How much do you need

In 2011 I graduated from University. A few weeks later I got my first job as a programmer. I was elated. I didn’t think that I would find a job easily. I had graduated at the end of a terrible recession and graduate employment was low. I started on a salary of £16,000 a year. not a lot of money but I didn’t care, I was just happy to have a job doing something that I loved. As time went on and I started to gain skills, I wanted more money. £16,000 is not a lot in London so it was reasonable to want more.

A few raises and job changes later, I was earning a decent salary. I realised that I didn’t need more money but I found myself seeking more. I wanted to climb ‘the ladder’ but if I didn’t need more money then what ladder should I climb?

I thought about inequality. A large proportion of people work all day just to put food on the table, yet the top earners in society have more money than they will ever spend. These people continue to accumulate money as a symbol of their status. They buy things, like watches, cars and houses, as a symbol of their status. I wonder what the world would be like if people didn’t value money, as a status symbol. What if we treated money like we treat calories? In the western world most people can afford to consume as many calories as they want. But people don’t eat 10,000 calories. People eat the same number of calories but get them from better quality foods. Can this logic be applied to money?

Although the analogy is not perfect, I think some parallels can be drawn. After you have enough money to live a comfortable life. Once you’re at the point where you don’t need more, you only want more, money should not be the primary motivator. Like the food analogy you should aim to earn your money in a more high quality, meaningful way. Rather than trying to get as much money as possible.

This is all very abstract. Here is a real world example, to put this into context. Many people who work for large organisations are, at some point, faced with the choice to move into management. Many of these people are skilled and have a passion for their craft (programmers, designers, doctors, engineers, scientists, teachers). Imagine that pay was not higher for management jobs. Would so many people do it? I don’t know the answer to this and I only have anecdotal evidence but it seems to me that a significant percentage do it just for the money.

Assuming that my assumption is true, even if its only a small proportion of people, then its interesting to know why. Most of these people already make enough money. Relative to the rest of the world, they are very comfortable. I postulate that many people do it because they want the feeling of progression. They want to do better than they were doing last year. They want more.

Perhaps my view will change as I get older and my priorities change. Right now, I’m trying to earn money doing things that I’m passionate about rather than mindlessly climbing the ladder to earn more money that I don’t really need.