The Meaning of Money

For most of us, money means security in that it provides food, shelter, warmth, clothing and the occasional treat. Or at least, those are the basics for which we actually need money. Sadly, it has taken on a more sinister meaning today. It has come to define a person’s worth. That definition is both false and dangerous; it devalues the person while giving high regard to materialistic wealth.

Those with a great deal of money, however it has been accumulated, are revered as role models in a consumerist society; we wish we had as much, or at least a part of their fortune, believing that would make us happier, better looking, more interesting, altogether more valuable. That is what money has come to mean to many of us, particularly if we are in the sort of circumstances where we do not have much. Money would be a life-saving, life-changing addition to our lives, we dream, as we see the rich and famous being given almost godlike status.

But a recent study in the UK, regarding women buying National Lottery tickets every week when grocery shopping, brought some interesting results. Certainly the 1 ($2) ticket could bring a win of millions, but the majority of women responded that this was not their hope. Rather, all they wanted was enough to meet those basic security needs, with some left over to help their children and families, and to have a treat such as a really good holiday. If they won enough to clear debts and be secure, then millions were not required. So that was what money meant to them.

The meaning of money, for others, becomes an obsession to save and to always have some stashed away, just in case, for a rainy day, for retirement, for college funds, for emergencies and so on. With such people, acquiring but not enjoying money, turns them miserly. They will never have enough to reach that safe goal of total security. Perhaps, having suffered great material poverty in childhood,they aim never to let that happen again to them or their families. A certain amount of thrift and sensible saving is not a bad thing, but being so obsessive means money brings little or no pleasure.

I remember many years ago, meeting a very personable young American girl in a pub in Dublin. We were both backpacking students, visiting the home of the Dubliners and listening to Irish music. When I asked her where she came from, she replied “The place where the money is, the U. S. of A.!” This was stated with a smug arrogance that took me swiftly out of her company. At the time, Eire was a struggling economy, not the Celtic tiger it later became.

The meaning of money has many different facets, many levels of importance for everyone who has too much, too little, or just enough to get by. I would be lying if I said it means little to me. That is because I am like those women in the Lottery study – I want to make things easier for my family and to have a little more leeway with luxury. When I did get quite a useful sum of money some years back, I gave quite a bit away to my adult children, I bought things for the home and also some useless luxuries. I got a great deal of pleasure from that money, even if I depleted my store of future security.

Examining just how and why I could treat money this way, I learned some interesting facts about myself and the influences that formed my attitudes and values. My grandmother worked very hard all her life, but had no money when she died, except her funeral insurance. She gave her money away to me, her only grandchild, and to her children, during her life. If she wanted a new hat, or nice shoes, the best quality fruit or fresh butter, she bought them. Her philosophy was “You cn’t take it with you when you go,” so she enjoyed money and what it could do to make life easier and more pleasant. I have inherited her viewpoint.

My mother was a great saver, always with that emergency store hidden away in odd places, including the bank, which she mistrusted. But she too was generous, with her special charities money box, and gifts to me and my children through the years. She would say “There are no pockets in shrouds,” a variation on my grandmother’s theme. She preferred her money to give help and pleasure while she was alive and able to experience this happening.

With a continuation down the female line, for my grand-daughter, money represents interesting coins, several piggy banks, and the means to buy presents for those she loves. I wonder how genetic this all is, it seems rather strange, when the child never knew her great grandmother. I think it is an example of values being passed down. She also tells me she is saving up so she does not have to work, as she thinks work must be really boring! Out of the mouths of babes… She too, mistrusts the bank, she says they’ll just spend her money on having parties for themselves.

To conclued, maybe the meaning of money should be summed up in the words of that old Beatles’ song “Can’t Buy Me Love”

“I don’t care too much for money,
Money can’t be me love.”

But like everybody else who has not got quite enough for total security and comfort, I wish I had a little more.