The meaning of money

Money can fulfill us or just fill our homes.

Meaning of moneyRecently, as the fires raged in the mountains above our home in Hout Bay, I had that moment of complete clarity about the meaning of money, relationships and what really matters in my life.

When we received the message that our area had been put on red alert, I had to think about what I would take with me if we received the evacuation order – what could I not live without?

Very simply, it came down to my family, my dog, important papers like birth certificates, and my laptop. Nothing else really mattered. It was all replaceable. Even the destruction of my home, which I would weep over, was something I would recover from as long as my family was safe.

So what is it that really matters to you? If you had to walk away and leave most of your life behind, what would you take with you?

When you look at all your belongings – the clothes in the cupboard, the TVs, the furniture – does any of it really mean that much? Those pair of shoes which blew the credit card limit and then had to be justified to your partner; that car that turned out to be a major liability rather than a status symbol – does any of it really mean that much?

Yet that is where all our money goes – into accumulating stuff that really doesn’t matter. Even worse, the things we accumulate have a negative impact on things that do matter to us – our relationships with our family and even ourselves. The stress created by financial pressure can be devastating to marriages and our own wellbeing; it can steal from our children’s future when they have to support us in our retirement.

In his book Letters to my Children Jonathan Jansen writes: “Try to keep your life simple, the more material things you acquire, the more headaches you get!”

This reminded me of a comment by US organisational consultant Peter Walsh who wrote about buying ‘stuff’: “It’s not necessarily about the new pots and pans but the idea of the cozy family meals that they will provide. People are finding that their homes are full of stuff, but their lives are littered with unfulfilled promises.”

So I’ve decided that the next time I want to spend my money on something, I’m going to ask myself: Does this really matter? Am I buying this because I think it will make me happy? Is there something better I could be doing with my money that would bring real meaning to my life? And most importantly, is this purchase in any way going to negatively impact my relationships?

Money can be used to fulfill us, or just to fill our homes – there is a big difference.

This article first appeared in City Press

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