Taking a Look at What Money Means to You

  • People have different relationships and emotions around money, even if they are not conscious of them
  • What money means to you should be taken into account when making career decisions
  • Consider what money represents to you and how that has affected, and will impact, your choices

You can identify your relationship with money and have a positive effect on your professional and personal decision-making.

Money is an important aspect of life, but it means different things to different people. Lawyers have a reputation for not always being comfortable dealing with their own finances, and often for good reason: While most young people start earning money, paying off college loans, and saving after four years of college, lawyers are still in school and racking up debt. They then graduate and start their employment with very high salaries to play with and years of debt payments to slog through—often with little experience budgeting (beyond being a perpetually broke law student), saving, and planning for the future. Add a busy schedule to the mix and you have a recipe for ignoring things like saving for retirement while spending too much in what little free time they do have.

In addition, after so many years of having no money while getting that law degree, a high salary can feel like the most important factor when choosing a firm, with other details taking a back seat when career decisions are being made.

What Does Money Represent For You?

In order to know what approach to financial management will work best for you, you need to think about your relationship with money—what are your emotions around it? What negative and positive associations do you have (mostly stemming from your family situation and childhood experiences with how the adults around you related to money)? Sure, money is a means to an end, but it has layers of meaning for each of us, and we’re not always conscious of the emotional drivers behind our decisions. This is true no matter how analytical and deliberate we may be in our working lives.

Money can represent security, power, love, stress, anxiety, happiness.

What’s the first word that pops into your mind when think about what money means to you?

How You View Money Affects Your Decisions

If you are most driven by security—you are not only interested in a high salary, but also opportunities to grow and advance within the firm, as well as a robust benefits package that will allow you to save for an early, active retirement and have enough money set aside for future medical needs—you may make different decisions than if you primarily view money as a way to show love to those you are close to. If thinking about money and financial planning causes you anxiety, your decisions will be colored by your fear and discomfort; you may procrastinate when you should act, or make rash decisions without properly considering the necessary details.

Does money represent the freedom to work on the kinds of cases you’re passionate about? You may be fine with starting out at a large, high-paying firm for a few years while living frugally, paying off debts, and amassing savings, then transitioning to a smaller firm that might not give the largest bonuses and salary jumps every year. That kind of strategy can only work if you’re cognizant and honest about what money really means to you.