Do you know anyone that is totally comfortable with their relationship with money? Money is one of our culture's most emotionally loaded concepts: it is a metaphor for all our worst fears, our highest expectations and those parts of our lives we can and cannot control. Wealthy, poor or making ends meet, rarely is anyone satisfied with their financial position.
Many people spend years trying to come to peace with money and that peace is hard to come by. In a culture obsessed with money, most of us don't have an answer to the question "how much is enough?" Some of the reasons it is so hard to answer this questions are:
1. Many of us don't know what matters most to us at the heart of the matter. What makes you happy? What brings you joy and contentment? We are bombarded with marketing messages telling us what we should have and all the new products and services that are "out there." One small problem: what we think we SHOULD have, may not be what makes us happy.
2. "Enoughness" follows from living purposefully. Many of us struggle with what brings us meaning and purpose. If we do what others tell us or define ourselves from the outside in rather than the inside out, both purpose and "enoughness" are hard to find.
3. Defining enough requires both a spiritual grounding to identify what really matters and the ability to translate the actual cost of what matters into financial terms.
Psychologically and culturally, we have projected onto money our most basic needs, our deepest fears and elusive things we hunger for. This is what I. mean when I say "money is a mirror."
Here are some examples:
1. Money is power. It comes with the ability to influence other people. How people hold and use their power varies. Some use money to serve. Others use money to manipulate.
2. Money is safety and security. It enables people to meet their basic needs for survival: food, shelter and protection. It can also bring us the ability to access resources that can keep us safe and secure.
3. Money separates people. Defining people by how much money they have, "the haves" and "have nots" or the "upper class," "middle class" or "lower class," is a common cultural practice. Neighborhoods often reflect the financial common ground of a particular group of people. Renting an apartment in a multi-family home suggests a different social subgroup than living in a gated community of homeowners. Disagreements over money can cause rifts in families. Long standing friendships can be thrown into question when the financial position of one friend greatly changes, but not the other.
4. Money is all the things we want in our heart of hearts. This includes freedom, happiness, peace and love.
5. Money is a responsibility and for some a burden. Managing money takes a lot of time and energy.
6. Money creates opportunity. Money can enable possibility. Money can open doors.
7. Money is acknowledgement. Money is often a reward for our labors. Sadly, different professional areas are valued financially very differently. Someone who works on Wall Street makes far more money than a grammar school teacher. The professions that are most highly paid are not always the ones that make the greatest contribution to society.
How much is enough?
The key issue with money is not how much you have but how you hold what you have. Getting caught in the cycle of "I never have enough" creates a trap which impedes the quality of life. I like to answer the question "how much is enough?" by saying "whatever I need to do the things I really care about." The answer is different for every person. Someone who enjoys living in the country might need a very different amount than someone who really loves living in the heart of the city. If someone is single and unattached, their needs are very different than if they have children. At different times in outlives, we may answer the question differently.
Learning to know ourselves is both an introspective process, and sometimes a process of trying out something that interests us and seeing if the experience increases or decreases of sense of interest. We need to look to our hearts as well as our minds to find answers. Learning to become honest with oneself takes time and courage.
I believe it is also important to look at our wants and needs in the context of others and their needs. If we are afraid of life and do not trust we will find what we need, we might hold onto money and things tightly. We may find ourselves building fortresses and cushions of protection so we don't end up left in the lurch. In doing so, we may be taking more than our share out of fear. This behavior can become a cycle of stuckiness built on feelings of "I'll never have enough."
In our culture today, we have too many examples of people who are ruled by greed with little conscience. The media is full of stories and images of people who lie, break the law and do whatever they want with little care for the consequence of their actions. There is a very high spiritual cost to living this way. And it breaks down the fabric of community and interconnection that is so important for all of us to have what we really need.
Developing a healthy sense of "enough," while also incorporating a sense of social consciousness, is far more likely to lead to peace than living from a place of fear or great. Gratitude and appreciation feed the spirit and often generate more of the things we really want and need.
Becoming grounded about your financial needs, your financial resources and your financial habits is also a key part of the money equation. How often do you spend money without tracking what you've spent or if you have enough for all your basic needs if you make a spending decision? Are you afraid to add up your expenses for fear of what the number might be? These kinds of habits leave us ungrounded. Keeping a money log where you track what you spend, and what you have to spend allows you to compare income and outflow consciously. It helps ground your money choices in money reality and lets you truly take care of yourself.