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The meaning of money

Money has been around longer than writing, so it’s difficult to know for sure when, why and how the idea of money first came into being. But whoever came up with it, whether it was the Mesopotamians with their shekels or the native Africans with their cowrie shells, I’m pretty sure they didn’t know what they were getting us all into.

Because money has become much more than simply a convenient medium of exchange for goods or services. It has become a way of assigning value to the things around us, from the houses that we live in to the companies that we work for. From the biodiversity of the natural world to the clean air that need in order to breathe.

The money that we earn, that we possess and that we spend has also become the way in which we measure our own worth and that of others with whom we come into contact.

This has led us to develop an unhealthy relationship with money. We’ve come to need money to feel good about ourselves. Or rather, we’ve come to need the things that money can buy us. Like the expensive phones, the shiny cars and the exotic holidays in far-off locations. Because we’re worth it. And if we can’t afford to buy something, we take out a loan or stick it on a credit card.

People talk about money being power. But perhaps more relevant, and less commonly discussed, is money’s power over us.

I’m on a bit of a personal quest to change my relationship with money and to reclaim for myself the power that it holds. But it’s hard. Because I like – or, perhaps, have become conditioned to like – nice things. I like stuff. And, on reflection, I realise that I have tended to buy things – or simply to spend money – to help me feel better about myself or about some aspect of my life.

This is painfully apparent in the number of things I have bought but don’t really use on a regular basis. Or, in some cases, haven’t used at all.

This would aggravate Aristotle, by the way, who wrote in Rhetoric that “being wealthy consists rather in use than in possession; for the actualization and use of such things is wealth.” So let’s not tell him about my snorkelling gear, my sit-on-top kayak or the large telescope in my living room.

I read the other day that if you want to make small changes, you need to change how you do things, but if you want to make big changes, you need to change how you see things. I think that’s exactly where I’m at here. And so I’m working hard to change the way I see money and the way in which I spend it.

For me, this started with thinking about what I value in life. Time with my wife and the dogs. Having autonomy in my work and career. Exercise in the outdoors. Reading. Growing things in the garden. All relatively modest, to be honest, and none really requiring a huge financial investment.

Next was reviewing what I spend and how well this aligns with what’s important to me. I wouldn’t say I was a profligate spender on a day-to-day basis, but this approach has helped me to avoid the random purchases of expensive outdoor kit that tended to lead to awkward conversations with my wife.

More importantly, though, it’s changed how I think about spending money. I’m a lot more mindful about money and, even after just a few months, much better at differentiating between what I want at any given point in time (new trainers, tweed jacket, new paddleboard paddle, running bootees for the dog) and what I actually need (none of these).

This more focused and more frugal mindset is having a gratifyingly positive impact on my bank balance, which is allowing me to save more (more about this in a future blog post) and to have more confident conversations with my wife about our financial plans for the future (more about this is a future blog post, too).

But perhaps most importantly, it’s not just changing my relationship with money. It’s helping me to identify and to focus on the things that I truly value in my life.

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Image: Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Disclaimer: I’m not a financial advisor. The information on my blog doesn’t constitute financial advice or recommendation and shouldn’t be considered as such.





2 responses to “The meaning of money”

  1. Jenny Barnes Avatar
    Jenny Barnes

    “Argonauts of the Western Pacific” describes how people exchanged value without money. Indeed, think of how most people will willingly give a friend (say) spare produce from their garden or allotment, the expectation being that if they ask for something later it will also be given.

    1. Simon Perks Avatar

      This sounds fascinating – I shall check it out. The sort of informal and barter economy you describe, together with how it can reinforce family and community ties, is something that interests me a great deal. Thanks for the tip!

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