“Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
-from the New Testament, 1 Timothy 6: 9-10
You don’t need to be a religious person to see wisdom in these words.
I’m not really focused on the whole “love of money” part of that Bible verse. Instead, I’m looking at the part that comes before it, and the part that comes after it. Those sentences make me remember something I often say to our clients as a way of focusing them on the planning we try to do: “Money is just the tool we use to make life plans. The more money you have, the more choices you have.”
I find a lot of times that when people first come to us, they all think they know one universal truth about money: more money is better. They are not wrong, if only in the sense that more, as compared to less, is obviously better. Nobody in their right mind looks at a falling investment balance and thinks “well, I’m sure glad I have less today than I had a year ago!”
However, I’m not answering the question of whether more is better.
I can say without a hint of doubt that more ice cream is better. More vacations are better. More acreage is better. More votes are better. More friends, likes, posts, followers, LOLs and happy-face emojis are better. If we can all agree that the nouns in this paragraph are good things, then how can more of them NOT be better?
With apologies to those who don’t share the “faith” of the writer of 1 Timothy, let’s get back to the initial passage. The writer isn’t telling us that the thing (in this case, money) is bad or good. The writer is talking about what is done to obtain the money, the “foolish and harmful desires” a person pursues and then winds up being pierced with “many griefs”.
Money isn’t happiness. It isn’t sadness. It isn’t nice, or kind, or awful, or tempting. It’s just a tool we use to make the exchange of goods and services easier. Money is no better or worse than a hammer or a computer; it simplifies things and gives you more choices of how to solve a problem.
You can make yourself blissfully happy by spending money: a great family vacation, your child’s wedding, a charitable contribution, a round of golf, a sumptuous meal. To get money for these things you can work a job you love that fulfills you, or you can sacrifice your happiness and work at something you hate in order to send your kid to college. Money’s not the goal; the thing that the money buys is the goal.
You can also do terrible things with money: cheat a friend, buy too much ice cream, donate to a horrible politician, or purchase and abuse drugs. You might deceive, hate, ignore, or just remain oblivious to your loved ones in order to get more money. You could “plunge into ruin and destruction” in the pursuit of money.
My clients are wonderful people, almost all of whom have already figured out that money is not the center of their lives. So why are they clients? I think it’s because they care about others, be it their own family or some stranger in a shelter, and they want to figure out strategies to turn their caring for others into action.
The most rewarding part of my job is not trying to figure out how clients can acquire more money for money’s sake. We work for something like 40 years at 40 hours a week to get it. We might start a business or buy some real estate. We might take a second job or get more education. That’s how we make money. I can’t do a lot to help with the how.
The “How” is important, but helping clients with the “Who, What, Where, When, and Why” is the most rewarding part of my job. For whom do we save money? What do sacrifice to obtain it? Where do we choose to spend the money? When can we spend, and we can we not spend it? Why do we want this money?
Many times, I have tried to tell a client in her 60’s to spend more of her money. She is not going to run out of money, so she should start spending it! I remind her that if she doesn’t spend the money, somebody else will spend it (her heirs). Wouldn’t it be better to spend it in ways that answer the “Why” she saved it "When" she's alive to see it spent? Spend it on “What”?
Other times I’ve told a client in his 30’s to save more if he wants to be able to send his daughter to college. That may mean no new car this year, but the “Why” - his priority - is sending her to college. “Where” should he save this college money? “When” will his daughter go to college?
The author of 1 Timothy warns us that the idea of money is a trap that makes us do things that might not be good for us. We may wind up causing ourselves a whole lot of trouble if our pursuit of money is not in the right way and for the right things. It’s important to reflect on the reasons you want to make more money because that helps you decide how you will actually get it. More, just for the sake of more, is what leads us to ruin.
Love the who, what, where, when, and why of money, and you will then know how to avoid the “many griefs” of the how you obtain it!