What is the Purpose of Money?
By Steve Gillman
We trade our time and efforts for it, so what is the purpose
of money? The general purpose of money as a tool is to make trading
of goods and services easier and more efficient. But on a personal
level we each have our own reasons for going to work or investing
or doing business to make a profit. Here's a look at some of
For many people the purpose of money and their pursuit of
it is a simple matter of survival. That's how we feed and cloth
ourselves in a modern society, after all. Of course, if you look
closely you realize that in nations that are well-developed economically
people choose to earn much more than is necessary for survival.
Even health doesn't really require more than a few dozen square
feet of indoor space and a few dollars of food daily. Nobody
can honestly claim that they want money only for survival as
long as there are others all around them that live in less space
and eat more economically.
Surviving in comfort might be the next level of purpose. That
can mean better mattresses and other furniture, and some tastier
foods. On the other hand, there doesn't seem to be any end to
this accumulation of "better things" other than the
limits of our wallets. This despite the lack of much evidence
for there being more comfort in a super expensive car versus
a merely expensive one, or a table becoming more pleasant to
use if it costs twenty times as much as another already expensive
one. So although comfort is certainly one of the purposes for
most of us, but there is more to it than that.
We all have an ego, an invented self that we unfortunately
identify with more than we should. Part of that process of creation
includes owning certain things that help us build that ego-self.
Even if we were alone in the world we might have this urge. Thus
we identify with anything from a favorite spear to a new home,
and value these beyond any objective functional value they have
in bettering our lives. Of course, because we live in the modern
world we have to buy these things with money. And money itself
- having a lot of it - becomes a part of this identity as well.
To Impress Others
We want to impress others with our things so we can feel that
ego-self more palpably. This is part of why we buy cars that
are more than just what we need for transportation, and even
things that we don't need at all. Today in most cultures, money
is one of the easiest ways to win the approval of others.
Obviously money helps you control your surroundings, which
gets us back to survival and comfort. But it also gives you power
over other people in direct and indirect ways. Notice how those
with less money get out of the way of those with more, and how
well rich people are treated by those who stand to inherit their
wealth. We can directly pay people to do most of the things we
might want, but there are also many subtle games played that
are aimed at control and involve money.
We have many desires and goals. We also all face an unpredictable
future full of many possibilities both welcomed and feared. Money
not only helps us fulfill desires and reach our goals, but it
can provide the power to deal with most of the potential future
scenarios. In other words, it can give us a kind of freedom in
terms of our actions and possibilities in the world. I cover
this important purpose of money in detail on the page What
Does Financial Freedom Mean?
It is often assumed that money gets in the way of spiritual
growth, or what some real might call real or internal freedom.
But it's all about how you use it. Spiritual teachers - even
those offering real value - will sometimes claim that money has
nothing to do with your "self work," but they will
tell you that in a book or seminar that you had to pay for. If
you believe that spiritual growth can take some work and time,
well, money sure buys the latter. And although it may be easy
to say that enlightenment is possible at all times, it seems
that most of us need to get past fighting for survival before
we can take the time reflect on higher truths.
The Many Specifics
What is the purpose of money? The answers above address some
of the personal purposes in general. Then there are the specific
purposes that are unique to each of us. These range from getting
back to one's home country to see loved ones to establishing
a new college endowment fund to buying the next best video game.
Of course if we accept that the ultimate purpose is to make our
lives better, then all of these lesser goals have to be measured