While out on *paternity leave*, my wife DM’ed an article from The Cut titled “How Much Money Means You Don’t Have to Worry?” by Caragh Poh. Poh pens a captivating story about what it was like growing up in a lower-middle class family, knowing that she was not necessarily poor, but at the same time, she never had enough to be comfortable.
I particularly enjoyed how she touched on many of the universal themes surrounding personal finance such as guilt, judgement, wealth disparity, status signaling and competitiveness among peers. It also broke through the lingering stigma of openly talking about money, which is critical to spreading financial literacy. It’s worth checking out.
More importantly, however, is how her story reminds us that our childhood experiences greatly impact our relationship with money. For her, it resulted in creating a superficial goal of making $100,000/year. It’s a number she believed would have solved most of her family’s financial problems growing up, as well as her own as an adult.
In the end, though, Poh concludes that making $100,000 wouldn’t help her breathe any easier. She goes on to admit that all she really wants is enough money to never have to worry about having or making it. She ultimately questions if such an amount even exists.
Well, I can confidently tell her that it doesn’t. Money itself can never be the goal, because money is what brings to goals to life. It’s the means - not the end. Full stop. So, for anyone in her position, as long as the goal is making a certain amount of money, they will always be worried and forever disappointed.
People typically choose money as a goal, because establishing real goals is very hard. Discovering what you really want for yourself, especially at a young age, requires you to know yourself well enough to fearlessly walk down a path unafraid of what others might think. It requires experience and maturity, both of which don’t happen overnight.
It seems this understanding is lost among parents, especially. I know many of my peers were subject to the high expectations of our parents who, at the very best, wanted us to do better than them and, at the very worst, needed to signal they’ve succeeded as parents. While these hopes are not mutually exclusive of one another, they nudged us down paths of our parents’ choosing, not ours. Their goals, not ours.
Perhaps, in some way, this helps explain the recent college admissions scandal and why some parents are willing to take extreme and illegal measures to ensure that their little darlings “make it” out here in the real world. The decision is justified by being something that’s viewed as both “good” for the child and for the parent’s image. A convenient two birds, one stone situation.
Yet, very little of this has to do with helping kids figure out what they want to do so that they can lead both productive and fulfilling lives. In reality, it’s selfish, because these actions could rob children of their ability to identify and achieve their goals.
Without the right goals, we become forever stuck in a purgatory of survival mode, earning enough to stay alive but never enough to live. We make excuses to spend without consequence, save nothing and fail to invest. Personal finance becomes, for all intents and purposes, meaningless. We end up drifting through life with regret, and maybe even resentment for the parents who guided us there.
This post originally appeared on my blog.