Making Money Meaningful


Why is Benjamin worth 100 bucks but Honest Abe is only worth 5?

Why is Benjamin worth 100 bucks but Honest Abe is only worth 5?

Money is Abstract—this is truer now than ever before. How often do you make a purchase and physically touch a paper bill? What about when you get paid—do you have a true vision of what your hours over the last month were worth, or is your pay directly deposited into your checking account? The last time I was paid in cash I was working as a nanny during my college years. Today we move our money around by swiping cards and clicking buttons. It’s convenient, but it’s also abstract; and it is much easier to be mindless about spending when you aren’t completely aware of what you are getting (or losing) with your purchases. What is all of that swiping and clicking actually costing you?

How can you become more Mindful of your bank account, what’s going in it, and what’s coming out of it? To avoid out of control spending that is frequently associated with the abstract and elusive digital dollar, I have taken steps to make “money” more concrete. I have trained my brain to stop thinking about money as a number on a piece of paper and instead start thinking about money as things, places, or events that I can buy, visit, or attend. I have taken pieces from the barter system of the B.C. days and pieces from the entertaining (and sometimes horrifying) game of “Would you Rather?” to create a system that helps my mind prioritize where I want to spend my money.  This technique helps me use my money on the things, places, and events that I value most, and I’m going to show you how you can use it too!

Know what you Like. Know what you Love. Know what you Gotta Have. Nothing fits the first step of prioritization as well as the sizes of ice cream dishes at ColdStone Creamery (can you tell that it’s been a really hot summer?). Put all of your favorite things, places, and events into these three categories. This is a surefire way to prioritize and get a visual representation of what you value most in your life. If you think you want something, but it doesn’t fit into any of these categories—and it’s not a need—you will be happy without it. Don’t buy it. Seriously.

Learn how much money you need to get what you want. The second step to meaningful thinking about money is to determine how much each of your wants/favorites cost. It is likely that your categories will remain fairly constant, and over time the price of what you value will be seared into your brain. Before you know it, you will know that if you want to go see that amazing hair stylist this month, you aren’t going to be able to take that weekend trip to the beach. Maybe you will have to drink water from a glass this week instead of that crisp Smart Water you like because you place a higher priority on having your daily cup of Joe.

Would you rather go out to eat twice this week or head to the football game on Sunday and buy some nachos and beer while you are there? Would you rather buy new running shoes this month or buy cute boots for the fall? You are at the grocery store: Would you rather a case of beer or a bottle of wine? You can have it all, but you can’t have it all at once.

Put Your Money Where Your Mind Is. Now you have the tools to get yourself in the mindset of making money less abstract and more meaningful when it comes to relating it to your everyday needs and wants. It is up to you to be mindful in the moment. Swiping cards and clicking buttons is tempting because there is no pain in the purchase, and no one besides yourself is going to hold you accountable for what you spend. Think about what you are buying, why you are buying it, and if you would rather be buying something else.

For me, making fewer purchases with higher personal value are much more exciting and fun than many purchases that I hardly value at all, and that keeps me motivated when I’m saving. Knowing that there is something much better at the end of the game, stops me from buying five beers at halftime.  How do you motivate yourself to spend (or not spend) wisely?

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