6 Common Motivations for Money Guaranteed to Make You Fail (Hint: You’re Doing At Least One of These)

UPDATED: June 7, 2023
PUBLISHED: August 7, 2015

There are seven common motivations that compel people to exchange their time and energy for money. All of them but one are completely insane.

Pick your current poison:

1. Survival

You need a few pairs of clothes, 200 square feet of shelter per family member and roughly 37 percent of the food you’re currently eating to “survive”—that is it, and that is all. Really you don’t even need motivation to get survival money. Do you own a cell phone? Congratulations. You’re officially an imperial space alien from another dimension compared to your great grandparents. If you could travel back in time to surprise them, they’d probably freak out and worship you once they saw all your stuff.

Survival shmurvival. Nobody just survives anymore—no one with Internet access to read this article anyway.

2. To have a lot of money

No lie, I know people who work themselves into illness trying to get money just to have a lot of money for money’s sake. They don’t even buy nice stuff or go anywhere. They just count it. Millionaire Next Door types. All of them need psychotherapy and Jesus.

I mean it’s not even real money…. It’s pieces of paper representing debt. Maybe if it was gold and silver I could reduce their sentence to just “Jesus” and skip the psychotherapy, but… it’s not. Off to the shrink they go.

Money is stupid in and of itself. Why not collect construction paper? At least there’s a bunch of different colors, and you can cut it into fun shapes and stuff.

3. To impress other people

Literally this is the most insane reason I can think of for wanting money. Let me just say this, if this is you (Is this me? should be going through your head as you read this if you’re wise. We always need to be double-checking): As you’re digging your own grave every day in the marketplace frantically trying to fit in with the rich and foolish, just keep this one thought in mind…

No matter what you manage to accomplish, there will always be lots of people that make your level of wealth and fame look like you are the V.P. of the home renter’s association in the projects by way of comparison.

Bought (leased) a Ferrari? Wow. Someone else owns one in every color. And a Bugatti. And a Phantom. And a staff of drivers. And every other car in existence (Jay Leno). And then there’s the actual manufacturers of the cars. And the international bankers that allow the manufacturers to be in existence. I could go on.

Got a big house? Define big. Does it look like these (top 10 biggest houses in the world)?

Slaved over a business and sold it for a few million dollars? Incredible. A 23-year-old kid was just offered 3 billion dollars from Google to buy a phone app that probably took six months to create. He’s not impressed. Carlos Slim, the Mexican Mogul worth $79 billion (richest man in the world), probably thinks the 23 year old’s company is “cute.” You’re not impressing Carlos Slim, man, I hate to break it to you. You’re not even impressing the kid. Or anyone.

Even if you somehow managed to become the richest man in the world, you’re still just an ant eternally speaking. Picture the richest people in the world with the biggest and fanciest cars, houses, jets and yachts. When you wake up on the other side of eternity you are going to see clearly that they were less than the equivalent of a toddler playing with plastic toys. It all means nothing

Does this mean you shouldn’t have nice cars, houses, jets and yachts? Of course not! If life hands them to you, by all means take them. I do. But I sure as heaven don’t give a rat’s crap what anyone thinks about it. I never have, and I never will.

The mistake we make is thinking other people are somehow inherently better than us. They’re not. We’re all equal no matter what we do or own. So for what reason should I want to impress them? That’s like me walking into a class of kindergartners and trying to be the cool kid in class. Kind of.

Listen carefully because you’re going to find this out the moment you achieve your definition of “success”…. No one cares! Not only does no one care about your success, they don’t even care about Slim’s success! The richest man in the world, and no one cares. Guess what they care about? Themselves.

You want to impress someone? Care about them. That is the only way to genuinely shock and impress anyone. The reason? It’s rare. Sad, but true.

4. To be able to party at the highest level possible

Admittedly, I empathize with you on this one. I used to live to party. Monday through Thursday did not even exist to me. But there is no escaping the end of this road. Don’t watch the Wolf of Wall Street because it’s disgusting, but ask someone who saw it what happens. OK fine, I saw it; I’ll tell you. He ended up miserable, divorced, bankrupt and in prison.

Just… party at a lower level or something.

5. Power

Why do people seek external power? Because they have no internal power. Only weak people seek power over other people. And that is why we have the world the way it is… insane. 

Real power comes from within and it needs nothing from anyone. It seeks to give not to take and control.

6. To buy more stuff just to have more stuff

Ever see the A&E reality show Hoarders? Insanity.

7. Freedom (or “options”)

Freedom is the only reasonable motivation for building wealth (in my mind at least).

Freedom to give what you were meant to give, freedom to live how you were meant to live, freedom to go where you want or need to go, freedom to provide properly for your family, freedom to take care of your health preventatively, freedom to enjoy more of the world.

Freedom to surround yourself with beauty. This is one of my personal favorites. I truly appreciate and am inspired by beauty. I always live in waterfront homes for the sake of beauty not vanity. I could drive a Lamborghini if I wanted, but I drive a Fisker Karma (that I got at half price) because I think it’s the most beautiful car in the world. I wear diamond jewelry because I personally like sparkling. I make no excuses for it.

Freedom to _____________________ (fill in the blank with whatever you’re currently not free to do because of a lack of that paper everyone calls “money”).

So again… Why do you want more money? Your answer to that question may determine whether you actually get any or not.

My answer: freedom.

“I have a fantastic relationship with money. I use it to buy my freedom.” – Gianni Versace

What separates the wealthiest among us from the poorest? Habits. Check out 16 rich ones you can, and should, take up to be better off.

Preston Ely is founder and CEO of RealEstateMogul.com, an Inc. magazine "Fastest Growing Company." He has built and sold multiple businesses and was recently voted one of Fast Company's "Most Influential People On The Internet." He makes $0 a year teaching success principles; he makes millions of dollars a year applying them to his own life and businesses. He writes articles for SUCCESS.com for the fun of it. Follow him at PrestonEly.com, on Facebook and on Twitter.