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 those purposes.
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 against that.