Without Purpose, Money is Just Paper

without purpose money is just paper

I get invited to speak to children about money regularly and I am always impressed by their eagerness to learn how to use their money wisely. At one recent event, one young girl stood out in particular. She wanted a million dollars which, in itself, is not that strange. But when I asked her what she wanted to do with her million dollars, her answer was "to look at it."

I kept trying to get her to see beyond the number and instead focus on what she could do with her money. But all she wanted to do was look at it. Finally, I told her, "Money is just paper. It already has ink on it, so you can't even draw on it. What really matters is how you choose to use that million dollars."

Unfortunately, I'm not sure if she ever understood my point, but it's actually a problem I see in many adults too. We get caught up in the idea that a set amount of money will bring us happiness, but we don't put enough time and effort to think about what we want to do with our money, which is what actually makes us happy.

It's not the amount of money you have; it's what you do with it that matters.

In my previous post, Your Financial Foundation, we established a sturdy foundation to provide you with a strong platform to build your dreams upon. Today, we're going to talk about those dreams and how to use them to give your money purpose.

What Do You Want Your Money to Do for You?

what do you want your money to doThere are lots of things I want, but I don't want everything equally. Some things truly matter— such as, creating memories with my family when we travel—while others mean far less to me—such as, the nice outfit I saw at the department store. Unfortunately, many of us have become accustomed to instant gratification. We see something we want and we buy it.

We all have a finite amount of money, so we need to make sure whatever amount of discretionary money we have available is truly going to things we want. In other words, money needs a purpose. Otherwise it can become very easy to succumb to the power of instant gratification and mindless spending and wind up with lots of stuff, but nothing that truly matters.

Create Clear, Concise Goals

I happen to love setting goals, but I know not everyone shares my enthusiasm. Remember—these are not work goals where you can get fired if you don't reach them or goals set for you by your leader. They should be something you truly desire, but the journey to achieving your goals should be fun and worth your effort.

  1. What are the things that you want to do and would regret not being able to do or have? Take your time and write down everything that pops into your head. Don't be vague and say retirement. What does retirement look like? When do you want to retire? What are things you want to do? Be specific. I want to retire at age 50. We will sell our home and purchase a RV to travel around the country for the next 10 years. We will earn some additional income by chronicling our adventures through our travel blog and writing travel articles for other sites, and so forth.
  2. Once you have your list, start paring it down to the things that truly matter. I suggest comparing items to one another and prioritizing which ones you want most. When you compare items from an either/or perspective (i.e. I can have this but not this), it helps you figure out which item means the most to you. These are your goals and now your money has a purpose.

Use Your Goals to Make Value-Based Decisions

One of the most important things my father taught me to do was to make money decisions that aligned with my values and goals. Once I mastered this, money decisions came easily to me and they will to you too.

  1. Your goals serve as a barometer to compare against all unneeded items. When you find something you want but don’t need, ask yourself: Is this item more important than achieving my goals? Or am I feeding an emotion?
  2. Humans seem to be hardwired to dislike deprivation. Remember—you are not denying yourself anything when you chose to honor your goals and values. Let go of any frustration or disappointment you have in not being able to buy everything you want, but focus on what you are getting—the things that matter to you most. And those things are surely worth making conscious money decisions.

Live a Rich Life

In the end, money is just paper. It's what you do with that paper that will determine how "rich" your life really is. The best way to live a rich and fulfilling life is to give your money purpose, so you can make decisions that honor your values and goals and leave behind the legacy you want, regardless of whether you have a million dollars or significantly less.

How are you giving your money purpose?


shannon ryan

Shannon Ryan

Shannon Ryan, CFP® is a Mom on a mission to help busy parents teach their children simple, value-based principles that guide their money decisions and support their long-term financial well-being. Shannon wrote The Heavy Purse to help parents start money conversations with their children through a fun, bedtime story and developed companion workbooks to help deepen those conversations. Visit TheHeavyPurse to learn more on how to raise Money Smart Kids.

  Connect with Shannon on Twitter,  Facebook, and YouTube 


    • Corina Ramos

      Corina Ramos 05/29/2013 7:12 a.m. #

      This is an awesome post Shannon.

      I love the first bullet and that sets the tone for our financial future I think. I've taken time to plan our retirement and our major financial decisions are based on that.

      Our retirement plans include traveling so we've been trying to pay off things like paying off my car and use that "payment" and send it to the principal of my mortgage to pay our home off quicker.

      The old me would not have thought about that. I would labeled the extra money as "mad" money and shopped away.

      I hope folks read this and "get it" like I did :) Have a great day my friend!

      • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse

        Shannon @ The Heavy Purse 05/29/2013 11:12 a.m. #

        Thanks Corina! That's great you and your husband have taken the time to figure out what you truly want to do in retirement. A lot of people surprisingly don't. I think this is one reason why so many people have so little saved for retirement. It's hard to save for something when you don't know what you're truly saving for.

    • Thrifty Dad

      Thrifty Dad 05/29/2013 8:17 a.m. #

      That phrase "give every dollar a purpose" just sticks in my head. We're always setting goals as well. It's important! It seems everyone like to fixate on the million dollars, but you're right, it's not the amount you have, it's what you do with it. Great post!

      • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse

        Shannon @ The Heavy Purse 05/29/2013 11:14 a.m. #

        Thanks Anthony! Setting goals is an absolute must. I know not everyone likes setting them, but without knowing what you're saving for, it becomes so easy to spend it on other things that really don't mean that much to you. And I have seen people with very little money live the richest lives because of how they used their money while others with huge bank accounts live very poor lives.

    • Adam @ Money Rebound

      Adam @ Money Rebound 05/29/2013 8:36 a.m. #

      I struggle to let my money just sit there, I'm always reinvesting it in something.

      • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse

        Shannon @ The Heavy Purse 05/29/2013 11:16 a.m. #

        It can be hard to just let your money grow, but when it has a purpose, it becomes much easier to do! :)

    • DC @ Young Adult Money

      DC @ Young Adult Money 05/29/2013 9:10 a.m. #

      I also love setting goals and see it as going hand-in-hand with deciding what you should do with your money. I also think it should guide HOW you go about making your money. Some people should not invest in an MBA or higher ed if they don't want to end up working 60 hours a week/higher level high stress job. Our life goals should align with our money goals, since money is what will fund those goals and make them a reality.

      • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse

        Shannon @ The Heavy Purse 05/29/2013 11:20 a.m. #

        Great point, DC. Life goals, job goals should align with your money goals. People sometimes get trapped in their jobs because they think they need to work high-pressured jobs that pay a lot but bring them very little satisfaction. There is a balance and knowing what you want helps you figure out what you need to do in order to achieve it. It may not be climbing the corporate ladder but adding a side hustle that you love, etc.

    • krantcents

      krantcents 05/29/2013 9:50 a.m. #

      I want my money working for me 24/7! I wanted to actually to work harder than it took to earn it. Over time, I expect to it to grow and row to a bigger amount.

      • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse

        Shannon @ The Heavy Purse 05/29/2013 11:21 a.m. #

        Agreed! I want my money working for me all the time too and helping fund my dreams.

    • Mackenzie

      Mackenzie 05/29/2013 10:40 a.m. #

      I like to set goals too. I find that if I don't, I'm all over the place and nothing gets done.

      • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse

        Shannon @ The Heavy Purse 05/29/2013 11:23 a.m. #

        Me too, Mackenzie. They keep me honest and on track. I also find them incredibly motivating because ... well, getting what I want makes me happy! LOL! :)

    • KC @ genxfinance

      KC @ genxfinance 05/29/2013 9:10 p.m. #

      Amazing point. What's really the point of money if it doesn't work for you? That's why I plan well what I want to do with my money, set goals, make it work for my benefit and make my life comfortable.

      • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse

        Shannon @ The Heavy Purse 05/30/2013 10:01 a.m. #

        Thanks, KC! I agree - we work so hard for our money that we should absolutely make sure it's working for us and we're spending it on the things that really matter to us. Too many people think the "joy" or "happiness" of money comes from having piles of it, but the truth is using it on the things that mean the most to you and others is where the real power and joy exists.

    • Suburban Finance

      Suburban Finance 05/30/2013 8:20 p.m. #

      Money is not worth anything unless you use it for something that has value to you. There is no value of it sitting there. I think really little kids just aren't able to wrap their minds around it.

      • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse

        Shannon @ The Heavy Purse 05/31/2013 12:11 p.m. #

        Agreed! We believe the piece of paper is valuable but how you use it is what's actually valuable. Kids learn how to think about money from watching how their parents handle it, which is why it's so important that we model good financial behavior and talk to them about money.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

      Laurie @thefrugalfarmer 05/31/2013 7:03 a.m. #

      WOW, Shannon. Well said, my friend. Well said. I heard a finance teacher say once the "Money is the least important thing on earth. If you can figure out how to manage 'the least' well, then you're on your way to managing other more important things well."

      • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse

        Shannon @ The Heavy Purse 05/31/2013 12:13 p.m. #

        Thanks, Laurie! Your finance teacher was spot-on. We become so obsessed with money that we forget that it's really just paper. The true values comes from how you use it - so use it well - then you can live like a King, regardless of your wealth.

    • Debt Roundup

      Debt Roundup 05/31/2013 9:34 a.m. #

      Great post Shannon. I think we get enamored with the idea of money, but many of us don't know what we would do with it. This happens all of the time with lottery winners. They love the idea of millions of dollars, but have no clue what they would do with it. I am using my money to fund some of my passions and that is worth it to me.

      • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse

        Shannon @ The Heavy Purse 05/31/2013 12:22 p.m. #

        Thanks Grayson! Lottery winners are a great example. We have this belief that lots of money will make us happy. But it's how we use it that really makes us happy, which is actually great news. Use it on the things that matter and you can be happy even if you're not a lottery winner!

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