Photo of the world's most expensive candle courtesy of Lisa Yarost.
One of the classes I took for my graduate degree in education was a class on Inclusion. This class focused on teaching us strategies on how to include special needs children in mainstream classrooms. For me, the highlight of this class was a stress-inducing workbook that offered such gems as:
Alex is a first-year math teacher. His fifth period class includes Jackson, a little boy with severe Autism, who regularly bangs his head on the desk hard enough to draw blood. Jackson's aide is unable to be in the classroom that period because she is helping another child with severe physical difficulties to eat lunch. Alex cannot get the class to focus because of Jackson's behavior and he does not know how to communicate with Jackson or help him calm down. What should Alex do?
The workbook would then provide about 20 lines to fill in your ideas for how to react in such a situation. Since my answers ranged from "Heck if I know" to "Start bringing a flask to work" to "Quit!" I felt I did not need nearly the amount of space the workbook provided me.
I mention those stress-inducing hypothetical situations that I encountered years ago because they remind me of some of the comments I occasionally receive on various blog posts I write for the greater Internet. I will sometimes receive a comment asking for advice in an untenable situation--like how to save money when the family makes a combined $40,000 per year and $6,000 of it goes to child support for kids of a previous marriage and the emergency fund is always wiped out by an emergency whenever it reaches more than a grand and so on and so forth.
Whenever I read these types of comments, I realize the stress I felt over the hypothetical situations in my education workbook was NOTHING compared to this. I knew that the hypothetical Alex had lots of options, and he was, ultimately, fictional. The people who are desperate enough to ask for help in the comments section on a 500 word article on saving money for retirement are real, and I feel even more helpless in the face of their enormous problems than I did when poor Alex was fictionally cleaning up bloodstains before his 6th period class shuffled in every day.
These types of comments also remind me of how lucky I am. There have been many times when I have reminded J (and others) that money is a tool. It's not magic, nor is it The Answer. It's just a tool.
Except, that attitude reflects the fact that I have never been desperate about money. If I didn't have enough money to live comfortably, money would represent security, a life of ease, and even power. Because in addition to being a tool, money is also all of those things.
But it's hard to remember that when you take your security, comfort, and power for granted. I have never had to worry about where my next meal would come from, or even if I would be able to pay all of my bills. So I've always been able to think about money as a tool, rather than as the answer to my problems or the thing standing between me and a life I want to live.
That does not mean I will stop regarding money as a tool. It is the means by which I make the life choices I want, and since I am not destitute, I can use it that way. I see money as a tool that I can choose to use or not and make the decisions that will build the life that most closely resembles my ideal. In my own personal situation, I feel like that is the most rational way to view money. But is that really what money is for?
For someone who has none, money can be comfort and ease, and the source of bitterness and resentment.
For someone who has a lot, money can be power and the ability to distance yourself from discomfort.
For someone who has trouble managing money, money can be a temptation.
For someone who is tight-fisted, money can be a precious commodity that must be held close.
It's so odd that money represents so many different things to different people. Depending on how much you have and what you habitually do with your money, your view of money can be dramatically different from anyone else's. Which, I suppose, is why money is so often the cause of arguments from the international down to the household level.
Of course, all of this is also why I have a job. If money were simple, there would hardly be enough for a personal finance blogger to talk about.
But, as stressful as they are, I am glad to have occasional reminders from my readers that my view of money is skewed by my relative privilege. Yes, money may be a tool for me to use. But others may work their entire lives just to reach the point that I think of as a rational view of money. J and I live a life wherein deciding whether our money is best spent on this repair or that one is a tough conversation, but not one that will ultimately affect our ability to live comfortably. I may strive to be rational about my money, but for many, money must be emotional because the lack of it is so limiting.
I'm very glad that I have not experienced that, but I hope to never forget that it is the reality for many people in my town, my state, my country, my world.
What do you think money is for? Is striving for a rational view of money a reasonable thing to do?