What’s important about money to you?

Carl Richards is a Certified Financial Planner™ and creator of the Sketch Guy column, appearing weekly in The New York Times since 2010.  The following article is reproduced with permission from his weekly newsletter and his website can be found here.

Greetings, Carl here.

What’s important about money to you?

This is an uncomfortable question because we aren’t used to thinking about money in those terms. But it’s one of my favorite questions to ask.

The purpose of this question isn’t to think in terms of goals. It’s to go deeper than that, to get at the reason for why we have certain goals.

The first answers people come up with are usually easy—things like security and freedom. But once we pause and really think, we can move deeper into what might be called the “why” of money.

This question gets uncomfortable because it forces us to get really clear about our underlying reason for doing things. It also forces us to face some inconsistencies in our lives.

Let me give you an example of how this works.

My friend, who we’ll call Sara, was a hard-charging professional whose career required her to be super competitive. She was “type A” to the hilt and worked long hours. So when I talked to Sara and her husband and asked her this question, I was curious what she would say was most important.

“Freedom,” Sara said, almost instantly.

When I asked her what freedom meant, she replied, “More time.”

So I said, “Okay, let’s pretend you’re there. Let’s say you have more time. What’s so important about being at that spot?”

With some emotion, she said, “I just want the time to raise a child.”


Now, don’t get caught up on Sara’s specific answer. Her values are her own, yours may be completely different. The thing to keep in mind is that, like Sara, once you identify what’s most important to you, things get clearer.

Being able to answer this question gives you a lens through which to view your financial decisions. And after you’ve identified what’s most important, you’ll have incredibly useful information to help you make decisions that match your values.

In fact, it can even make it easy to say no to things that distract you from what’s important. Like Stephen Covey said, “It’s easy to say ‘no!’ when there’s a deeper ‘yes!’ burning inside.”

For Sara, her answer became that “deeper yes.” The same can be true for you. You just have to ask the question.


P.S. As always, if you want to use this sketch, you can buy it here.