Could Your Dream Survive Without Money?

Would the world be a better place with no money?

Last week’s post, Would The World Be a Better Place if There Was No Such Thing As Money found me asking myself whether my world would be a better place without money. In today’s installment of my Dream Quest for Personal Finance Mastery, I think I have an answer. It may not be the answer any of us were expecting.

Granted, not having money leads to miseries like hunger, homelessness, and hopelessness.

Rest assured, therefore, that I seek not the demise of the monetary system. Nor am I going to go all ascetic on you and give all my money away and live in a hovel wearing sack cloth and eating weeds.

I like money.

I’m glad I have it, especially when I do have it. I am grateful that I live in a place where it seems to people in most other places in the world as though money actually COULD grow on trees.

But here’s the thing. Money is a convenience. Like all conveniences, it makes life so much easier. And, also like all conveniences, making something easier can mean something is lost.

Before money was invented, people had what they had, and that was all they had. If they could kill a musk ox, they had musk ox to eat until the musk ox went south on them and started to make them sick. Then they had waste, and unsated hunger.

It eventually dawned on a couple of these early people that perhaps they could barter. The ones who had the musk ox would trade part of it with the ones who had the nuts and berries. Less waste, better nutrition, and a small leap forward in terms of quality of life.

Bartering led to diverse communities. A farmer with 1200 bags of grain could use it to get whatever else his family needed: calico for clothing, horses for transportation and work, tallow for candles and fat for soap, not to mention the lumber for a roof over their heads.

In the way of all things, time passed, life got more complex, and bartering got to be inconvenient – damned inconvenient. Really, how long could you drag around a wagonload of grain in search of all the commodities you need before you’d start to seriously ponder if there ought to be a better way?

Enter money – an easier way to trade. Money started as a way to store and represent value so you didn’t have to haul the goods with you all over creation. My sack of grain is worth $20, and I can use the smaller, lighter, more foldable $20 to buy $20 worth of your calico.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

So what’s lost? For me, the answer is consciousness of value.

If I were hauling that wagon load of grain around behind me while doing my shopping, I would have a hard time forgetting all the hours it took me to plant, nourish, and harvest it. I would be hauling the very weight of those hours with me.

I would not be able to forget that this wagon load of grain represents all I have to trade, so I’d better be conscious of what I’m trading it for.

In short, if I were hauling a wagonload of grain and I ran across a lovely hand-crafted, numbered and limited edition ceramic coffee mug, I would look at the price tag (which would no doubt say something like, “2 bags of grain”), and I would make a conscious decision about whether my 2 bags of grain, and all they cost me to produce, make a fair trade.

I would be conscious of value. I would, in other words, think twice. Possibly I would think a good 8 or 10 times, and occasionally I’d say no.

Money, you see – the convenience of it, the lightness of it, the sheer ubiquity of it in all its forms – does not prompt consciousness of value in me. Quite to the contrary, money shields me from thinking about what $15 means in terms of my effort, my values, and my personal production. And that’s why I spend it like it was going out of style.

My dad used to say, whenever one of us asked for money: “You kids don’t know the value of a dollar.” Of course, we did actually know the value. We knew that a dollar was worth exactly 100 pieces of Double Bubble, or 20 boxes of Milk Duds. (Shut up. It was the olden days, ok?)

But that’s not what he meant. He meant we did not know what that dollar cost him in terms of late nights and early mornings, his struggle to put himself through college, and his hard work to keep four kids and a wife clothed and fed.

He was right. We didn’t know. But don’t tell him I said so.

So, how about you, World of Dreamers? Care to join me in pretending we live in a world where we carry around our effort and investment instead of some empty snippets of paper and jingling charms? Would the world be better if there were no money?

Leave a comment. I’ll trade you a sack of grain.

Jayne

Jayne Speich is a small business coach/consultant who writes, thinks, and coaches extensively on customer service, business finance, and ways to thrive in the new economy. You can find her at theselfreliantentrepreneur.com. Jayne’s post day is Saturday.

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  • Catherine Hughes, Editor & Chief

    I think it is interesting that your dad told you that, “You kids don’t know the value of a dollar” and here you are deciding to change your financial compass. I think what adults say to us when we are children can have a great influence on us when we grow up . . . “an adult said that about me, there fore it must be true . . .” Children learn their first lessons about self-esteem from their parents and children look to parents and other important adults for evidence that they’re lovable, smart, capable, etc. If they don’t get this evidence, low self-esteem develops. So maybe you picked up on what your dad said and on some level believed that it was true. . .?

    Such an interesting subject that we all can learn so much from!

    Cath

    • Jayne Speich, Financial Assistance

      Spoken like a parent, Cath – Realizing how much really did sink in from our own parents certainly makes for more conscious parenting, ourselves…
      I think I have been in long-term rebellion from my Dad, actually. He knew the value of every single dollar and had no problem telling me about it. My rebellion has been (until now) not to recognize the value of a dollar!

      Jayne

  • Remy G

    Jayne thank you so much for writing this – and for how you are approaching this whole topic with such straight forward yet sometimes stingingly painful speak. My second husband was a financial ‘guy’ and was totally frustrated with me that I didn’t see things with his same eye – and although he wasn’t as eloquent as you – this is what he was talking about. I remember the AhHA I got when we did an experiment and for 3 months used actual cash to buy things instead of our atm card or credit….we took money out of the bank in 10 dollar increments and put them in different envelopes and used it for grocery shopping, gas, entertainment etc… talk about paying attention at a different level! So Glad you are a part of the dream team…xox Rem

    • Jayne Speich, Financial Assistance

      Thanks for the comment, Remy. That’s envelope budgeting, that you and your ex were doing, and it’s something I have been trying to make a habit but without much success so far. It’s interesting to experience that feeling of “having money” in terms of, there is a positive balance in the bank, but not really “having money” in terms of, that money is committed to something so you can’t spend it!

      jayne