Money Is Not Your Enemy or a Goal, It’s a Tool

September 9, 2016

Most of us don’t have a healthy relationship with money. We think of it as enemy—something that constantly gets in our way, or we think of it as a goal, something that will solve all of our problems. In reality, money is just a tool. Realizing this changed my habits in some interesting ways.

It’s easy to say “money is just a tool” when you have a lot of it, though. When you don’t, it feels impossible to look at money this way because so many of our problems are money problems, and those problems are big: you can’t afford rent, you can’t afford to leave your terrible job, you can’t afford to travel outside of your neighborhood. It’s impossible to see money as a tool because money is an enemy. Or, like me, you see money as a goal, a solution, and you allow it to run your life.

Money is not the enemy or the goal, though. It’s just a thing you use on your priorities. Sometimes your priority is just keeping your head above water and paying rent. You depend on money in this case, but it’s still a tool.

The truth is, though, those problems don’t magically go away just because you say, “okay, money’s a tool.” You still have the same problems, you still have to pay rent, but this perspective is crucial for one big reason: it helps you feel in control. It chips away at fear and makes room for you to shift into the driver’s seat. Even if the process is gradual, that shift is what changes your situation. Here are some examples of how that works.

It’s Easier to Come Up With a Strategy

It’s hard to make money plans when you’re afraid of money. You don’t bother budgeting your spending because looking at your bank account gives you anxiety. You don’t bother crunching the numbers because they never add up, and even if they do, it’s impossible to stick to. You chalk it all up to being impossible. When you think of money as a tool, you can focus on solutions over emotions, because there are clear ways to best use that tool. This post from author Carl Richards changed my perspective, and in it, he explains:

This shift in thinking is definitely subtle, but it changes our feelings about saving and spending. We no longer need to think in terms of good and bad, positive or negative. We’re focused on the outcome of our actions.

Richards really says it well here—it’s just a mindset shift, but it’s a mindset shift that’s focused on action, and when it comes to personal finance, that’s everything.

It starts with a meaningful goal. Money itself is not the goal. You have to know how you plan to use that money. Is it to feed your family? Pay down debt, or outstanding medical bills? Travel? Either way, when you know the end goal, you can work on your strategy for using money to reach that goal.

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