Money is the root of all evil. Or is it? This article aims to challenge commonly-accepted notions about money, and to make readers ask themselves: Are we being limited by our self-defeating beliefs about money?
In a previous article, The Thought Experiment examined the feasibility of whether working Singaporeans had enough to retire. We concluded with the harsh truth that for most Singaporeans, being able to retire and enjoy one’s golden years is nothing but a fantasy. Why is this so? Is it a matter of making more money? Most of us are employees, and depend on that monthly pay check as our main (and often only) source of income. Must we cast aside all other aspects of our life and focus exclusively on climbing the corporate ladder, just so that we can earn more to retire on time?
Thankfully, the answer is not quite so bleak. To be able to retire at a desired age, or to be able to afford a certain lifestyle – these are financial goals that require some myths about money to be debunked if they are to be achieved. Only when we have the right mindset about money, can we gain the ability to meet these goals and more.
Myth #1: Money is the Root of all Evil
This is an oft-repeated phrase, and whether you consciously believe this or not – chances are that it’s already deeply ingrained in your subconscious. The truth is: We all want more money, but we don’t dare say how much we want more money out loud. In our society, being seen as greedy and money-minded is a death knell to a person’s reputation. Just take a look at the vast number of derogatory titles given to those who are seen as desirous of more money: Misers, money-grubbers, scrooges – the list goes on. And since we’ve already established in another article that we are imbued with an unhealthy fear of the disapproval of others and society in general from a young age, it shouldn’t come as surprising that you never hear anyone talk about making money. After all, we are supposed to be content with our lot. To be discontent is a sign of ungratefulness for one’s present blessings, and a supposedly sure path on the road to unhappiness and ruin.
The above mode of thinking is a global phenomenon – whether you hail from the East or the West, one thing is clear: You don’t ever talk about wanting more money. Ever.
Content makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor.– Benjamin Franklin
If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich.
– Lao Tzu
This brings me to the next myth, which is closely related to this one.
Myth #2: We Want More Money Because We Are Greedy
Why do we want more money? Ask yourself this question now. Most likely, there is something that this additional money will allow you to obtain – whether it is a material object like a watch, or something more intangible, like being able to afford a nice vacation to your favourite country of choice. Let’s call this category of reasons Group A, shall we?
If you didn’t think of any reason in Group A, perhaps you found yourself thinking about your loved ones. Maybe your dad is down with a medical ailment and you’re worried about the hospital bills. Or you barely earn enough to feed your wife and children every month, and would like more money in order to put some decent fare on the table. It could also be that you have a social cause you want more money to donate to, like helping AIDS sufferers, feeding children in Africa – take your pick. Whatever your choice, let’s call this category of reasons Group B.
You would probably have realized by now that Group A reasons focus on benefiting yourself, whereas Group B reasons focus on benefiting other people.
Does wanting money to benefit yourself make you a greedy person? Society would say “Yes”. But is it really?
If wanting money to benefit yourself makes you greedy, where does one draw the line? If I want to live a lifestyle where I can spend $2,000 a month, how is that different from wanting to live a lifestyle where my expenditure is $5,000? Or $10,000, for that matter? At what level of income does society expect me to say, “Okay, I am content with this amount for myself, and I don’t want anymore”?
There isn’t any such amount, is there? If it is impossible to determine this amount, then it is also impossible to conclude that one is greedy for desiring a certain amount of money.
That’s Myth #2 busted.
Thus we can see that our definition of what constitutes greed, instilled in us by society, is largely an arbitrary one. The important question to ask here, is this: Why do we have such a negative attitude towards wanting to make more money and becoming richer?
The answer is simple: We have been indoctrinated with the idea that if you make a lot of money and become rich, you will become consumed with a desire for even more money. That is where terms like “miser” and “scrooge” arise, and what the above-mentioned quotes are trying to guard against: an increasingly vicious obsession with enriching oneself. Which brings me to Myth #3:
Myth #3: If You Become Rich, You Will Become Addicted To Money
Let’s take a closer look at this idea, shall we? If we follow this logic, this means that everyone we consider as ‘rich’ in our eyes should be Greed personified. We should expect them to eschew everything in life except the pursuit of greater riches. Is this really the case? Are all rich people miserly and scrooge-like?
Here’s where it gets interesting. Think of your most affluent friends or relatives. Do they fit the profile of people with money addiction?
Chances are, they don’t. In fact, it’s quite possible that they may even be more generous than you are.
So if this is the case, why is this lie that rich people are money-grubbing demons so pervasive?
The best lies always have an element of truth in them, which makes the lie that much more convincing, and this case is no different: The unavoidable truth is that being addicted to money is a bad thing. Being obsessed with money is something that we should avoid at all costs (see what I did there?). However, the mistake which led to this myth being perpetuated is that we conflated the desire for wealth with the wealth itself. Money by itself is not evil. It never was. It is the love of money that is evil.
It is not the creation of wealth that is wrong, but the love of money for its own sake.– Margaret Thatcher, Ex-Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
That’s Myth #1 busted.
You might be thinking at this point that by debunking Myth #1 above, I also vindicated society for inculcating the idea in us that being money-minded is bad. And you would be right: I wholeheartedly agree that being “money-minded” is something that should be guarded against. It’s just that I define being “money-minded” as desiring material wealth purely for its own sake. That said, when we examine the concept of being “money-minded” a little deeper, we reach the truth that allows us to dispel Myth #3 once and for all.
Consider this: Who is more money-minded – the person who sticks in a job that he or she hates, just for the monthly paycheck, or the person who is able to do what he wants without having to worry about money?
That brings me to the following truth, which is oddly, the very opposite of Myth #3: If you don’t achieve your financial goals, you will always be addicted to money. Money will be your master, when it should be the other way around.
It is not the rich that are addicted to money, for they have enough of it. It is the poor, or those who think of themselves as poor who are addicted. That’s Myth #3 busted.
The Adverse Effects of Believing These Myths
What is the common thread underlying these money myths? It is the misrepresentation of money as an evil (albeit necessary) thing – an unavoidable reality, but to be kept at arm’s length to prevent being overcome by its negative influence. It is because of this demonizing of money that money has become a taboo subject. You can’t talk about it with strangers, your friends and even your loved ones, for fear that you will be seen as overly concerned about money – a sign of greed and covetousness. It is why people feel pressured to be more generous than they would normally be in the presence of others, in order to maintain the facade that the idea of money isn’t something we are particularly concerned about, when in reality the opposite is true. Money governs all our major decisions in life, like it or not, and we resent it as a result – resent it for not having enough to do as we please. In resenting it so, we become money-minded – the very thing we should be guarding against.
As I said above, the only way to not be money-minded and obsessed about money is to make enough of it. It’s not easy to give up deep-seated notions about something we constantly deal with on an everyday basis, but trust me – you should not be working for money. Your money should be working for you!
If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free; if our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed.– Edmund Burke
So, how do you master money and make it work for you? You’ll just have to wait for the next Personal Finance article to be published in order to find out! In the meantime, please leave a comment or share it with your friends if you found this article useful and enjoyed reading it – this lets me know which topics are hot-button issues, which I can then deal with in future articles. Do check out some of the other articles available on this site as well!
Thanks for reading!