Why you need to attach meaning to your money

Why you need to attach meaning to your money

Close your eyes. Imagine $10,000.

Now close your eyes again. This time, I want you to imagine a brand-new hot tub in your back yard, or a trip to Rome, or a year’s worth of groceries.

Which was easier to visualize, the money or the fun stuff?

Imagining $10,000 was likely more difficult. The images in your mind were probably vague or even hazy. Maybe you thought some dollar bills or a cheque, or the number itself popped into your head… but that was about it.

My guess is that you had a much easier time imagining the hot tub, that vacation, or a counter full of bags of food. The colors were bright, the details precise, and you could probably even see yourself in the mental scene, enjoying those rewards.

You’d think the opposite would be true. Money is so important to us, especially when we’re in business. We think about it, we argue over it, and we dream about it.

… or rather, we dream about what money can do for us.

That’s why chasing money doesn’t work.

Money is essentially just an object, a unit of measure. One could even say it’s only a concept, really: Money is no more than a piece of paper or some metal bits or another barter object that represents a certain value we’ve assigned to it.

You need to be aware of this because you might be making a big mistake with your business goals:

You might be using money as a goal.

That’s what most freelancers do. They’ve heard the advice about the value of getting specific with their goals, so they set milestones for themselves like making an extra $1,000 this month, or working towards a launch that nets them $15k.

Those are good goals – who wouldn’t want to make $15k of their launch? – but the problem is that setting a certain amount of money as a goal isn’t very motivating.

Money means nothing without meaning attached to it.

In fact, money itself is a terrible motivator.

Don’t believe me? Think about this:

Let’s say I told you a client wanted to give you a project worth $25,000. Would you be happy? Excited? Would you leap up and say, “What’s his email? Can I call him? I’m IN! Let’s get started!”

Probably not. It certainly sounds nice, but it likely wouldn’t motivate you to instant action. You’d have questions. You might be skeptical. You’d want to think about it a little more.

I know I would.

Now let’s say I told you that this project would pay so well, you’d be able to replace every single one of your old appliances with brand-new ones, or that you’d make enough to buy yourself a shiny new car – and pay cash for it. Or that you could sock away your child’s entire education fund in one fell swoop.

Hell, even I’d be excited about that.

When you attach meaning to your money, your entire business game suddenly changes. The reward isn’t vague or hazy anymore; it becomes crystal clear. You can see it in your mind. You can nearly feel how good it would be to have that. And feeling motivated to achieve your goal becomes a lot easier.

You want that reward, and you’ll work hard to get it.

Start giving meaning to your money. Associate your dollar-bill goals with actual items, experiences, wants or desires that you can clearly call to mind, and you’ll find your whole business outlook starts to change.

That ebook isn’t just an ebook anymore – it’s going to be a new patio set. That podcast you started? It’s going to earn you a new computer. Your new-client prospecting? You’re doing it because you want to pay off your line of credit.

You could say your goal is to make $1,500 off your ebook, or $3,000 off your podcast, or bring in $7k of business next month. If that turns your crank, by all means, go for it. But let’s be honest: you’d probably go for it a lot harder if those dollar amounts actually meant something to you.

I’ve only used the items I’ve mentioned above as examples or suggestions. What you choose to associate with your money goals is up to you. Think of experiences you’d like to have. Think of household improvements you’d like to make. Think of new equipment that would help you work better. You could even go so far as to shop online for whatever it is you want. Get the exact price. Choose your model and pick the color. Print out a picture and keep it close by.

Think of something meaningful that would make a big difference for you. With every action you take, remind yourself that it brings you one step closer to having that reward in your life.

That’ll motivate you far more than money ever could.

By the way, you don’t have to follow through and buy that item when you hit your financial goal. You could decide to put your money in a savings account instead. Sometimes knowing that you could buy a new TV, if you wanted to, is all it takes to feel a sense of smug pride.

Or go ahead and buy yourself that reward. You worked hard; you earned it. And each time you look at it, you’ll be reminded of how much you can achieve… with the right motivators in place.

I've read it, I loved it and it changed my entire relationship with money: All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Wealth by Laura Vanderkam is definitely worth your eyes. Check it out, and see how it changes your money mindset for the better!

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. You’re quite right about reward as motivator vs. money as motivator – but I’ll add this caveat. In addition to vacations with my wife or having the financial security to later live in a home that we will ultimately inherit in the southwestern U.S. mountains (my two main material reward motivators), I also see the reward that comes from choosing a book ghostwriting project for my business that I know I’ll enjoy. Getting to know a person and their story, in tandem with communicating that story in their voice, is truly pleasurable for me. But the key word here is “enjoy.” After all, I dedicate about a year to each ghostwriting project; that’s a long time to spend in another person’s life. Therefore, I’ve become more selective with the clients and stories I choose, setting aside my earlier tendency to chase the money the project will provide at the expense of spending so much time and effort on a project that’s laborious – or worse. True value is not only found in what we do as writers; it’s in who we do it with. Thanks, James, for the reminder about meaning.

    • That’s an excellent point, Adam, and thank YOU for mentioning that.

      It reminds me of those times when people say, “It’s not even worth the money anymore.” That basically means that reward has left the building, and there’s no reason to pursue that particular activity anymore. (Which is when you stop doing it, and fast!)

  2. Insightful article James. You are so right about imagining tangible items rather than just a money value which in my mind is a light bulb with green bills :).” Sometimes knowing ….. smug pride” – loved this line! So spot on !

    • 🙂 Smug pride is a good feeling. I wholeheartedly support it!

      Actually, you can use this advice on the flip side as well – each time you spend money, give it meaning. It’s easy to spend $25 on a nice shirt, but if you think about what ELSE that money could buy (like a full bag of groceries), you tend to get a little choosier and make better spending decisions.

      Anyways, just fun tips that work well for me, let me tell you!

  3. Ok – I LOVE this article and I think you make an excellent point. We need to find the “why” behind the money rather than thinking about the money itself. Great article!

  4. I find that I am more successful at saving when I’m working towards a goal, say, a vacation to Yellowstone. I was able to see where the money was going to and it was definitely more motivating than simply saving for an ambiguous goal. Yet, I still don’t practice this as often as I should. Thanks for the reminder!

  5. >”Or that you could sock away your child’s entire education fund in one fell swoop.”

    $25,000 as the entire education fund. Oooooh, that makes me want to move to Canada!

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