We got the subtitle of my last book wrong. It reads, “Balancing Money and Life.” And while the book is still substantively solid and its aging content remains mostly relevant, the subtitle, I now believe, is a misnomer. It may actually contradict the book’s fundamental message.
Whether we’re talking about money and life, work and life—whatever and life—the temptation is to see the “whatever” as a force standing in opposition to life. An alternative to life.
And, unfortunately, this isn’t merely a rhetorical conundrum. As it often does, life follows language. Indeed, the phrase “work-life balance” has become so common that most of us now consider it an either-or proposition. We picture a scale, balancing work on one side and life on the other, as though it’s a zero-sum game. Work or life.
And so it has become with money. We can choose to expend life in pursuit of money or deplete our financial resources in pursuit of life.
Perhaps there’s a third option—the integration of money and life. Consider these seven ways we might view life and money differently if our approach to them was less mutually exclusive:
1) We wouldn’t obsess as much over money. Although few of us would admit it, we too often believe that money can buy happiness. As a result, we tend to give up life’s simple (but profound) pleasures in pursuit of money—ironically justifying the sacrifice because we believe money can indeed buy life’s simple pleasures. Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the ebullient MBA graduate? She was bent on convincing the simple island fisherman to leverage his operation into an enterprise that could one day avail him the freedom to pursue life’s humble joys. But this was a freedom that his low-stress, flexible work schedule already made possible.
2) We also wouldn’t demonize people for loving their work. I believe the work-life balance fallacy is rooted in the mistaken belief that money (beyond life’s necessities) can buy happiness. If you believe the primary, if not the sole, purpose of work is to make the money required to buy said happiness, the act of work is minimized to a mere transaction. But what about people who really love their work and aren’t neglecting anyone by putting in 10 or 12 hours each day? What about people who are constantly consuming work-related reading material and talking about it incessantly? Integrating our view of money and life will free us to see inherent value and even take pleasure in our work. At the very least, we’ll see those who do in a less judgmental light.
3) We’d give more. Having money might not bring us happiness—but giving it away does.
4) We’d welcome healthy discussions about money. With more than a quarter of marriages ending over financial disagreements—and 100% of marriages having such disagreements—it’s safe to say that we don’t discuss money as openly and healthily as we could. But we can. We need to dump the long-held belief that money talk is taboo. It’s a mindset deeply rooted in the segregation of money and life. Here, I’m especially talking to us men. Because so much of our self-worth has historically come from our presumptive roles as tangible providers, we’re socialized to hide our money mistakes. This can have disastrous implications.
5) We wouldn’t feel guilty for spending money that we can afford to spend. I’ve had financial planning clients put off annual meetings because they were ashamed that they spent a lot of money on a car they could easily afford. They shouldn’t be.
6) We’d be better money managers. Who hasn’t considered budgeting, or for that matter meeting with someone to receive financial advice, a necessary evil? (Aside from engineers and financial planners, of course.) When that time is seen as little more than a life-taking exercise—as merely dutiful drudgery—of course we’d procrastinate, or avoid it entirely. What would happen, though, if we viewed money dealings as life-giving disciplines, as opportunities for growth and healthy conversation?
7) We’d focus less on what we do with money and more on why we do it. Our financial decisions—large and small—are symptomatic of our likes and dislikes, our passions and opinions, our strengths and our weaknesses. The only way to improve our dealings with money is to get past the dollars and cents and explore the beliefs about life and money that motivate our actions.
To establish money and life as opposing forces to be balanced inhibits our ability to optimally make, spend, save and manage money. In my next post, I’ll discuss a practical methodology for better integrating life and money.
I’m a speaker, author and director of personal finance for the BAM Alliance. If you enjoyed this post, let me know on Twitter or Google+, and click here to receive my weekly post via email.
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I’m a speaker, author, Head of Wealth Management for Triad Financial Advisors. Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn.