Like most things in life financial maturity is a journey not a destination. If we are open we will keep changing and broadening our perspective. Recently this has taken the form of questioning my definition of the purpose of money. I used to think that the definition of money took on two distinct stages, but I am starting to be drawn to a third stage that I am not sure I could have imagined a few years ago.
Stage 1 – Money = Stuff
This is the stage that we all know and love. It is the stage were the 10 year old realizes he can save his money from chores and get the latest Nintendo Wii game. It is the stage were the 22 year old graduate realizes they can lease a BMW. It is the stage were the 30 year old married couple can buy more house than they know what to do with.
As I began to peer out from under $70,000 in debt, I realized there were a few problems with this stage. There is always bigger and better stuff to get and buying more stuff usually breeds discontent with the stuff you have. Also banks are more than willing to lend you their money so that you can ‘fulfill all your dreams’. Eventually that fancy new car breaks, you get laid off, or the grind just gets old and your left discontent with the stuff but still paying for it. This is where I started to move to stage 2 and clear away all my debt. Stuff, debt, and payments were just dead weight that was keeping me from doing the things I really wanted. Things that if I really started to be honest with myself didn’t really include stuff at all.
Stage 2 – Money = Freedom
As my debt cleared and I began to be able to control my own cash each month, I began to feel a sense of freedom. I started to get rid of stuff. I realized I could quit my job and do something I really loved, something more fulfilling than stuff. I could spend more time with my family, children, and wife. I was less stressed. I wasn’t spending time worrying about stuff being broken or what the next new thing was. I started using money to stash away an emergency fund which bought me freedom from having to worry about finances. If I wanted more time with my family or for a business endeavor I could use money to hire a cleaning person. Just like with stuff though, the more freedom you get the more you want.
Lately, I have been starting to realize that I have set up freedom as the end goal. It seemed perfect at the time, but now that I have gotten towards the top of that plateau and peered out, the scenery is beginning to look different. I am asking different questions than I was five years ago. It is quite exciting to be a part of ongoing growth, but also a little nerve-wracking because I thought I had it figured out.
I know it sounds a little crazy, but the idea is that freedom isn’t the end goal. It is what you do with the freedom that makes it worth it. Since I am early in this new revelation, I don’t have the language to describe exactly what is going on. Hopefully this isn’t a jumbled mess. The more I read and the more people I meet the more I am drawn to those that are voluntarily giving themselves and their money away. Being a parent definitely is having a big influence on this shift. Radical and crazy, sure, but their lives and words ooze life, contentment, and joy to me. Are we wired to truly come alive when we give? Is that true fulfillment? Is it coincidence that many millionaires and billionaires start to seek avenues to give their money and time away? Am I crazy? Does anybody connect with what I am saying? Hopefully in the future I will be able to more adequately describe what stage 3 might look like. Is stage 4 money doesn’t matter at all? Any thoughts or is stage 2 it and I am just going overboard?