Money Decisions and Morality

I won’t bore you with a long list of things in this world that I consider “right” and that I consider “wrong.”

It’s simple enough to say that everyone has a slightly different list and that my own sense of “right” and “wrong” isn’t too far away from what you might call “normal.”

For me, as for a lot of people, having this internal list of “right” and “wrong” puts a lot of things in life into a grey area. Some aspects of something are “right,” while other aspects are “wrong,” so we’re stuck trying to figure out the right choice when it comes to that grey area.

For example, let’s say your wife finds a receipt for a gift that you bought for her. She doesn’t know precisely what it is, but she’s suspicious and she asks you about it. You want to maintain a surprise for her, but is it the right thing to tell her a little white lie about it?

You can argue all day about it, but there is no real “right” answer here because it depends on too many personal factors about you, your wife, and your marriage.

What about when you’re at a store and you see an item for $19.99 that’s made in a sweatshop in southeast Asia versus an item for $29.99 that’s made in the United States?

You’re witnessing an internal battle between frugality and your role as a consumer in a global economy, where your buying power gets to help make decisions about whether to import goods from those situations. Which do you choose?

Again, you can argue all day long about these kinds of situations, but it comes down to each person having a somewhat different set of values.

So, why am I writing about this?

People often feel guilty when they make a choice or two that goes against that internal moral code. They’ll buy something that’s very inexpensive but cheaply made and feel bad when it doesn’t work or they see the conditions that item was made in. They’ll tell a little white lie to hide a surprise, but then feel bad about it.

Money is filled with these kinds of little decisions and little mistakes and little guilts. We’re human. We can’t help but make the wrong decision sometimes.

I do it all the time, and I try not to feel guilty about it. Instead, I know from that guilt that I need to do a bit more thinking about what’s right and what’s wrong, because either my internal sense is off or I’m making poor decisions based on it.

When you feel guilty about a money mistake you made, don’t beat yourself up over it. Instead, try to figure out why you feel guilty, then strive to fix that in the future.

For example, it’s better for me to just hide gifts for my wife very, very carefully than to have to tell her a falsehood. If she finds the receipt, I’ll just tell her it’s for a surprise gift and she should be patient.

If I’m in a store and I’m aware of the relative conditions under which each item is made, I’ll lean strongly toward the one that’s made ethically. I view the cost difference as something I can afford. It’s also why I tend to buy food locally if I can.

I’ve thought about these situations and many others like it that have to do with money and internal morality. I’ve made mistakes with each one and it’s made me think about what I really believe. I don’t hate myself or beat myself up over the missteps – I just view them as a clue towards acting better in the future.

It’s easy, in this world full of moral greyness, to make mistakes sometimes. The person who comes out on top isn’t the person who wallows in guilt, but the person who figures out a better path for the next time such decisions come up.

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