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This is a Dollar

October 12, 2022

One of the most famous moments in NFL history came at the beginning of the Green Bay Packers’ training camp in 1961.  Coach Lombardi, the greatest coach of all time, stood up in front of his group of professional football players at the beginning of camp.  No doubt they expected to hear wisdom and genius from one of the greatest football minds ever.  Instead, he held up a football in his right hand and said, “Gentlemen, this is a football!”  He spent the next several days of camp going over the basics of tackling, throwing, catching, etc.

Coach Lombardi chose at that moment to focus on the fundamentals – the basic rules techniques of a game they all knew well.  That focus on fundamentals led to 5 championships in 7 years.

When it comes to finance, we must focus on the fundamentals!  Most of us learn very little, if anything, about money or how to manage it in school.  No wonder we all make so many mistakes and get into so much trouble along the way!  

So, Ladies and gentlemen, this is a dollar!

It’s about 2 inches tall and about 5 inches wide.  We call it a paper dollar, but it isn’t actually made of paper.  It’s made of a mixture of cotton and flax fibers, manufactured in Dalton, MA by the Crane Paper Company, the only company contracted by the US Government to create the paper the dollar is printed on.

On the front of the dollar is a portrait of George Washington, our first president.  On the back is an image of a pyramid, a symbol of solidity and consistency.  At the top of the pyramid is the “all-seeing eye” of providence watching over the people.  The pyramid is unfinished, symbolizing that the United States is an unfinished product, and will continue to develop and grow.  Opposite the pyramid is the seal of the US, with a bald eagle clutching an olive branch in one claw, signaling a desire for peace, and arrows in the other, signaling a willingness to go to war if necessary to protect the rights of its citizens.

This, of course, is just the physical form of a dollar.  Far more dollars are transmitted electronically these days than could ever be printed into physical dollars.

What is a dollar really?

The dollar itself is a work of art, developed over many years.  But what is it really?  What does it represent?  Why has it become such a useful tool in our world today?  After all, it’s just a piece of paper.  It doesn’t do anything by itself.

Money is nothing more than highly portable, stored, or potential, economic energy.  Money is only useful as a tool to do something else.  It does me no good unless I exchange it for something I value. 

Money is the Root of All Evil

The bible is often misquoted as saying that “money is the root of all evil.”  The actual quote is “the love of money is the root of all evil.”  Money in itself causes no problems at all. In fact, it made it easier for men and women to specialize in their chosen form of business, since they could accept payment for goods and services in money, then take that money to another businessperson to exchange it for goods and services they needed.  Employees could exchange their labor for an easily transportable item, which could be used to provide for their needs and those of their loved ones.  Money as currency greatly enhanced individual liberty, and the rise of greater individual rights politically.

Can’t Buy Me Love!

Sometimes we unwisely think money is an end in and of itself, that if we accumulate a lot of it we will be happy.  But having a lot of money doesn’t make us happy.  It just sits there, doing nothing, until we tell it what to do.  It might help us feel a modicum of safety or security, but safety isn’t happiness, its just the absence of uncertainty.  Happiness is much more than that.  If we hold onto the mindset that money will make us happy, we’ll just continue to pursue it, without ever finding what we are looking for.  We are afraid to spend it, lest we be less happy.  We become miserable misers, hurting those around us, cheating them, and looking for happiness in a place it can never be found.

Ultimately, it’s your money, you can use it for whatever you want.  But remember, how you use your money is a manifestation of your values.  Money will simply amplify who you truly are.  If you are greedy and miserly, money will make you greedier and more miserly.  If you love to serve others, money will expand your capacity to do that.  If you love to experience culture, money can allow you to travel and meet new people in new places.   

So, if we wish to find personal happiness, let’s use money to live our values.  Your values are the things that you care about so much that you are willing to use your stored economic energy on it.  If you aren’t quite to the point, you can do that, then build wealth with the goal of doing so in the future, and the journey will be just as fulfilling as the destination.

That is the purpose of money – to live a more fulfilled life now and in the future.