Updated on 10.06.07

Your Money or Your Life: Money Ain’t What It Used To Be – And Never Was

Trent Hamm

YMOYLThis is the sixth part of The Simple Dollar Book Club reading of Your Money or Your Life. Want to know more?

The second chapter of Your Money or Your Life starts off with a focus on the four perspectives of money, an attempt to answer a very rhetorical question: What is money? It’s not an easy question because it depends heavily on your perspective. Here are the four offered in the book:

1. The Street-Level Perspective of Money – The Practical, Physical Realm
This is the level of budgeting, of the mechanics of spending and saving money. Most of the topics I talk about on The Simple Dollar focus on the physical realm of money, and it’s what most people think of when they think of personal finance. In fact, often when I talk about the other levels (often the more interesting ones), I get accused of not writing about personal finance.

2. The Neighborhood Perspective of Money – The Psychological Realm
This level is the interesting realm of money myths – the other attributes that we assign to money. Is money evil? Is money a sign of social status? Is money security? Is money a representation of power?

Most of these questions really depend on the experiences you’ve had in your life. For example, my life experience has told me that money isn’t evil at all – any moral stance that money has is merely an extension of the moral behavior of the person that holds it. Yet I know many people who deeply mistrust people with money simply because they believe money to be evil.

When you think of money, what does it bring to your mind? For me, I strongly relate money to security – having more money means that my family’s way of life is much less likely to be affected by disaster.

3. The Citywide Perspective of Money – The Cultural Realm
There are also culture-wide phenomena when it comes to money – for example, consumerism. In the United States (and much of the western world), there is an ingrained part of the culture that says that it’s appropriate to spend money with abandon.

This leads to a lot of other pressures and cultural influences: the desire to “keep up with the Joneses,” for example, is culturally pervasive, as is the idea that we need to spend money in order to support the greater economy.

4. The Jet Plane Perspective of Money – Personal Responsibility and Transformation
This level is the one that really made me think. Here, Dominguez and Robin argue that money is something we choose to trade our life energy for. We work to earn money, right? So we’re trading the energy and time that we spend on work for money. Every hour we work hard for our hourly wage, we give up an hour of our life and an hour’s worth of energy for that money.

I feel this is a truly profound way of looking at your money and your time. Every time you work for money, you’re exchanging a piece of your life for a certain amount of cash. What will you do with that cash, that piece of your life? Will you spend it on more clutter? Will you invest it and use the income to give yourself freedom?

Are you willing to trade more and more of your life energy for more and more material goods? I found that this perspective, more than any other, really makes me question how I spend my free time and the things that I choose to spend my money on, and it’s been the key issue in my mind in my transformation from spending more than I make (mostly on unnecessary stuff) to spending far less than I make.

Tomorrow, we’ll continue in chapter two with the section ” focusing on the first half of the chapter up to the start of “Step 2: Being In The Present And Tackling Your Life Energy” That section is on pages 59 through 75 in my paperback version of the book.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. I agree. The life energy for money exchange is a really profound insight. It changed my outlook quite a bit the first time I read it, though I did start to stray off track again after a while. It’s a good reminder and it really helps me when looking at something I may want to purchase. Instead of just seeing the shiny new product I wish to buy, I try to look at it as a number of hours worth of work.

  2. Andre says:

    Thoreau: “The cost of something is the amount of life that must be given in exchange for it.”

  3. sunny says:

    I used to measure my wants vs. needs by how many hours do I have to work to buy this? This worked great for years until I had a substantial pay increase. Now I put it on a wish list and then revisit the list in a few weeks. More often than not I end up deleting the bright shiny thing I thought I really needed.

  4. lorax says:

    I agree with everyone. The big takeaway from this chapter, and also that of the book, is that money is something we choose to trade our life energy for. And thanks Andre for that Thoreau quote!

    Another pet peeve: Jason didn’t triple his debt, he quadrupled it. Or he added triple his debt to his current debt. Either way, it drives me nuts that the math details aren’t perfect.

  5. Mrs. Micah says:

    I’ve thought about that when considering Dave Ramsey’s recommendations. Would it be wise to take a second, part-time job? I don’t think so, for me, because I’m not willing to trade my sanity, even for financial freedom. After all, the point of being financially free is to be…happy seems like a lame word, but contented in one’s situation? at peace? Something like that.

  6. Minimum Wage says:

    I find looking at it this way to be disturbing. I neither invest my money now spend it on more clutter. I spend it to subsist. Thinking at it this way, I feel like a hopeless hamster.

  7. rhbee says:

    The power of money in money in the idea of money
    The tradeoff, the stock trade, the oil business
    The fact that even the worst BIG business makes money
    The way the things we do for it obscure what it does to us
    The way money funds politics
    The way politicians pursue the purse strings
    The way we are caught in the web of interest rates and daily averages
    The way the math of lowering the interest rate makes the stock market go crazy
    The way we can rationalize the cost of making war against the cost of the collateral damage
    The way it almost seems right that Indian casinos provide billion in tax revenue
    The way gambling is okayed but steriods aren’t
    The constant competition to raise ad revenue
    The way we personalize our finances so that we don’t have to take responsibility
    The way we can’t work out even the simplest of solutions to world wide hunger, health, war
    The way we can easily say “money isn’t evil, it’s the things we do with it that are.”

  8. Empress Juju says:

    Just this week I figured out why the concept of “trading my life energy for money” hasn’t been ringing true for me: My work is deeply fulfilling.

    I do meaningful work that I excel at, am appreciated for, with people whose company I enjoy. The time I spend at work generally enriches me, rather than depleting me. Sure, I have hard days, and deal with difficult people and situations fairly regularly, but I choose to enjoy and appreciate my work, rather than resent it, which has made an incredible difference in the timbre of my days.

    I am committed to a junk-free, debt-free, financially stable life, and I have also come to realize that my happiness depends more on my own attitude than it does on my bank balance!

  9. Nadine says:

    Although I enjoy my work, I have to admit that my primary motivator is to earn a living. I think that the purpose of this section of the book is to clarify what our money really represents. It does represent our life’s energy, and therefore, we need to give more consideration to how we spend it. The reason that I have worked so hard to get out of debt is due to my aversion for paying interest. I like “things” as much as anyone, but not to the point where I have to pay interest in addition to the price of the commodity that I am buying.

  10. Betty Ann says:

    I Love my work; but would I do it FREE??


    My work is fun; but would I still do it for fun??


    Because instead I would do Volunteer work for organizations that would make a difference.

    I had three children to raise, now 23, 21 and 11. And divorced and building up work the last 6 weeks after being a SAHM.. (before I always had a child under 5 at work. MY ex could not stop spending.

    I have about 1200 emergency money only; but I do have almost 200,000 to survive if I was to sell my house; I had to buy my ex out of that house so the mortgage zoomed up from 1880 a month to 2660 a month.. YIKEZS..

    I’m blessed I freelance around my 11 year old schedule and he is gone each week with his dad…but my mortgage takes up most of my money each month; and I won’t work full time.

    I wish I was F.I. so i could stop working at my Fun job and do gratifying volunteer work.

  11. Jennifer says:

    Such a fascinating concept that money equals our life energy. And very scary how few (relatively) hours of life I have left (at age 40)!

    Definitely makes me want to be more careful about what I spend my life energy on!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *