Fifteen Things More Important Than Money

Three and a half years ago, I was in a desperate debt situation. My lifestyle was tied desperately to spending far more than I was bringing in – and I was finally paying the consequences.

I had let money become the most important thing in my life. It drove all of my choices and decisions. It chose my career for me. It chose my specific job for me. It chose how I spent my free time – I did expensive things to escape from the debts and the pressure-filled work, usually with a device on my hip that chained me to that job.

I was desperate and unhappy. I was in a prison made of money – and I knew I had to escape it.

Today, I realize something much more compelling. Money is not the most important thing in life. In fact, in a healthy life, money often follows behind many other elements in your life. If you put your energy and time into other things more important than money, money will follow. It will find a way to work.

Here are fifteen things I’ve found that are more important than money.

Experiences Hug someone. Kiss someone. Write someone a letter telling them how you feel. Run (or walk) a marathon. Spend all day making an exquisite meal and eat it by candlelight. Make love to someone. Face the thing you most fear right in the face. The rush you get from experiencing something amazing is one of the best parts of being human, and most of the time the financial cost is minimal.

Wisdom If you think you know the answer, you’re far from wise. Keep learning. Wisdom comes from knowing how little you actually know. Spend some time learning something new, perhaps even becoming skilled at something. You’ll surprise yourself at what you gain, often far beyond the mere knowledge you hoped to attain.

Marriage Accepting another person wholly and intimately into your life is utterly life-changing. Opening up every part of yourself to another person is constantly challenging, but constantly powerful in how it changes you and makes you strive to be a better person.

Friendships The regular companionship and camaraderie of people you care about and share interests with is continually life-affirming. Friendships don’t revolve around the things you have or the activities you can afford – they revolve around people.and shared experiences.

Physical health Health can’t be bought, but it can be helped by the personal choices we make. Exercise. Eating better. Making choices that are less sedentary. Getting involved with activities that get us moving. Practicing proper hygiene. Money pales in comparison to the value of the physical health needed to enjoy life.

Mental health On the flip side of the physical coin is mental health. Expressing our feelings in a healthy way. Finding people to talk to and relate our problems. Addressing the issues that bother us. Seeking professional help when these options don’t change things for the better. Again, money is insignificant compared to the value of mental balance.

Personal passions What activities make you feel truly excited and fulfilled? Those things are the spice of life – every one of us wins by digging into our passions. The best part? Quite often, seeking out and following your passions often means that money will follow in the wake.

Communication The ability to express our thoughts and feelings to a receptive audience is truly invaluable. it enables us to share elements of our inner world with others, something that can’t be achieved by all of the material wealth on this planet.

Self-reliance Money comes, money goes. The ability to survive and even thrive with no money means that money becomes significantly less important. The ability to do things yourself reduces the need you have for money to solve your problems.

Security If we channel our efforts into creating a sefe and secure enviroment where we’re protected from our failures, we create a situation where our fortunes are much less tied to our ability to put money in our pocket. If we put effort into security now, we have true safety later, a type of safety that can’t be broken by ordinary material needs.

Helping others For most people, the action of helping others provides a great deal of personal joy and satisfaction, something that cannot be replaced by any sort of material item. Helping others often requires no financial resources at all and can sometimes generate financial resources – free meals and such – plus goodwill in the community. Good karma has tremendous value.

Personal growth Every single person has countless opportunities to improve as a person – their behavior, their beliefs, and so forth. Working to grow as a person only improves you and rarely costs anything, but it almost always improves your income potential for the future as well as naturally improving your outlook on the world and your self-confidence.

Thankfulness When you move from desiring the things that you do not have to being thankful for the things that you do have, your perspective on the world changes drastically. Your desire for having the latest things goes down while, at the same time, your contentedness with life goes up dramatically.

Hobbies If you can discover personally fulfilling activities to fill your time, you introduce happiness into your life. Many people fall into routines by default, never asking if their choices introduce authentic happiness, then they try to chase a sense of happiness by purchasing things. Step back from this. Try new things, and dig into the things you genuinely enjoy. Often, it’s the simplest things – playing a game with our partner, going on long walks, collecting rocks or leaves – that bring us the greatest personal satisfaction.

Spirituality Does our life have a purpose? Do we have a spirit? Is there something greater than we can comprehend all around us? Digging into these questions through reading, contemplation, meditation, and prayer can bring an incredible sense of calm, peace, and even joy that can be difficult to find in other avenues – and impossible to find with money.

The more of these elements you dig into and discover in your life, the lesser the role of money, materialism, and spending occupies. In the end, you’ll find that you’re no longer chasing money, but that instead money is following you on the path to a much better life.

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  1. You do a great job of focusing on the important things in life. Sometimes you bring everyone back down to Earth.

  2. dougis says:

    Make it 16, you missed Family (ESPECIALLY CHILDREN).

  3. You cover all the real things well!

  4. chacha1 says:

    @dougis, Trent listed “marriage,” which could be interpreted to mean any monogamous intimate relationship (since we all know there are some people who are not permitted to call their relationships a marriage) and which certainly fits the bill of Family. I think most people would agree with most items on this list.

    Children are a whole other issue, because a lot of people might NOT agree that children are more important than (or as important as) money.

    I think Trent’s list is great just the way it is.

  5. Gwen says:

    Poignant, timely, and important.

  6. Anne KD says:

    This post works for me as a reminder; and it also serves as a great intro to your site. I’ll send this along to some people in my life. Maybe (hopefully) they’ll read more of your posts and change the way they live.

  7. BD says:

    Only today, you realize “Money is not the most important thing in life.” Is that because you’re finally at a good point in your life? You have a great job that you love that earns a real living wage, and you don’t worry about ending up homeless or alone. I’ve noticed that most people who say “money isn’t everything” are quite comfortable in life and have enough to cover the basic necessities plus some (and yes, there are always exceptions to this rule, wherever you go.)

    I agree, money may not be _the most_ important thing (I’d put God over money), but geez, when one can’t even support themselves in a meager way; money (and trying to scrape together enough to live on) would probably rate in importance over some of the other things in your list.

  8. Money’s only important if you don’t have any.

  9. Julia says:

    I enjoyed this post! I agree with the poster that said it serves as a good intro read for your site.

    And I don’t know if you would agree with this, but in response to comment 7, I think that ‘money is not the most important thing’ has to do with stages in life. Once someone has enough money to be self-sufficient, then day-to-day living is no longer a numbers game and should be about things other than numbers and obtaining money/material items. At the same time, when you don’t have money, you aren’t specifically worried about money itself, but about surviving that day-to-day.

  10. Shevy says:

    “Health can’t be bought”
    Yes and no. I knew someone who was really wealthy and had a very rare and serious disease. Not even trips to a world-famous medical centre saved this person’s life in the end.

    On the other hand, people die or suffer through debilitating illnesses because they didn’t have enough money to take care of things before they became life threatening (especially in countries that don’t have decent health care /end soapbox).

    What about dental problems? A lack of money to fix a small problem can lead to pain, infection, tooth loss (which can result in a decline in nutrition), or even heart disease (because the infection gets into the bloodstream and damages the heart).

    Money isn’t the be all, end all. It’s just important to have enough of it to keep you safe and healthy. After you’ve taken care of that you can focus on things like your passions, hobbies, etc.

  11. Susan says:

    My husband of 16 years says that he would add sex to this list. Maybe that would fall under experiences though;)

  12. Alexandra says:

    Marriage is not for everyone.

    And athiests and agnostics would disagree with the last one as well.

    I think marriage and spirituality is more personal and not neccesarily for everyone.

    The rest of the list is bang on.

  13. Kris says:

    It’s funny how much of your list takes money to truly achieve and experience. Think of your typical poor & homeless person ( the ones who are truly poor & homeless ) and think how much of that list they can actually achieve. Then ask them how much of that list is more important than money. Perhaps instead of giving them a dollar or two, you can just give them the experience of a hug.

  14. John says:

    These posts are getting rather trite. I found this post neither insightful nor useful.

  15. David says:

    People who have what they want are very fond of telling people who haven’t what they want that they really don’t want it,
    And I wish I could afford to gather all such people into a gloomy castle on the Danube and hire half a dozen capable Draculas to haunt it.
    I dont’ mind their having a lot of money, and I don’t care how they employ it,
    But I do think that they damn well ought to admit they enjoy it.
    But no, they insist on being stealthy
    About the pleasures of being wealthy,
    And the possession of a handsome annuity
    Makes them think that to say how hard it is to make both ends meet is their bounden duity.
    You cannot conceive of an occasion
    Which will find them without some suitable evasion.
    Yes indeed, with argumets they are very fecund:
    Their first point is that money isn’t everything, and that they have no money anyhow is their second.
    Some people’s money is merited,
    And other people’s is inherited,
    But wherever it comes from,
    They talk about it as if it were something you got pink gums from.
    Perhaps indeed the possession of wealth is constantly distressing,
    But I should be quite willing to assume every curse of wealth if I could at the same time assume every blessing.
    The only incurable troubles of the rich are the troubles that money can’t cure,
    Which is a kind of trouble that is even more troublesome if you are poor.
    Certainly there are lots of things in life that money won’t buy, but it’s very funny -
    Have you ever tried to buy them without money?

    Ogden Nash, The Terrible People

  16. Little House says:

    I have to agree with @BD and @Generation Y Investor. These are experiences that only one with some money can come to appreciate.I’m not saying that people with a small income can’t appreciate things like personal growth or spirituality, or that these items won’t reduce your spending, but it does seem that people reach this point of satisfaction when they are out of debt and earning a salary that allows them to live comfortably.

    -Little House

  17. jc says:

    #12 Alexandra, do atheists and agnostics really not ask whether life has a purpose? Whether or not people have a spirit? Whether there is something greater than us?

    Even if their answer to all three is a resounding “no” or “not sure”?

  18. AJ says:

    Susan (#11) – Reread ‘Experiences’. It’s there. ;-)

  19. Rick says:

    @Little House

    I think the bar for appreciating these things is much lower… As long as you aren’t staving, homless or in other imminent danger at least some of the listed items should be more important to you than money. Debt isn’t joyful, but does it really drain your humanity? For example, would you ever consider leaving your spouse just to be debt free?

    -Rick Francis

    -Rick Francis

  20. @Kris, #13 — I definitely agree. Money is a great means to an end, just a very poor end in and of itself for its own sake.

    Really, I go to work and go to school in the hopes of earning more than $13k a year someday. Out of that money, I’ll be paying back loans for my school experience, but also spending quite a bit on my cars (hoping in a year or two after school to add our fourth) and to *finally* get back to Europe for a proper holiday. Believe me, I value my cars, travel and work/school experiences far more than money, but none can be achieved without money’s aid. I’d just rather use it to make me happy than try to find happiness in the money itself.

  21. Rachel says:

    Trent, that was beautiful. Thanks for writing & sharing!

  22. Lynn says:

    Rachel…I agree! Beautiful writing, and very thought provoking ideas for ME!
    Trent you’ve given me thoughts and ideas to dwell upon. I have been having a very hard day today. No job, Seems like not to much future going on for me, a female 53 yrs old.
    Since reading your 15 things, maybe there’s still that ~somethin’ somethin’~ thats going to come forth, if only I get up off my depressed ass and make some of these ideas happen.

  23. Shanna says:

    I love this post!

  24. Johanna says:

    @jc: What about if your answer is a resounding “don’t care”? I consider myself an “apatheist.” I thought I made that word up, but it turns out that other people made it up before I did, so I’m not the only one who feels this way.

    It seems obvious to me that any God that might exist is not the selfish, petty type who will give you a cookie if you pray to Her in the right language but will set you on fire if you don’t. (Why would such a God create a world of people who have more compassion than She does?) Beyond that, I really don’t see how I would live my life any differently if it had a “higher purpose” than if it didn’t, so the question just isn’t that interesting to me.

  25. Takilla says:

    Trent, great post. I really find it refreshing.

    @John: if you consider it “trite” to think about and write about what’s really important to one’s happiness … I must say I’m wonder what you would say is worth a post? The only think I can think of is … nothing?

    @Johanna, not that these types of “labels” matter but I think in a similar way and I could be wrong, but it sounds to me like you’re a nihilist. I sort of am too. Basically, if you don’t care about the meaning of life: well you must have already decided that it doesn’t matter. Which is basically Nihilism. Now, that’s not very useful in and of itself (even if it is true). So I basically assume that we make our own purpose in life and go from there and so I’m pretty much a Nihilist in secular humanist clothes.

    Also, while I do agree that if one has money one is more likely to start thinking that other things are more important: I don’t think that someone who is low income or homeless would do well to neglect all those other things to try to make money. So it’s not like some people seem to be saying. This isn’t a post only “for all those rich white Americans who have all the money and are keeping the rest of us down!”

  26. Monica says:

    You guys are completely missing the point to this. The writer is not telling you to quit your job and be homeless. She’s telling you that spending all your time and money to make more money just to buy more things that you think will make you happy isn’t the key to happiness. Go to work, earn a living, be able to pay all the bills but make time for those things that cost a dime. Spending time with the ones you love, your family, friends, your spouse and your children. All the money in the world won’t buy back time. Working sixty hours a week won’t create KODAC moments that will be remembered long after your gone. Just Maybe this is the lesson God wants us to learn from this recession we are in.

  27. Doug says:

    Top priority in life more important than the those 15 things: staying alive! THEN you can afford the other things; then if all that doesn’t do it for you, go out and add another 10,000 a year. Don’t be fooled, however, poor people are miserable, and that’s where bullshit religion comes in and tells them they have a second chance in a fairy tail afterlife.

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