Dad, why do people worry about money?

November 13, 2023

“Dad, why do people worry about money”?

That was the question posed by my 7-year-old son on Sunday morning as we were leaving for church. 

“Geez, I haven’t even had my coffee yet, go easy on me buddy,” was my first thought. My next thought was to just shrug it off and give some ho-hum answer like “I don’t know” and move on. I’m sorry to say, I’m guilty of this kind of response more often than I realize or care to admit. Fortunately, on this morning, I decided to lean into this parenting and coaching moment. Especially, since my 9-year-old was also in the car listening in. 

I asked him to repeat the question and asked, “Why are you asking?” to make sure I understood the context in which he was asking it, being careful that I was not walking into a 7-year-old landmine. As usual, he repeated the question without sharing an ounce of additional context. “I just want to know”, is about all I got. 

Big gulp of coffee. Lord help me. Here goes…

“Well buddy, some people worry about money because they don’t have enough to take care of their basic needs. Like a car, a place to live, or food to eat. Sometimes that is no fault of their own, and sometimes that is a result of bad decisions they have made.” 

“What kind of decisions, Dad?”

“Well, buddy, we will tackle that another day, but just know that it’s important to make good decisions”. Back to the talk… “Some people worry about money even when they have enough of it. Sometimes we can forget that money or the stuff that it buys isn’t really ours to begin with. They are gifts from God and it’s our job to be good stewards of them. Someday, even our house and the land we live on will be someone else’s… 

Money is what allows us to do fun things and buy our toys, but those things won’t always make us happy. It’s our responsibility to use any extra money we have to do good things. It’s also our responsibility, if we can, to produce more money with the money we have. If we have gifts and abilities, we shouldn’t waste them.” 

Assuming I’m on the verge of losing him, I attempt to sum it up… “It’s okay to think about money because it’s a part of life and we need to make smart decisions about it. It’s okay to buy some fun things with our money, but we shouldn’t make the money or the things we buy our God. We need to try to do as much good with it as we can. Everyone’s situation is different when it comes to money, so it’s not nice to talk about it with others. Does that make sense, buddy?” I got a basic nod. Certainly not the energetic validation one would hope for after doing your best to really nail the parent-coaching moment, but a nod will have to do. 

Sometime while in Mass that morning, my mind drifted off to that conversation as if a higher power were speaking directly to me, “Why do you worry about money?” Perhaps something or someone was speaking through my 7-year-old’s innocent voice this morning. 

I reflected on that for a while and took an inventory of consciousness on where I stand with that question. Answer: not where I want to be. I know, shocker. I also thought about the ways the question applies to us as business leaders. We don’t want our people to “worry” about money. So what is our role and responsibility with this? Below are a few basic thoughts that came to mind: 

  • It is our responsibility to pay a “fair + just wage”. At a minimum, we must ensure that the wages we pay allow our team members to fulfill their basic needs. In order to accomplish this, it is our responsibility as leaders to develop and maintain a business model that supports the economics of such pay. Despite what some folks in Washington seem to believe, the merry-go-round won’t keep spinning without that important fact. If you are flipping burgers, “fair + just” might be considerably different than if you are setting steel 15 stories in the air. 
  • It is our responsibility to provide our team members with tools, coaching, and resources to make good decisions about money. I’m struck by how much these basic skills are lacking today, and I’m so thankful I grew up in a household that instilled it early and often. If you live in the U.S. and you are gainfully employed, you are automatically in the top 1% of wage earners in the entire world. Once you put that into perspective, we quickly realize that what we do with the money is much more important than how much we make. Additionally, we have a responsibility to help our team members find meaning and purpose in their work beyond money. If we can do this, they are less likely to seek their happiness and fulfillment in material things. 
  • And perhaps, most importantly of all, it is our responsibility as leaders to approach money (or profits in the context of business) with the proper disposition. If we are consumed with worry, then naturally those around us will worry as well. Instead, we must see it for what it is: a tool, a necessary resource, or a means to a greater end. This is the most difficult of all. Perhaps it’s not a problem we will ever solve, but rather a tension we will manage. I cling to that hope. 

As leaders, if we can work to do these three things, then we might influence the way others think about money as well. And just maybe, “worry” a little less. 

To my 7-year-old son, Mason, 

Keep asking great questions. 

Love, Dad