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When your goal is wealth— money, riches, cold-hard cash— the parameters are exactly the same as they are for any other goal. Society wouldn’t have you believe that. Society has drummed into our heads that wanting wealth is a bad thing, one that will drive you to behave in ways that are unethical, corrupt and morally bankrupt.
I disagree. In large part, wanting wealth seems to be key to achieving it. Our research shows that people who stated wealth as an important goal are much more likely to achieve it.
The primary issue is not whether you want wealth. The primary issue is why you want it. What is your motivation for wanting to create wealth?
From my own Roper study of money and happiness (summarized inYou Don’t Have to Be Rich), we know that three-quarters of people believe money means security. Two-thirds believe it means independence and comfort. And one-third of people believe money means happiness. Those different meanings reside in our consciousness and our souls, and they drive our quest for more money.
If we are reaching for wealth because we want to provide stability for our families or the families of those who work for us, that is acceptable. If wealth is a byproduct of creating a business we are passionate about or working hard and doing well at something we truly love, that is perfectly fine. If we have goals of making the world a better place by adding something we believe will be valuable, that is a healthy motive. We are, in all those instances, giving more than we are getting.
What is not so healthy? Wealth as a yardstick. Wealth as a means to impress others or to prove our parents wrong.
"The primary issue is not whether you want wealth. The primary issue is why you want it."
Wanting wealth in that context is not only unhealthy—it will make you miserable. You’ll be in a constant state of anxiety or doubt. Say you want a painting for your wall. Do you buy one that’s famous so you can say to your friends, “I have a Monet?” Or, do you buy one you love based on your own personal judgment and preference? One that puts a smile on your face every time you pass it and sends you out into the world a happier person.
Watch Out for Traps
As you’re reaching for any benchmark or goal, there will be a time when your resolve begins to slip. Chances are this will happen for one of two reasons.
The first is the “What the hell?” effect. Say you have been working to save more money for what seems like ages. In reality, it may have been only 12 weeks. But trust me; it will seem like much longer than that. You zip onto the Web, log in to your online savings account into which you have made monthly transfers of cash—three now. And you will see that you have $606.36. And you say to yourself: “This is nothing. It’s not enough for a new TV. It’s not enough for a vacation. I am not getting anywhere. What the hell? I might as well just spend it.”
The second is the “I deserve it” effect. In a similar example, you will have been working to save money for what seems like ages. You took your $2,400 tax refund, used that as a starter cushion, and have been adding to it to the tune of $200 a month for the last three months. You have $3,000, plus interest, and you’re feeling great. So great, in fact, that you buy a $1,500 new computer on a whim. You tell yourself you deserve it because you’ve been doing so well saving money—not even realizing that you just cut your savings in half.
Excuses, says Ayelet Fishbach of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. People see initial resistance as an excuse to get out before wasting any additional effort. Similarly, they see initial success or partial progress as an excuse to disengage from their goals. The key is knowing how long it will likely take you to reach your goal, and then mapping that progress. Her suggestion: Think about the benchmarks you hit as a way to measure your commitment.
Follow this outline to map out your goals:
- The Goal: (What do you want?)
- The Rationale: (Why do you want this?)
- Total Anticipated Time Commitment:
- Expectations: (How will you feel when you reach this goal? What impact will reaching this goal have on your life?)
- Hurdles: (What do you expect will get in your way of achieving this goal? What sacrifices do you expect you will have to make to reach it?)
- Benchmarks: (The actions you will take to gauge your progress.)
Now you’re ready to map your wealth goals. Seeing your goals mapped on paper will emphasize their seriousness. There may be many benchmarks along the road to meeting your ultimate goal. Benchmarks keep you honest and centered so that you—and everyone you’ve rallied around you—knows where you stand. S
Reprinted from The Difference: How Anyone Can Prosper in Even the Toughest Times, Copyright 2009 by Jean Chatzky. Published by Crown Business, a division of Random House.
Jean Chatzky is the financial editor for NBC’s Today show, a contributing editor for More Magazine, a columnist for the New York Daily News and a contributor to The Oprah Winfrey Show. She is the author of seven books, including the best-seller You Don’t Have to Be Rich.