Are you controlling money, or is money controlling you?

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Value Money Control
Value Money Control

In modern society, a lot of us have jobs and careers. However, have you ever taken a step back and given a thought about why you are doing the things you’re doing? A lot of us work for money, but why do you do so?

Whenever I am on social media, I frequently see people stating goals such as “The new BMW is such an amazing car, it’s going to be my new goal”. Their friends will then congratulate them on the goal and encourage them on.

Otherwise, people will post photos of the new house, new car, new accessory, new toy that they have just bought, and immediately get comments and likes from supportive friends.

I know the feeling keenly, because I was once such a person, and the adulation and attention that you get from impressing the people around you can be addictive. However, when you go home at the end of the day, this glow fades, and you’re left with the maintenance of your new purchase, and the big question of “What now?”. Or at least, that was what happened to me.

It took me several years, and I slowly realised that money can get you many things, but money is just like any other powerful tool – it really depends on how you use it.

Welcome to the Hedonic Treadmill

The perpetual chase for the next bigger, better thing results in you adapting to the “new norm”, and losing the benefits from any short-term increases in happiness.

The key is then to decouple an increasing income from expectations and desires.

Can you recall when you were anticipating something – it could be a career promotion, or a new car, or a new house. It would seem like getting it would make you the happiest person ever. One day, you did get it, and the happiness wasn’t as intense as you had imagined, and neither did it last for very long.

This is known as the hedonic treadmill (or hedonic adaptation). Like what the term alludes to, there’s a lot of movement, but you don’t really get anywhere. Perhaps it’s a by-product of evolution, that we get used to what is familiar. After all, with the barrage of sensory stimuli that we receive on a constant basis, it is impossible to be able to give every single stimuli our undivided attention and curiosity. Very soon, what we found to make us happy, fades into the background with all the other things as well. “Hedonic adaptation means that humans beings are remarkable at getting used to changes in their lives,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, the author of The Myths of Happiness ($14, Amazon.com).

The hedonic treadmill is typically what many people will experience, when there isn’t a greater purpose to life. For many, the pursuit of materialism serves as a convenient alternative and gives a structure to work towards. However, with time, this becomes a source of stress, frustration, burnout, and disillusionment, rather than a source of happiness and fulfilment.

The key is then to decouple an increasing income from expectations and desires.

My Personal View of the Value of Money

As a high-income professional, it was easy to be drawn to the trappings of wealth. Luxury, comfort, and decadence were available and made more accessible with the higher your income was. When I hit my thirties, it dawned upon me that even with a source of high-income, it wasn’t guaranteed to last forever, and like anyone who was depending on a job, I was really trading my time and life for money.

As the saying goes, money really doesn’t buy you happiness. However, what it can do, is buy you the security of not having to worry about your necessities such as rent, food, and so on. I realised that what I needed to do was to have enough, so that I didn’t need to depend on my job and income anymore.

The question is then: what do you mean by “enough”?

“Enough” is simply having enough money that you could sustain your existing lifestyle without making any changes. Therefore, to achieve this, you can either make more money, reduce your expenses, or do both.

Making The Changes

After much introspection and self-reflection, I started simplifying my possessions and my lifestyle. I realised that some of the desires and expectations that I previously had, were irrelevant and unhealthy. I sold my car, my apartment, and a bunch of stuff around the house that I never used in years. I started renting a smaller apartment that was much more conveniently located. I could take the train to my office, and I had eateries and supermarkets just minutes away.

With this, it gave me a significant increase in the savings I had every month – around 90% of my income was saved up. My money went into investments, with the goal of increasing my passive income.

I didn’t stop spending and become a frugal hermit though. On the contrary, I was very happy to spend on things that would save me time and increase my convenience. For example, I was happy to hire a helper to help me with household chores. I was also happy paying for a very conveniently-located apartment. Since I wasn’t depriving myself of things that I really wanted or needed, it made these changes to my life easy to make.

With these changes, it made me feel that I was controlling and managing money, rather than money controlling and managing me. What about you? What is the value of money to you, and how do you manage and control it?

Summary of the Key Takeaways

  • Question what you are working towards
  • Question why you are spending on the purchases that you are spending on
  • Identify what truly makes you happy
  • Work towards a purpose, not just towards goals
  • Manage and control money, and not have money manage and control you

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