The Concept Of Money: Unfamiliar, Yet Necessary


It’s been said by many smart people over many years that we ought to teach financial literacy to schoolchildren. As it stands, most all Americans–despite their income–live paycheck to paycheck and spend what they have (or even what they don’t) on liabilities instead of assets.

Recently I wrote about how experiencing the outdoors hearkens back to our species’ past when we lived as one with nature. This week, I’ve been struck by money as a concept–and now a realm–of our lives we’re not born understanding. From a biological-behavioral perspective, this isn’t surprising. Humans didn’t originate with finance as a survival mechanism.

We do, however, experience visceral reactions surrounding money. Last Friday night, I decided to use my Treasure Island Casino $50 certificate I had won this past winter. I entered the building to be drenched by a sea of stimulation: lights, beeps, alcohol and caffeine. There was a country-rock band playing live for diners straight ahead. To the sides were the slots, where folks of all ages stewed in a rush of repetitive activity. The competitive instinct saw groups of men hunched over poker tables. Whatever the game played, many were treasure hunting/hoping, drawn to that car in the lobby or that ever-increasing jackpot amount displayed over a machine.

As a tool for harnessing value–and thus as an exploiter of our instincts–we need to learn how money works (and how we should, in turn, use this tool.) This is a duty of responsible living in a technological modern society.

But who likes to have duties?

Last weekend, I sat down with a friend who is a financial advisor. We added up my student loan and credit card debt and talked about the best way to pay it off.

“Wouldn’t it be easier to not have to worry or think about money?” I thought.

I saw two ways to avoid it: Become filthy rich. Or move to a society where money is less important. I recalled the apparent carefree ways of the villagers in Tanzania. They used money, but it wasn’t a complicated instrument or a significant measure of one’s life.

I also understand the appeal to living a cash-free, commune lifestyle–the ways of which I hope to discover this summer as I travel the US Pacific Northwest.

But the commune lifestyle isn’t for me. And I prefer the prosperity and comforts of developed countries.

I learned to appreciate the financial realm of human existence as the natural outcrop of peoples’ desire to increase wealth, to innovate, to have nice things, and to live a life of comfort, convenience, and entertainment. Thus, we need to familiarize ourselves with debt, savings, budgets, balances, interest rates, investments, (and a favorite of mine these days: virtual currencies). Money is a whole other layer of life created by humans for us to attend to. And in countries like the US, we’d better. This is a price we pay for a better life.


This article was based off of my weekly email to family, friends, and readers–updating them on my projects, offering a message for the week, and sharing responses from the community. If you’d like to join, send me your email at

1 Response

  1. Here are some random thoughts regarding money. I used to have a gambling addiction. A friend and I would spend hours playing the slots. We’d win a little, get to the bonus round like a video game has a bonus. Games were addictive and reminded me of the video games I played on my brother’s Ninetendo (prior to the Ninetendo, games I played on the old Apple 2C that we got in 1986). Now that I have Fibromyalgia, I wouldn’t dare step into a Casino. Bright lights, noise- they hurt! Other random thought: student loans. After college, I thought about AmeriCorp where I could apply for positions like reading tutor and get a stipend along with a certain percent of my student loans being forgiven. If I had gotten a teacher’s license, like I wanted to do (student teaching was fun for two months- long story but I quit) then I could have applied for teach for america where I would teach for two years or so where ever the need was greatest and gotten my loans completely forgiven. As for my loans, I could easily have gotten them completely forgiven due to disability, but I waited until I was certain that I couldn’t work even a part time job. Now I thank God that I did apply and my loans forgiven. By the way: My health crisis never stop. Just when I think things are going well, something else happens.

What say you?