When we believe more money is the answer, it can impact us in unforeseen ways.

Humans just want more. We want more happiness…more money, more success, more time, more vacations, more life. Aspiration does seem to be a healthy thing. As humans, we seem to value growth and progress. However, money represents many different things to different people. When it comes to money, needing more, wanting more and having more can be complicated. The danger in the pursuit of money is that you risk falling into a rabbit hole – where you find yourself navigating a seemingly endless confusion of paths and choices, and where it is so easy to lose your way.

Behind our wanting of more could be clues about our relationship to money, unconscious beliefs which lie at the heart of the financial choices we make. Think about what wanting more implies. It implies the mirror presence of lack, need, and not enough. It connects to our primal beliefs around scarcity and abundance. Let’s look at how those beliefs may influence the choices we make.

Perhaps my personal quest for more money can be instructive. When I was younger I believed that every dollar I saved would somehow help me feel more secure. When I had worked long enough (which at the time I believed was age 65) I would have a couple of million dollars and I could stop working. I could ‘retire’ and then I would be happy. When viewed in hindsight the misconception seems obvious. In my mind I was suspending happiness to align with future monetary goals. And a general problem is that the wanting does not stop once the target level of money is reached.

Earn more? Or spend less?

You may be in a situation where no matter how much you earn you always want (and sometimes spend) more money than you earn. The decision to address the problem by earning more money, allows you to avoid other, perhaps more difficult choices. Maybe we truly believe that all we need is more time, more effort, and surely the income will materialize. Or maybe we’re convinced that our spending is in line with our needs, our wants or our values and therefore ‘there’s no place to cut.’

Clearly the best choice is to live a financially sound and sustainable life. From this perspective reducing spending may be a good solution. But cutting back is a hard thing to do when you believe that just having (fill in the blank) more dollars would solve your problems.

On the flip side, it is possible to err on the side of extreme frugality. In the book, The Financial Wisdom of Ebenezer Scrooge, the author makes the point that you can be well off and still choose to live an impoverished life, as did Scrooge, who denied himself heat and light and lived like a pauper. Under the curse of ‘not enough’ (a state of lack), it is difficult, if not impossible, to experience life as full and abundant.

Even people who have substantial assets and spend liberally have choices to make. I’ve seen wealthy people want to give very generously to their children, grandchildren and favorite charities. They feel their abundant wealth should allow them to spend whatever they want. It takes sitting down with the numbers to determine if in fact they are spending at sustainable levels. They could unwittingly be putting their own financial futures at stake.

Under the spell of more money?

As we highlighted in last month’s article, J. Paul Getty’s answer to how much he needed to feel secure was, “More!” This undefined more is based on an illusory belief or system of beliefs that is never satisfied. It comes from a position of fear and instability, from not knowing how much is enough. Under the spell of more, we might spend too much hoping we’ll earn more to make up for deficits. Or conversely we might sacrifice quality of life and save more than necessary, thinking it adds to our security. In a quest for balance and contentment those are illusions which need dispelling.

In summary, we often live in an imaginary story about our wealth, or lack thereof, that keeps us from looking closely at our situation and making good choices. We may not have fully clarified our values and priorities with regard to money. Being aware of our options, and making good sustainable choices in our financial present is really where we find our power and direct our growth in a positive way.