Money is like a car, and it’s like a car in more than just the obvious ways. The first, most obvious way to compare money to automobiles would be to ask, if my life were a car, what kind would it be? I hate this question because I can’t make myself care about actual cars. You can test this out if you drive me anywhere. When we walk back out to the parking lot, I won’t remember what make or model you drive. Not only that, I won’t even remember what color your car is! I’ll probably remember whether it was a sedan, truck, or van, but other than that, I got nothing. I recognize vehicles by what kind of clutter is hanging around on the floor and seats. That’s another good life metaphor for ya. I travel quite a bit, but the majority of miles I cover do not happen in a car. If I’m not in a plane or on a bus, I’m walking. I say that money is like a car because all it does is help us to get from one place to another.
How can money help you get to where you want to go? That depends on where you want to go, and that raises the question of whether you want to go anywhere at all.
Not everyone does want to go anywhere. This is true in the actual as well as the abstract. Some people loathe traveling. Most people, it transpires, hate change of any sort. Some people are wired in such a way that they feel nostalgia for their old beater cars, even if the rustbucket completely broke down and died and the replacement is a much nicer ride. Gee, I miss having my transmission die and leave me stranded by the side of the road… *sigh* I loved that car…
In those cases, nostalgia comes from the experience of driving the car, of inhabiting it as a sort of auxiliary living room. We love the feeling, or at least the memory of the feeling. The music we played! The feelings of anticipation as we drove toward potential fun! The newfound independence and expanded social opportunities! The way we felt back when we were young, the potential was still mostly unrealized fantasy, and our friends still wanted to hang out. As we get older and more settled, we don’t even feel our relative prosperity. We just notice that once people get into their thirties or older, the invitations to hang out or go to a party or a concert seem to start dwindling. Earning more money, or even just going back to school, can involve a lot of real tradeoffs, mostly in our relationships.
If money is a car, where are we trying to go?
Money can get us to a place of further education. Sometimes that’s a goal in itself, in which case it raises some questions. Living on campus, actually or metaphorically, can be seen as an attempt to sidestep the need for financial transactions (or a vehicle). I remember marveling that I could go days at a time without even thinking about cash, because everything I needed was available on campus. Then the bills started coming due. Future Me (or, actually, Present-Day Me) realizes that the more money I have, the more books and tools and educational opportunities I can afford.
Money can get us into particular neighborhoods. The most significant thing I’ve noticed as I’ve climbed the socioeconomic ladder is that the more money I have, the safer the neighborhood I live in. We can actually have packages delivered while we’re out of town and find them still waiting for us by our front door! The side effect of this is that we rapidly adapt every time we have a lifestyle/neighborhood upgrade. Money removes annoyances more than it adds perks and pleasures. It’s sort of like how driving removes the need to wait at bus stops, although it still includes waiting at stoplights and experiencing every bump and pothole in the road.
Money can help us travel, just like owning a car and having plenty of gas money. Indeed, the more money you have, the farther you can go and the longer you can afford to stay. It turns out that two of the biggest obstacles to travel are being able to take the time off work and, if you have them, paying to have your pets boarded.
Money can fill our time. We can structure our free time around recreational shopping in the same way that we might aimlessly go out for a drive with no destination in mind. In this case, we may be living out the full quota of materialism without any of the benefits of greater earning power.
Money can turn into an identity, just like many people associate their car with their personality. This is another thing I’ve learned as I’ve become more financially prosperous. As far as I can tell, upper-middle-class people spend a great deal of their emotional energy thinking about money. I’ve sat in a hot tub at a five-star hotel listening to another guest rant about food stamps, because yay, that’s exactly what I love to do on vacation. I’ve been subjected to lectures about how I need to learn how to boss my cleaners and landscapers around properly, because otherwise they will “take advantage of me.” (I could have cleaned my own bathroom in less time than one of these conversations dragged on). I’ve been given more advice about which hotels, restaurants, stores, and salons are the best places to spend my money than I even know what to do with. The tenderness with which people list off the specifications of their beloved cars defies description.
Money is at its best when it solves problems. Having a car can solve a lot of problems, like how to carry a bunch of groceries when walking, riding a bike, or taking the bus just won’t cut it. (Having a car can also cause a lot of problems, such as how to pay for new tires or a new transmission when money is tight, two classic examples of how having money makes life easier). So many of our problems and our feelings that we lack options can be solved by the application of more money. “Can’t afford” adequate medical or dental care, educational opportunities, safe neighborhoods, reliable transportation, functional appliances, nutritious food, lifestyle upgrades in general. Being broke is tedious. Money can be like a magic wand or a power tool in its mystical ability to make problems go away.
Many of us associate money with negative traits like greed, or boring other people to death by insisting on such conversational topics as Good Help is So Hard to Find or I Shouldn’t Have to Pay Taxes. It’s helpful when we instead regard money as a means to an end. What is it that we specifically want? A teenager on a bike or a bus usually tends to see a car as FREEDOM made manifest, just something hugely better than the current situation. We don’t have to know exactly where we want to go or what we’ll do when we get there; we can simply focus on that increased power and sense of opportunity that more money can provide.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.