Some time back, I tweeted, “Money serves us best when it is a facilitator of relationships, not an end in and of itself.” A follower replied, “What are your thoughts/suggestions on how to live this out?” Quite sure that, “I’m not sure, but I thought it sounded good,” was not the response he was looking for, and knowing 140 characters wouldn’t do it justice, I promised to get back to him with the benefit of more page space.
While money has no power in-and-of itself, we do a remarkable job of giving it power and allowing it to come between us in relationships. If we elevate money to a position worthy of relationship, our relationships with people don’t stand a chance. This is because the people in our lives are just like we are—flawed and imperfect. No matter how much they love us, people inevitably let us down, argue with us and hurt us. Money can’t. It promises to give us everything we want if we dedicate ourselves to it, and there’s an entire industry out there working very hard to convince us of that (albeit shrouded in snapshots of gorgeous golf courses, picturesque beach homes, keeling sailboats, leaping whales and charging bulls).
How, then, can we practically differentiate between the life-giving, relationship-infusing, beneficial uses of money and the relationship-destroying, life-draining worship of money? Well, it’s into the gray we roam, but here are three ways we can test our heart on this matter:
1) Name your loves – What are the first three, five or seven things that come to mind that really set you on fire. If a noticeable percentage of your loves are NOT persons, causes, movements, vocations or God, but material objects (animate or inanimate), consider red flag #1 raised.
2) Ask those you love – Hopefully some of the aforementioned loves are people; if so, consider asking them what THEY think critically of your interaction with the almighty dollar. This takes guts—to ask the question and to give the answer! Be prepared for a humbling, and don’t bite back. If, of course, you don’t have any people on the list of your loves or you’re unwilling to ask them this question, consider red flag #2 raised.
3) Budget for experiences – Even those who claim not to budget must engage in a modicum of budgeting, at least for the mandatory expenses of life, right?—your mortgage, utilities, auto insurance, 401k…(greens fees and salon appointments). Well, if the loves of your life are genuine priorities—presumably over your mandatory fixed expenses—shouldn’t budgeting for experiences with them be a non-negotiable? And I’m not just talking about requisite vacations, but also date nights for spouses or sweethearts (not both), “date nights” with your kids individually, taking your parents on vacation, and going on physical trips to support your causes.
One of my foremost mentors in money and life shared a story with me, a confession of sorts that illustrated he valued money above the foremost relationship in his world. As one of the most knowledgeable financial planners in the country, he dutifully managed the household budget with a keen eye for discrepancies. And at repeated intervals, his wife spent more than the mutually determined limit for their credit card that was paid off every month. Every month, she broke the spending limit and he broke her will for doing so.
Until one day, he felt a deep sense of conviction that he should take 100% of the energy he was dedicating to correcting this egregious wrong and instead pour it into his wife in the form of tangible affirmations and expressions of love. Several months later, his wife came to him in tears, acknowledging that she realized she had been subconsciously sabotaging their budget. The reason? She felt his actions and words proved that money was more important than she, but had seen in recent months that it must not be true.
I do believe with all of my heart that money serves us best when it is a facilitator of relationships, not an end in and of itself, but merely acknowledging, understanding and knowing that does us little good. It’s in the practical application of this truth that our lives—and the lives of those we love—are changed for the better.