When we look at money we don’t see the money – or the real things that we want.  Sometimes we think we see happiness .  Other times we think we are getting something we want.  But often what we’re seeing is a symbol.

There are all sorts of ways to categorise what our symbols for money are.  One that I find useful is that people often use money to get one of four things:

  • Power/Status
  • Security
  • Love
  • Freedom


That categorisation comes from this book – where the authors go into quite a bit of depth of sub-categories and definitions of specific symbols.   I find it very interesting, but then I would since it is my “specialist subject”!   For you, and for most people it’s usually enough to think about what you want from money and see whether it fits into one of those categories. 

For example, if you tend to “keep score” with your money and you judge yourself by whether you’ve got more than your siblings or friends, maybe what you see in money is power.  Perhaps if you want to “avoid ever being poor”, what you want is security. 

You might want to think about it.  If you got the power, the security, etc. would that make you happy?  Or would you get used to things (as here, about how money fails to satisfy long term).  So if you had as much power as you currently want, would you then be miserable because you didn’t have as much as a bank CEO, or the President of the USA?  If you had enough money to be secure in terms of a home, income etc., would you be content with that, or would you then start thinking that “if only” you had a bit more money, you could have a better home, more income and so on?

There’s often a gender difference in the symbols people see in money.  If you look at what you want to use it for and compare it to what your opposite sex partner wants, don’t be surprised if the same “goal”, (the house, the car, the holiday etc.) represents a different symbol to you.

But either way, think about what you want, see if it fits into those categories.  And whether those things will actually make you happy long term.  If you suspect that it would be like the proverbial Chinese meal, half an hour later you’d want something more, then maybe you want to think a bit harder about what would really make you happy.  Perhaps look at what your real values are and compare them to the symbols you use. 

It will help you understand what you see in money.

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