Updated on 08.22.11

Money Isn’t the Root of All Evil

Trent Hamm

I just received an email from a concerned friend of mine who had never read The Simple Dollar before. I asked for permission to share this part of the email with you (with just a touch of editing).

I can’t believe you’re actually using your life and your energy and your mind talking about money and encouraging other people to accumulate money. Money is the root of all evil. It provides a path to greed and gluttony and cruelty. Why are you devoting your wonderful life to teaching people how to walk that path? What are you doing to yourself? What are you teaching your children?

I originally intended to respond to this email privately, but I realized that the answer was something really worth sharing on here, so I generalized it a bit and turned it into the article you’re about to read.

First of all, your comment that “money is the root of all evil” is a misquote. You’re referencing 1 Timothy 6:10 from the Bible, which is usually translated as “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” or simply “for the love of money is the root of all evil.” Not money itself, but the love of money.

That’s a key distinction. Money itself is neither good nor evil. It’s simply a medium of exchange. It’s a way for people to trade one thing – say, their money or their time or their energy – for other things, like food or housing.

What you choose to use your money for may be good and it may be evil and it may just be a big missed opportunity. You could use it to make sure your children eat very nutritionally balanced meals or you could use it to hire a hit man to take out your rivals. You could use it to help improve orphanages for extremely impoverished children or burn a million British pounds just for the fun of it.

How you use that money is a reflection of who you are and what you value. Whether it’s “good” or “evil” is as much your own judgment on how you spend money as it is a judgment passed on you by others who observe how you use it.

The entire purpose of this site is to help people become more efficient in their exchanges: to earn more money, to spend less on the things that they need, to avoid wasting their money on interest payments to lenders, and so on. Again, that’s neither good nor evil. It simply widens the door to the good and evil choices that people have with their money.

What that scripture is talking about is the love of money being the root of all evil. The argument is that when you begin to focus on the accumulation of wealth as the highest purpose in your life, you put a lot of other virtues below it. You value wealth accumulation over the welfare of others, in simple terms.

When you see other people as merely things that can be exploited to improve your wealth accumulation, that is evil, in my opinion. Companies that would knowingly sell toys to children that are covered in lead-based paint are evil. Companies that would sell known carcinogens for consumption and not label them are evil. Individuals who would exploit and steal from the defenseless are evil.

These are situations where, in that person’s mind, the love of money has trumped other virtues. I am explicitly opposed to these situations.

I regularly discuss ethical methods for accumulating money. I don’t even mention illegal acts or acts that would harm others and I encourage people to put human relationships first when it comes to things like borrowing money or hiring people. At the same time, I also look at ethical ways of spending money, highlighting charities that I personally know are doing good work and being selective on the things one buys for personal enjoyment.

In the end, it all comes back to your ethics and your character. It takes a bad person to intentionally exploit others. I also believe it takes a somewhat (although more debatable because of the various contexts) bad person to refuse to help anyone in need when they have the resources to do it easily without harming themselves in any real way.

Having money isn’t evil. Earning money isn’t evil. Exploiting people to acquire that money is, however, and spending it wantonly in ways that don’t bring value into anyone else’s life is probably also evil (though a bit more muddied).

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  1. Jason G says:

    How close could this “friend” be if they had never visited this site or knew what you did for a living?

  2. Baley says:

    I hope your friend takes some time to see what your site is really about. You may point out that your tips actually help people focus less on money and more on spending quality time with the people they love. I would think that living frugally is about the opposite of loving money.

  3. Ginger says:

    I don’t understand why people think money is evil, though many people seem to think so. Your actions may be good or evil but things are not.

  4. valleycat1 says:

    Other manifestations of the love of money are penny-pinching to the extreme, overthinking small purchases, and doing without something that would make your life easier or more productive.

    And, with my grammar police hat on, it’s the toys that are covered with lead paint, not the children.

  5. Nate says:

    I think your distinction between money itself and the “love” of money is good. It really is more about what we do with what we have than the money itself. We’ve seen people do terrible things because of greed and money, but there have been people that have done wonderful things too. It’s more about us than the money itself.

  6. Jonathan says:

    I think the site does a good job of discouraging the type of behavior that would result in valuing money too much. Frugality is about doing more with less, and, to an extent, placing less value on material things. Being frugal by choice, I think, leads to placing less importance on money and more more importance on the other things in life. Hopefully your friend will read some of TSD and find that message for him/herself.

  7. Baley says:

    Good catch, Valleycat1. :) -Fellow Grammar Snob.

  8. Agreed, Trent. I run into this misconception a lot and it frustrates me a bit. To look at money and call it evil is to completely ignore the real problem – how WE use it!

  9. Joanna says:

    Well said. And anyone who’s spent any amount of time on this site would be able to see that you are not about the love of money but rather limiting your dependence upon large sums of money and utilizing what remains to support a life that allows you to fuel your love of people.

  10. Kevin says:

    I don’t even think that the “love of money” itself is inherently evil. Even the quote itself backs me up:

    “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”

    You could make the exact same argument about God. Lots of atrocities have been committed in His name, but we don’t go around saying that “God is evil,” or even that the “Love of God is evil.”

    It’s what you DO with/for that love of money/God/whatever that can be good/evil.

  11. Adam P says:

    “What are you teaching your children?”

    Yikes. The way you are raising your kids and what you’re teaching them is one of the best things about your blog, and I say that as a candle in the wind ;-)

    Tell Judgy McJudgerson to go take a leap off a short pier. Not sure how she is fit to judge what you do for a living when she hasn’t read your website, ever. Mind boggling.

    Also, I’m pretty sure as many evil acts have been committed in the pursuit of furthering religion as have been committed in the pursuit of money over the course of human history, as #10 has pointed out. And probably just as many good acts too.

  12. Tanya says:

    Thank you for making this distinction that the LOVE of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Money itself is simply a tool, and we need to know how to use it. God knows that – and knows we’ll get ourselves in trouble with money if we’re not careful. Hence His instruction that LOVING money gets us into trouble. Being smart about how to manage money is just good sense.

  13. Maureen says:

    So sad how people’s beliefs get in the way of understanding the true nature of money – how to acquire it, keep it, spend it and give it away. I would venture to say his relationship with money is probably pretty messed up as a result.

  14. lurker carl says:

    What an odd message for someone to send, considering the blog was not read before misquoting the Bible and passing judgement. A concerned friend, really?

  15. Des says:

    I’m just curious how this person lives their life without money. A full-on barter system? How do they pay their taxes? I mean, if they are saying money is evil then they shouldn’t be using it, right? Or, are they saying it is ok to use money as long as you do it unthinkingly?

  16. Mote says:

    While I absolutely agree with the points you are making, I’m somewhat troubled to see you allowing GoldLine to advertise on your website – their shady, scammy ad sort of undermines your message.

  17. Adam P says:

    “spending (money) wantonly in ways that don’t bring value into anyone else’s life is probably also evil”

    I would argue this is just plain ole dumb, and neutral or negative to your own life. Though it probably improves the lives of those you purchase it from, if they are making out okay from selling you it.

    Not sure how anyone can call that “evil” though. At least you qualified this with “probably also”.

  18. Mister E says:

    Yikes, bible quotes.

  19. jackie says:

    If someone said to me “money is the root of all evil” I wouldn’t think (and certainly wouldn’t accuse them) of misquoting the bible. I’d think they were correctly quoting the common turn of phrase. Maybe that phrase was derived from a bible passage, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a phrase that most people are familiar with and some people (like this friend) resonate with. Why bring the bible up? (Not that I’m defending the “friend” who is quite clearly unable to grasp the big picture.)

  20. Evita says:

    Trent, it is too good of you to even respond to this so-called “friend” is judging and condemning your site without ever having visited. And judging & condemning YOU for it ! unbelievable !

  21. kc says:

    Evita, the “friend” had never visited the site “before.”

  22. elyn says:

    I’ve met people who feel that money is evil or bad or that it is materialistic to be interested in or good with money. I’ve noticed that many of these same people tend to also feel pretty helpless around money in general. Better to call it evil than face their own feeling of overwhelm or fear about it.

  23. Josh says:

    So this “friend” does not believe in the accumulation of wealth, the virtue of saving, allocating financial resources effectively, being prepared for financial hardships, being prepared for one’s long term future, doing good with one’s money, or teaching the above practices to one’s child(ren)?

    In that case, he or she is welcome to send me their life’s savings. I’ll be glad to take that concentrated evil off their hands.

  24. Telephus44 says:

    I often find “poor” people use this as the reason why they are better than “rich” people. I think it’s used as an excuse for reverse snobbery.

  25. Matthew says:

    Actually, most translations says, “the love of money is a root …”, the difference being between “the root” and “a root”. In other words, the love of money isn’t the ONLY root. Pride, hatred, gluttony, lust, and so on… these aren’t always tied to money.

    But I agree, it’s what you do with money, the value and priority you place on it that can lead to all kinds of evil.

  26. @Jackie (#19): As far as I know the phrase is based on the Bible verse although it is erroneous. It’s not just a common turn of phrase – it’s a common misconception of what that particular Bible verse says. Not that Trent needs to be justified in quoting the Bible, but this “correctly” quoted misquote is a very flawed view of money whether you’re a Christian or not.

  27. *should note that I’m referring to the phrase being in error

  28. Steve says:

    Burning money may be “evil”, in the sense you use it, in the context of providing for your family. However on a societal level you are merely removing money from circulation, making all the other existing money a little more valuable. It’s as if you donated it proportionally to everyone else who has money (denominated in that currency.)

  29. Steve says:

    And spending money frivolously is, again, maybe bad for your family, but on a societal level it’s far less clear. When you spend money you give it to someone; then they do something with it, which could involve giving to charity or whatever. Unless you are hiring assassins or buying conflict diamonds it’s not a bad thing (even if some might consider it foolish.)

  30. Raya says:

    #22 Elyn – that’s exactly the truth. People who underestimate money or even hate money are the ones who are really bad with it. This is their excuse.

  31. deRuiter says:

    “…it takes a somewhat … bad person to refuse to help anyone in need when they have the resources to do it easily without harming themselves in any real way.” Sometimes yes, but many times this is “enabling”. Better to teach the person to make the most of their own resources. “Give a man a fish and he eats today, teach him to fish and he can feed himself forever.” If he’s near a clean stream, pond or ocean, of course!

  32. Brian Carr says:

    In using the famous words of Gordon Gekko: “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”

  33. getagrip says:

    That quote and sentiment are usually quickly followed by the collection plate.

  34. Paul says:

    Steve (#29) makes a good point. Spending money on things that some may call frivolous supports honest jobs for many. This reminds me of the recent call by our President to increase taxes on the purchase of luxury items, like jet airplanes. Should the government discourage the rich from spending their money?

  35. Peggy says:

    …wondering how “the friend” was able to e-mail you considering internet access costs money?

  36. littlepitcher says:

    Ask how supporting your family and being self-sufficient is the root of all evil. Then further inquire why your out-of-touch buddy hasn’t addressed someone like Goldman Sachs instead of trolling you.

    Someone really, really needs some mental exercise.

  37. kristine says:

    Is this a repeat post? I could swear I read this already. Maybe a de ja vu, or maybe it was a comments discussion once upon a time.

  38. My response on what the goal of teaching others about finance or even frugality is to help others live according to their beliefs. If your starbucks cup of coffee is a quality of life thing for you, go for it. But if it isn’t, don’t buy it out of habit. Buy it because you value it. Spend your money on what you value, not on habit. Think before you spend money. To me, that is the main thing I get from this blog and the main thing I try and share with others in my life.

  39. Having lived most of my adult life below the poverty line, it took me a long time to get this. It also goes to show how firmly an error can be entrenched in our mind-set, even with people who don’t read the Bible. Frankly, I’m glad God has gifted me with the money I have – I just haven’t always been as responsible as I should have been. Thanks for posting this!

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