stay out of the cold.
But what happens after your paychecks cover your rent, food, and transportation? Do you take time to reflect on the value of money? I didn’t. When my basic needs were met I asked myself, “What else can money buy?”
Buying More Than I Need
As a kid I remember my grandmother coming home from a long day of shopping, dropping her bags on the table, and telling me how much money she saved.
“I bought this $100 dress for $20,” she would tell me, “and I saved 50% on this winter coat too.” When I began paying my own bills I would tell her all about my savings. “I bought $50 worth of stuff for $5,” I exclaimed proudly holding up my receipt for her to see.
On paper, the numbers looked great, but I missed the point that I was still spending money on stuff I didn’t need.
The Power of Money: Not Just About Buying Power
When I focused on the purchasing power of money I found myself in a constant battle with clutter. I dumped the contents of my closets out onto my bed year after year, sorting through the clothes I didn’t want or need.
The cycle of cleaning, clearing and decluttering never seemed to stop. I found so much of my life being overtaken by moving my belongings from Point A to Point B only to move them back again.
I bought shelves and large pieces of furniture to house all of these items, but the systems never seemed to work. Rather than realizing this broken cycle, I’d try a different system the next time.
It never dawned on me that I wasn’t saving money when I went to the store. I was still spending. I was simply spending less.
The Value of Money: Safety and Security
I’ve always been a saver and while I continued to spend money I sure socked away a bunch too. As the money piled into my bank accounts I began to value money for different reasons. Money didn’t just provide things. It began to provide safety and security.
At some point, I had enough in savings to stop worrying about paying my monthly bills. Money began to reduce my financial fears, stress, and anxiety.
The Value of Money: A Life Full of Options
Once I felt safe and secure I continued climbing the financial rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Money didn’t just help me survive or help me feel safe and secure. It began to provide options far above and beyond my wildest dreams.
It provided me with the ability to step away from work so I could stay-at-home with my children. In the midst of a pandemic, it gives me the option to homeschool them if I choose.
It provides me with the ability to search for work that I enjoy and to write in this blog as time permits.
Don’t get me wrong. Money still pays the bills. It’s still used to pay for food, transportation and utilities, but beyond that, we don’t buy much. We don’t need lots of toys and gadgets. We don’t eat out or fill our closets with clothes.
Some people think that sounds downright awful, but let me be clear this is not a sacrifice. I am not forgoing things I need or value. It’s just that the things I value aren’t actually things.
Money bought me time with my family. It bought the flexibility to take another year off work after I planned to return. Money gives me the option to move to a different house before selling off my first one. It gives my husband the flexibility to take extended amounts of leave.
Free Your Mind
When I was younger I came up with all sorts of tricks to convince myself to stop buying stuff. I shopped without a grocery cart and taped a picture with a large red “X” on my credit card so I wouldn’t spend excessively.
Then one day I didn’t have to play those tricks anymore. I stopped wanting so much stuff. It’s like someone pulled the plug on my hedonic treadmill.
Have you ever watched the Matrix? Do you know the scene where Morpheus encourages Neo to break free from the matrix?
In that scene, Morpheus says, “I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it. You have to let it all go, Neo. Fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your mind.”
I’d like to say I had a moment like that, but it wasn’t really one particular moment in time. It wasn’t a sign that I should change my ways or an incident that changed me.
I began to realize that the true value of money is not the stuff that it can buy. It’s not the purchasing power and the never-ending Amazon wish list. It’s the financial freedom to live the life you want to live.
Just like Morpheus I cannot convince you of this fact. You have to believe it for yourself. You have to step above the first rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, (which unfortunately many people do not have the ability to do), and then continue climbing.
I needed to step over the rungs slowly and carefully. I needed to be able to pay for the necessities and feel secure with my bank accounts before I could move on. Without those steps I couldn’t see the options and freedom money can buy.
The value of money is more than it’s purchasing power. It is so much more than that!
6 thoughts on “The Value of Money: It’s Much More Than You Think”
I agree completely. I didn’t start out wanting to retire early, I started out as a great saver because I liked watching my stash grow and I loved the feeling that if I really needed something, I’d have enough money to cover the emergency. I have always had this secret fear of being helpless and having a big emergency fund made me sleep better. Friends have long teased me about being cheap, but the truth is, I wanted “safe” more than I wanted stuff.
Now that I only work part time I can tell you that not being in a hurry all the time, and more time with my family is much better than new shoes I didn’t need anyway.
This comment made me sigh a little. Like you I was always a saver, but I still wasted money along the way. I wish I would’ve learned to focus on the things I really cared about rather than stuff I didn’t. I wish I could take back the days I spent walking through HomeGoods looking for the perfect lamp, when I could’ve been out enjoying the weather. It’s not an either/or type world. We can certainly shop and enjoy the rest of our lives, but as a consumer driven society it took me a little too long to recognize that fact.
It helps that I hate to shop and I’m TERRIBLE at decorating.
That makes 2 of us!
I agree, one thing that people totally forget and overlook is that once you spend money ITS GONE. It never comes back, you will be eternally without that money that could have been invested in a mutual fund or index fund and could have been 10x (or more) 20 years from now. It is really important to think about that. Next time you are choosing between a 40k car and a 60k car remember that that 20k could be 100k in 20 years. Sometimes its insanely smart to delay purchases or settle for a slightly lesser option so that down the line you have much more financial resources.
That’s so true. The real question is what does the $60,000 car buy you that the $40,000 car does not. Most of us will be just as happy riding in either. We tell ourselves we need more, but in reality we need less. The more I get rid of things and downsize my life the more I come to appreciate the things I do own.