As we go into this new year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the problems money can solve in our lives, and what it can’t.
Whenever I felt out of control this last year, or sad, I’d play with a spreadsheet or open my 22seven app and look at my net worth. It didn’t do anything for me apart from give me a vague sense that, in this specific way, I was heading in a right direction.
It was a nice reassurance, but it didn’t help me to actually deal with the things that made me anxious. Money can do a lot to ease particular kinds of anxiety, but it can’t fix everything.
Money can solve survival problems, not emotional problems. But survival is very emotional! We feel extremely anxious and depressed and trapped when we don’t have options, and money gives us options.
I had the enormous pleasure a few months ago of helping someone pay their rent. They were behind and literally asking for help to get into shelters with their kids. After calling and investigating a number of options, I decided this was a problem that money could solve. The money I could spare changed their circumstance. It made their disaster go away and bought them the breathing room they didn’t have.
You might be circumstantially anxious or depressed as a result of being broke, and money will totally help with that. You may need psychological or medical help and treatment and money can access that.
Problems money can’t solve
Money can form a very important baseline of security, but money can’t make you an emotionally secure person. Insecurity can cause us to overcompensate in our spending, and it takes a lot of paper to plug that well.
Money also can’t make you a better person. It can buy you therapy, but it can’t make you go or do the work for you.
Money can’t fulfill you or stand in for human connection. It won’t buy you love, respect or admiration, except from people who don’t know how to calculate value any other way.
And finally, having money can’t magically make you better at having money either. Being rich (especially all of a sudden) does not automatically confer the self-control to handle money. It’s something you have to practice with whatever amount you currently have. If you can’t treat small amounts of money with respect and care, those habits are going to scale up to larger messes. Just look at lottery winners.
Money can’t solve people
Money can control your environment, but it’s a SUPER BAD IDEA to use it to control people. Trying to control or change people through money is financial abuse. It’s easier to stray into than you might think.
You may want to help and even have good intentions. You may want to change people’s behavior by offering them money as a carrot – and lack of money as a stick. But trying to change people with the promise of money or threat of losing money will backfire on you in the ugliest possible way.
Not controlling people with money doesn’t mean you don’t get to control people’s access and relationship to your money. Saying no is not financial abuse. You have to have good boundaries if you want to relate happily and freely to people and not be taken advantage of.
Financial abuse looks like empty promises, unreliability, lying, upsetting people’s lives and expectations, invading people’s decision-making because you’re the one with money and you believe your opinion counts double. It looks like manipulating people or treating them badly and throwing your weight around because you pay the bills. Promising people money if they do everything you want when you want it. That is controlling behavior and poor boundary-setting, and it sets the stage for abuse.
Money is a tool, not the answer
As one commentator in the newly-released Playing with FIRE documentary commented, “Money is a tool. If you figure money out, life is really easy. If you don’t – life is really hard.”
We often think that there’s no use having a financial plan until we have money to plan with. That just ensures that any money we get, we’ll immediately spend. When we have no processes in place for dealing with money that comes our way, we fritter it.
Money solves a plethora of little stresses in our lives. Lack of money might be the big stress that is putting pressure on our day-to-day lives and relationships. But money can’t solve everything. You can’t fix a motorcycle with a stick of celery. You can’t solve an emotional or character or relationship problem with money. It’s not an appropriate tool for the job.
Now here’s a weird question: what’s too easy a problem you let money solve for you? I’m getting pre-portioned meals delivered at the moment, because apparently I can’t be arsed to put together cheap and healthful meals for myself.
We all have stuff that we buy for the convenience, the time save, the energy save – but it wouldn’t kill us to take it away. What’s an everyday problem that money solves for you?
Article reposted with permission from Drawing Money.