What does money mean to you? Most of us believe that money represents freedom, security, or a way to keep score. My proposition is that money is none of these things, and I would like to propose that you can gain understanding of and use money as a tool, one of the resources you can draw upon to help you live the life you desire.
Why does it matter how we view money? You can be hurt by viewing money through an emotional prism. When you link money to emotions, you may make decisions based on these emotions that prevent you from using your wealth to its full potential. You can needlessly create lifelong anxiety that prevents you from viewing your wealth in its proper context or imagining how you want to use your money. It is as if you were using the wrong map to navigate. No matter how carefully you follow your map, it will not lead you where you want to go. Similarly, misperceptions about money can steer you off course and prevent you from getting where you want to go.
When you are young and of modest means, mistakenly believing that money represents security, for example, can encourage you to increase earn more and spend less to feel more secure. But once you become wealthy, continuing to link money to emotions can be harmful because it can artificially restrict your ability to use your money. The thought habit that served you in your youth can become a lifelong habit that is hard to shake.
If you view money as freedom, then – by definition – you have less freedom if you have less money. So, while your wealth may give you the opportunity to use your money to enhance your life, enrich the lives of people you love, or create a legacy, you feel anxious whenever you spend or lose money. Your mindset can stop you from spending money, and you and your family may lose out. Ironically, by viewing money as freedom, you can actually feel more restricted and less free.
If you view money as security, then you feel more insecure if you have less money. While these emotions feel very real to you, you likely experience anxiety needlessly or way out of proportion to the real threat. For wealthy people, the difference between a few percentage points in their investment return or net worth is meaningless in terms of whether or not you really are secure. But by equating money with security, any market retreat or indulgence can make you feel insecure, even when the real effect may be negligible.
If you view money as a way to keep score, then you may value money rather than what money can do for you. When money becomes a value in itself, you define your self worth by your net worth. You can lose sight of how you can use your wealth to benefit the people you love and the causes you hold dear. What matters in life is having enough money and using it to create the life you desire, not the money itself. Moreover, using money as a benchmark for success is a race you cannot hope to win. Bill Gates & Warren Buffet have a head start and a huge lead. Even if you were to limit your competition to your golfing foursome, when and how would you ever be crowned victor?
We encourage you not to tie success to achieving the most wealth or on some arbitrary number, but on attaining your Number. Your Number is the finite amount of money you actually need to lead the life you desire. Comparing your net worth to an arbitrary figure or your neighbor’s wealth can be especially destructive to very successful people since it can drive you to keep running on the hamster wheel instead of figuring out how you want to use your wealth to create the life you want and shape the world you live in.
People who view money as freedom, security and the like can feel insecure no matter how much wealth they have. We see very wealthy people who are afraid that they will be bankrupt any minute. A qualified financial professional can help you calculate, to a reasonable degree of certainty, how much money you actually need to be financially secure. If you discover that you are fortunate enough to have surpassed your Number – and if you can let go of the emotional associations to money and understand that money is a tool to help you create a meaningful life – you can then stop wasting your time and energy worrying about your money and begin the exciting part of figuring out what to do with the wealth you have accumulated.
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David Geller is the co-creator of Guided Wealth Transformation™, a series of guided conversations that help people use all aspects of their wealth (not just their money) to create the life they desire and enhance the lives of people they care about. <Learn more about David>