Not Everything Has To Be Measured In Money

I’m always a little surprised at how much everything in our society is measured in terms of money. We measure our worth by our salaries, not by how much we love our work. We measure our remodeling projects by how much we can get back when we sell and not on how much we love the changes. We measure our collections by how much they may bring one day at auction, not by how much we enjoy the things we’re collecting. We look at our hobbies to see if they can become a source of income, not just as pleasures to be enjoyed. Houses are chosen based on their potential to increase in value, not because they are comfortable places to live. It seems as though anything “worthwhile” has to have a high monetary value.

There’s nothing wrong with considering the financial aspects of the choices we make; that’s part of being fiscally responsible. The problem comes when that’s the only yardstick we use to measure our decisions. I was in Home Depot the other day looking at flooring for my bathroom. A couple wandered on to the aisle and started looking at flooring, too. They looked and debated and finally the wife says, “I really love this one,” pointing at a vinyl tile in a strange (to me) pattern. “But this one,” she says pointing at a basic beige ceramic tile, “will be worth more when we sell.” I figured they must be moving soon and were concerned about resale value, but I then overheard the husband, who also liked the first tile, say, “Yeah, but we have to live with it for years. Why not get the one we like?”

They argued back and forth for a while, but eventually they settled on the beige tile. I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before they were back in there buying the patterned one. I have no doubt that the ceramic tile will sell for more than the vinyl, but that’s not the point. The point is that this couple will be in the house for years and have to look at that tile every day. What would have been so wrong with buying the one that they loved? Why was a (far in the future) monetary consideration the most important part of the decision? Who knows? Maybe by the time they sell the strange tile will be in vogue again. I’ve heard similar arguments from people who hate the look of stainless steel appliances and would prefer white or black, but buy stainless because it’s “worth more.” The same goes for granite vs. laminate countertops and carpet vs. wood floors. Many remodeling decisions are made not for love, but because the items will (supposedly) bring in more money at sale time. But yet you opt live with the thing you don’t like in the hope that someday it’ll bring in money? It doesn’t make sense to me.

I’ve also known people who took jobs based solely on the salary and not the work they’d be doing. While that might be necessary if you really needed money, in these cases the people could get by on the smaller salary and often the difference wasn’t much more than a few thousand dollars. What’s so wrong with taking the work you love, since you’ll be living with that decision every day? Why do work you hate for years and years just so you can say you make “X” amount? Wouldn’t your sanity be better served by doing the job you loved?

I knew someone else who collected teddy bears. She loved those bears and then one day she just got rid of them. She had a huge yard sale and the bears that didn’t sell were donated to charity. I asked her why she got rid of the bears. She said, “I didn’t have the space in the house for the bears and the clocks I’ve started collecting. There’s more money to be made when I sell the clocks so the bears had to go. The clocks aren’t as fun, of course,” she added wistfully. I thought it a shame that she let that great collection that she loved go in order to collect something she didn’t love, simply because it might be worth more.

At some point I think you just have to say, “I love this job, this tile, this appliance, or this collection” and let the monetary aspect go hang. Sure, you might not get as much money from the strange tile as you will from the beige tile, but if you walk into your kitchen everyday for ten years and love your floor, isn’t that worth something? You may have to make some sacrifices if you take a lower paying job, but isn’t loving your work or doing meaningful work worth something? Isn’t it worth something to be surrounded by collections that you love and that have meaning for you, rather than being surrounded by things you don’t care about just because they might be worth more money than the things you loved?

Sure, it’s fine and even commendable to think about money, worth, and value when making choices, but sometimes the love of a thing or a job is more important than the monetary worth. Just because something is worth more today, doesn’t mean that it will be later. Those remodels with stainless and granite may not be in vogue in ten years. The clocks may not be worth as much as the bears might have been. The job that pays more may lay you off. The house in the “high value” neighborhood may decline in value when the neighborhood changes. There are no guarantees that the “worth” of something today will remain constant which is why it can be better to choose the thing you love. At least your love of the thing will make you happy if the value of it tanks.

Too many people have stopped doing things for love and started using money as the only indicator of a thing’s worth. That’s a shame because there is something to be said for making choices out of love.

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7 Responses to Not Everything Has To Be Measured In Money

  1. Most things have a price tag. The value is a subjective thing. we buy things because we want them, but we chose which ones mostly by price. It’s reality.

    John DeFlumeri Jr.

  2. Jackie says:

    A friend of mine bought her dream home about 3 years ago. Her plan is to live in this house for the rest of her life, so every choice she and her husband made about finishes and colors came purely from what they liked. Every time they picked a high end finish, their real estate agent told them how well that would do on resale – she had to tell him a few times to stop, that she didn’t care about resale because she wasn’t planning to ever move. She has a lovely house that if they should ever have to move will probably sell easily because of the choices she’s made, but that they still enjoy living in every day.

    I like to watch house hunting shows. Some of these houses have beautiful granite counters, ceramic tile on the floor, etc and the couples buying the houses still tear it out and install something else because it didn’t fit their tastes. I don’t think I’ll go crazy with my choices in my future home, but I’ll always remember that there is no guarantee if I install something just for resale value, that the buyer won’t rip it out to replace it with something taste specific.

  3. Clayton says:

    I believe this condition is a side effect of the American dream of becoming successful and wealthy or keeping up with the Jones’s as many people put it. Being happy with your decisions seems to fall on a thin line between logic and desire. The couple liked one tile and chose the other because of what they thought other people would want which just means they want the most for their money and were willing to decrease their level of happiness to get there. A person has to be convinced there is more to life than money before they will act based on what they love

  4. Mike Bau says:

    Great thoughts with Thanksgiving coming up! I do financial coaching and I often surprise people when I tell them “it’s just money”….some things are more important than their monetary value or “worth”.

  5. Finavigation says:

    Great post.

    As far as career planning goes, I think many people would benefit from the time spent devising a career strategy. Included in that would be defining what it is they value in a career, comparing these to the other things they value, and then acknowledging that there will be some kind of a trade-off.

    For example, if money is most important to you and you’re willing to work long hours and give up time with your family for a few years to be able to spend more time with them later, then there are specific careers you can pursue that have these characteristics.

    If you don’t value the money very much and instead want to have flexibility in your work schedule, then there are specific careers you can pursue that have these characteristics.

    There are all kinds of careers out there, you just have to get your priorities in order and figure out what amount of the things you value are going to make you happy in the long run.

  6. Jennifer,

    Well said, and I agree with you.

    Thank you for writing an inspiring article.

    Jennifer Nelson

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