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?

There 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.

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.

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.

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?

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.