Money fucks us up. It fuels our external journeys, but it distracts us from our internal ones. We’ve forgotten how to access mental security because it’s so much easier to buy the cheap material substitute. We want self-improvement, but self-deception is so much shinier, and it’s always on sale.
There are three things you can do with money – spend it, save it, and invest it. We reliably do all of them not only worse than we could, but in a way that compounds stressful thoughts, rather than eases them. The causes of this run deep. They’re woven into the seams of our societies and mapped inside our brains. Being wiser with money is about far more than efficient and effective saving, spending or investing. It goes to the root of our sense of and understanding of our ourselves.
Some think a certain level of money whitewashes these problems out of existence, or at least out of consciousness; out of sight, out of mind. My job was to be in these minds, and I promise you their problems were far from out of sight. Others believe problems go away if you denounce them. Yet calling money evil doesn’t absolve you from your attachment, it tightens the screws.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Money may be necessary, but its evils are not.
To borrow from Hamlet,[i] there is nothing either good or bad about money, but thinking makes it so. To one it is a prison, to another a paradise.
On its own, money is meaningless. It is contact with humanity that imbues money with magical powers. Chief among these is its power to change our minds – literally.
Amid the unceasing cultivation of neuronal connections that adapts us to survive and thrive in changing circumstances, our interactions with money trigger paving or pruning of neural pathways like nothing else.
Because it runs through everything we do, money is the best place to focus whatever energy we can muster for behaviour change. Embedded in our lives means embedded in our brains, whether we like it or not. Few things excite our emotions like money, yet because we pretend we become robots in our dealings with it, we get a distorted view of money, ourselves, and how the two interact.
The relationship we each have with money – that is both shaped by and in return shapes our mental maps – is under our control. This is excellent news. For it means money messes us up only when we choose to let it.
We can, if we choose to:
free up time, energy, and money itself, and increase the quality of everyday life, simply by changing how we think and act with money;
align our uses of money (what we care for) with what matters most to us (what we care about);
see money as a source of comfort and confidence, not as complicated and scary;
learn how to spend our money to make life better, rather than simply more expensive;
learn how to see savings as a sign of self-love, rather than self-deprivation; and
learn how to reap the rewards of investing without needing a crystal ball or a maths degree.
In short, we can go from being fucked up to flourishing. From relying on beliefs to seeing more clearly. And we can do it all without equivocation or fortune-cookie claptrap that overuses the word ‘abundance’ and overlooks how to engender real change.
In addition, this book will help you understand all you need to know about the weird world of financial advice, including how to spot a good adviser from one that looks even better but is giving you a hug only to distract you from your pockets being picked. And why the adviser you think is the best for you could well be the worst.
The journey towards financial enlightenment begins with philosophy. You can sort your finances ‘perfectly’, but without getting your philosophy sorted first, you may be less fucked up, but you’ll be far from flourishing.
Fertilising our neural soil with philosophy allows us to nurture an all-weather wisdom that transforms how we think, feel, and act with money, that strengthens us from the inside out, and that makes the right call the effortless one, forever more.
This is wisdom in the sense described by historian Will Durant: ‘an application of experience to present problems, a view of the part in the light of the whole, a perspective of the moment in the vista of years past and years to come.’[ii]
For millennia, wise minds, from ancient philosophers to present-day neuroscientists, have mused about our relationship with money. Along the journey of this book, we will borrow their wisdom, internalise it, and forge it into a practical toolkit for revolutionising that relationship.
 There are innumerable ways to categorise what we do, of course. This model is the best for our purposes. If you’re wondering where ‘give it away’ fits in, it’s in all three, but mostly spending, for, as we’ll see later, it’s a fundamental means of allocating your resources towards living a Good Life.
[i] Allusion to William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 2 Scene 2
[ii] Will Durant, Fallen Leaves