abtwixt

Doing things differently since 1984

Rethinking Money

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about money.  Not so much in terms of my bank balance, but about money itself.  We work to get money to get other things.   Most of us would like to get better work (meaning, higher paying work) in order to get more money to get more things.  This is one of the most universally accepted facts of our world today.

My question is this: Is money “good”?  How much do we really know about money?  And how much should we trust it?

Money has many advantages over bartering.Like with most things, in order to fully understand money we need to examine where it came from (shameless history plug #1!).  In the beginning, we invented money as a mode of convenience, like a central bartering tool, so that goods didn’t have to be directly exchanged with each other.  It was a key development toward complex societies.   We gave it its power.  Moreover, those who had easier access to it gave it its power.  But as the mode of exchange, it contained a great amount of power in and of itself.  That kind of power became the driving force of history, including some of its achievements and many of its ills.  For sure, money’s place in history has not always been “good”.

But how reliable is it?  At first, the power of money was contained within physical commodities that had to be produced.  Grain, cattle, and wine were among the first kinds of “money” to emerge.  Gradually, these gave way to precious metals and nonperishable luxury items.  In time, these were largely replaced with “symbols” of worth, in the form of tallies, promissory notes, and eventually paper currency.   Very recently, even the use of paper currency has been giving way to mere digits that define what quality of life we will be able to have.  Now, as many in this recession can attest, money is neither solid nor steadfast.  It is numbers that fluctuate only somewhat within our control.

Perhaps a better example would come by way of my great grandmother, who when she was alive passed on a valuable lesson.  My great grandmother, you see, was born in Germany, in the early 20th century.  Her father passed away when she was a child, and left her a sizeable inheritance, which she would have access to when she turned 18.  She was called “little rich girl” by those who knew about it.

In 1920's Germany, paper money was worth less than the wallpaper.

However, my grandmother’s teenage years arrived toward the end of World War I.  After Germany’s defeat, the Treaty of Versailles imposed severe penalties, which Germany tried to pay off by simply printing money, and the result was very rapid and severe inflation.  By the time she turned 18, the whole of my great grandmother’s inheritance, which was the product of many decades of her father’s work, bought her a single dress.  My great grandmother’s experience was no fable or proverb; it actually happened.  Those who rely on money think they can control it, but none of us hold that amount of power; none of us know the future.

So what does this all mean?  If money isn’t particularly “good” or reliable, then what do we make of it?

I want to introduce an idea that, if taken to heart, would radically transform our society.  The idea is this: money is a necessary evil.

OK, I know, this is pretty far down this entry to introduce a main idea, so I’ll repeat it: Money is a necessary evil.

I’m not saying we do away with the monetary system.  I’m not saying we quit our day jobs, or cease striving to make the kind of money we desire to get the needs and wants of our families fulfilled.  We’re too far down that path to make a reasonable reversal.  That’s why it’s “necessary”.  All I’m introducing is a change in perception.

Our perception of money makes a difference.  If money is “good”, then it is precious.  If it is reliable, people build their lives around it.  It is cherished and looked after, and not let go of easily into the untrustworthy world.  One truly cares about the good things in one’s life.  The things that we depend upon become the foundation of our ambitions.

If money is a necessary evil, however, it is no longer a family heirloom to be cherished.  One puts up with it for as long as it’s needed, but has no sentimental attachment to it.  No one seeks it beyond its necessary purpose, or puts it on display like a trophy.  One’s focus shifts from the pursuit of money itself, to the pursuit of things they want to accomplish in life, whether by money or some other way.  Generosity becomes easier, and greed (as in the desire to hoard money) becomes the ambition of fools.

All this is to say, don’t think that money is too wonderful a thing.  It’s not.  It is finicky, fleeting, and disloyal.  The things you want to buy with money — or, more importantly, the purposes you ultimately want to fulfill by buying things with money — those are the wonderful things.  So don’t let money go to your head.

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15 comments on “Rethinking Money

  1. offbeatonpurpose
    October 4, 2012

    Touche

  2. Sarcasticus Rex
    October 4, 2012

    I totally agree wth you. Money IS a necessary evil..It can ruin friendships, divide families, and make us do foolish, stupid things. Many people with too much tend to be greedy and want more. Many people with not enough will do those foolish, stupid things I mentioned before to get more.
    Money should be considered a tool. We use it to pay our bills and buy our groceries. We should on to it when we need to, and spend it when we have to, or when we want. If our goal in life is to pursue money, ignore the important things, then it is a wasted life.
    Great blog, and quite timely. A good reminder that my way of thinking isn’t as alien as I thought.

    • Randel
      October 4, 2012

      You are not alien at all. All the Wall Street Banks and Commercial Financial Institutions selling you the dream that money solves it all and with proper investment you can be rich and have a fabulous retirement lifestyle, those folks are the real aliens.

    • abtwixt
      October 5, 2012

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, and sorry for the late response! That’s a great metaphor, thinking of money as a tool. I agree with Randel that neither you or I are alone in thinking this… unfortunately, the prevailing values of our society make us feel alien! Then again, I’ve found that giving life a bit of extra thought often has that effect.

  3. Randel
    October 4, 2012

    Doesn’t the Bible say somewhere the Love of Money is the Root of Evil. The emphasis is on loving it which then creates evil. There is a lot truth to that. Your post reminds us to keep the concept of money in proper perspective. If money is a necessary evil, I would suggest, that on our coins and currency we remove the words In God We Trust, because the God I know would be insulted to be on money period, and especially so if it is a necessary evil. I would remove all the Presidents Heads too as they were all imperfect like all of us, and put on transcendent symbols like the American Eagle, or the Walking Liberty, the Buffalo. Time to rid our money of all idolatry.

    • abtwixt
      October 5, 2012

      Thank you for the comment – you bring up a very interesting idea! I had not thought about the association of God and people on our money making it more of a form of idolatry, but you have a very good point. I always chose to think of “In God We Trust” on our money as being a reminder that our ultimate trust should not be in money, but I may very well be quite alone in that thought.

      • Randel
        October 6, 2012

        Never thought of it the way you did as a reminder to not trust money. Not trusting money to dictate your values is a good way of thinking about the saying In God We Trust–another insight. Thank you.

  4. Three Well Beings
    October 7, 2012

    Your great-grandmother’s story does make a strong impression. It’s really terrible to lose an inheritance, but it seems to me your family’s circumstances have taught you some important values. We do need money to operate and live our ives, but I think that focusing on money instead of relationships can be a problem. That includes working too hard to simply make more of it. It’s good to think about how we do feel about money! Debra

    • abtwixt
      October 8, 2012

      Thank you for the comment, and I’m glad that my great-grandmother’s lessons can now be learned by many. I am sure she isn’t the only one to carry such a story. I hope it helps to improve your life in some way 🙂

  5. aFrankAngle
    October 7, 2012

    Many good thoughts in this post. Here are some random things that came to my mind while reading.

    At the beginning I was thinking “a medium of exchange” … and you hit that. 🙂

    I’m reminded of a former work colleague who used to say, “Anyone who doesn’t think money buys happiness doesn’t know where to shop.” He also used to brag how good he was with money. Interestingly, today he has a lot of debt and is not a happy person … then again, I don’t think he was ever happy.

    I think people do put money in a trophy case – but the case is not in glass attached to a wall … it’s in there home or their car. Why else would a family of 2 buy a mega house as they approach retirement? Other friends of ours who got a great promotion … but at times they flaunt it, and other times they forget that others need to be financially prudent. Needless to say, I sense our friendship is drifting apart.

    • abtwixt
      October 8, 2012

      Thanks for the comment, and well done for matching my mode of expression 😉

      I think your former work colleague and your other friend are good examples of the potential downfalls even here in the present of relying too much on money. As a medium of exchange, it can not offer anything truly valuable in and of itself… it can only be a tool used to get those valuable things, and as all tools it all depends on the one wielding it.

      Unfortunately, as you’ve seen, it’s all too easy to become blinded by the necessity of money as a means, and think that it’s an end. I’ve seen it too. Hence the inspiration of this post 🙂 Thank you for your input!!

      • aFrankAngle
        October 8, 2012

        Good stuff Alisha!

        When people think of money, it’s usually as official currency. Then again, if I offer you a bag of marbles in exchange for a bag of seed, … and you except … the marbles are money, the median for the exchange for me to get the seeds.

        Then again, if you didn’t accept the marbles, they are worthless in this transaction.

        • abtwixt
          October 8, 2012

          Right you are! Of course, to be “money”, the marbles would have to be accepted by at least the majority in the community as being worth something. Thank you for your thoughts!

          • aFrankAngle
            October 8, 2012

            🙂

  6. Pingback: How Much I Make... - Budget Strong : Budget Strong

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