The Things Money Can’t Buy, and a Few Things It Can

“Can’t buy me love.” Who hasn’t heard that before? But there are plenty of things money can’t buy, and even a few things money can “buy.” First, let’s get the negatives out of the way and look at the things money can’t buy.

String of Hearts by aussiegal on Flickr

Money Can’t Buy…

Love. At least not true love. True love is not for sale, not for any price. It is the deepest of human connections and is invaluable. However, money can be an instrument to show your love for another. You can give money freely to those in need, without expectation of repayment. You can use money to provide shelter for those you love. But if you think you can flash cash and stuff money can buy to find love, you will live a lonely life.

Happiness. Back when I was broke, I made a connection between my emotions and my spending pattern. I was an emotional shopper. When I was sad, I bought something. When I was happy, I bought something. Hey, at least I was consistent!

Spending money in an effort to influence our own emotions just doesn’t work because dollar bills are just band-aids. We have to identify the real reasons we are sad and do what we can, within our power, to turn those emotions around. Buying video games does not work. I can tell you from experience.

Contentment. All the money in the world isn’t enough to satisfy an insatiable appetite for stuff. Have you ever seen those lottery winner documentaries on television? You know, the ones where the auto mechanic wins the lottery and all he ever wanted was to own his own home. So he buys a home…a huge one, and suddenly has an urge to fill that home with 18th century gold statues and other seemingly ridiculous collections.

On the other hand, if we are content, no amount of money can influence our spending. If we are happy with our current home, why buy a new one? Never been interested in expensive jewlery? Why start hoarding it after a big windfall?

Respect. I have no more respect for the guy driving a Mercedes than the guy driving an old station wagon. In fact, because I’m wired the way I am, I have more respect for the guy driving that station wagon. This reminds me of a story about my old doctor in the town I used to live in. He had a large practice and I assumed he made very good money (and I’m sure he did). I already respected the guy, but one day my wife and I saw him and his family out and about. They were driving a late model family station wagon–I think it was a Ford.

Then I began to notice he wore the same clothes I did, shopped at the same stores I did, and basically looked nothing like most doctors I knew. He lived in a modest home, mowed his own grass, changed his own oil, and basically lived a frugal lifestyle. I later learned that he spent his money on travel – doing medical mission work. I sure miss that guy!

Money Can Buy…

Options. I spent the better part of my 20s in a dead-end job. Why? Well, for a lot of reasons. My wife and I married young, had our first child young, and because I wasted a good bit of time in college the first go around, I had little in the way of education or professional experience. When I did land a decent-paying job, I certainly had to hang on to it. After all, I was a husband and father, and owner of a small pile of debt from school and years of frivolous spending in those newlywed years.

Being debt free, and having a solid emergency fund, means you have options. I like to say that my BS-tolerance has gone way down since becoming debt free. If I find a job absolutely untenable, I can find a new one. If we decide we don’t like the town we live in, we can move. I would have loved to have the same freedom ten years ago.

Peace. It’s been said that there is no softer pillow in the world than having money in the bank. When we were deep in debt, I counted credit card payments instead of sheep. I literally stayed awake at night poring over Excel spreadsheets listing our debts, projecting when we may get out of debt, and imagining what like must feel like without payments.

Now, I can rest easy, knowing we no longer have credit card debt. Knowing we can tackle a small-to-medium emergency without skipping a beat. Knowing we are saving for our future, and for our children. To borrow a line from my old credit card pals, that my friends, is priceless.

*This article was featured in the Carnival of Money Stories: Independence Day Edition hosted by Out of Debt Again


  1. Money can’t buy friends. Sure, it can buy people who will hang onto you for the hope of being able to mooch a little bit off of you, or because it makes them feel important.
    What it can’t buy are the true friends who’ll stick by you through good times and bad. Those kind of friends have no dollar value attached to them.
    I totally agree that money can’t buy respect, either. I’ve seen so many people try to validate themselves through what they had, and its always so sad to watch. After all, money isn’t magic. Its just a “ticket” for certain things in life, not life itself.

  2. I couldn’t agree more on having more respect for the guy in the station wagon. I grew up in the ‘station wagon’ family, and I couldn’t stand the kids that felt they were somehow superior based on the house they lived in or the car their parents drove. That same feeling has carried through into adulthood. I give a thumbs up to the guy in the old car. I have no need for prestige.

    I think money can ‘buy’ different things for different people. I am not an emotional spender at all. Money does actually buy me contentment. When I am shorter on money that I expected, I have an ‘edge’ to me. When things are smooth sailing financially, it generally makes me pretty darn pleasant. Maybe it isn’t so much the amount of money in the bank but the events that are responsible for ‘smooth sailing’.

    Thought provoking post!

  3. I think the best thing that money can buy is options! I was in the same situation as you were (except for the kid), and hated the fact that I had no option but to put up with whatever I needed to because of my responsibilities and debt!

  4. Money to me is security. But I contend it can buy many of the above things. Money means you can focus energy and time on finding love/deepening bonds, on doing things that deserve respect, on pursuing contentment, and on achieving happiness.

  5. thanks for the post 🙂
    i think it depends on the person’s background , needs and wants. if he has loving relationships, good health….etc but no money then money could buy him happiness

  6. Ok, I’ll play devil’s advocate just to try to stimulate more discussion beyond “too true” and so forth.

    Money can buy two things: resources and services. I think if you posted this on a network frequented by people living in abject poverty they’d laugh and saying “what the (expletive)”? The things money can buy are comforts (physical, some mental, and as you aluded to, some spiritual in the sense of peace).

    Ever since the Beatles sang “Can’t Buy Me Love” heard the same od platitude “Money Can’t Buy Happiness.” A lot of times the people I know who say that are the ones who’ve failed miserably in their financial life, so they latch onto this phrase as an excuse as to why they don’t get back in the saddle and get moving.

    Anyway, I do agree with the stuff in the post, but I’d like to see you push this one a bit further. You started down the road that money can do some goodthings but didn’t go very far. Also, it would be interesting to see if there are some figures at which the “money can’t buy…” is more true than others. For example, at what level of income factored against the cost of living in a given area do people have enough excess money where all of their basic needs are met, most of their “wants” are met (reasonable wants, not necessarily private jets or million dollar wine cellars), and more money truly does not make an emotional difference one way or the other? Does it vary by age, gender, ethnic group, socio-economic family history? How much of their wealth do the financially comfortable donate vs. spend on “luxury” items? Food for future posts!

    • Excellent feedback, Sid. I considered your comment regarding the posting of this in a forum filled with people living in deep poverty. I can imagine their reaction.

      After all, in some places money is simply a tool to buy a bit of rice for tomorrow’s meal, not to be saved for financial security thirty years into the future. Much depends on where we are currently sitting on the old hierarchy of needs.

      We often forget just how lucky we are in many ways, and your comment has certainly stimulated some deeper thought on the subject. Thanks.

  7. I think this post reminds us of what we already know-money buys things, true feelings can’t be bought. While having money makes life easier, so does surrounding yourself with loved ones. Bottom line: be thankful for what you have, live within your means, and remember to invest in your future!
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  8. Confidence is what I got when I realized that I could substain my family for a year or so without a job! Being debt-free is a big step towards accomplishing this feat! As that old saying goes… “It’s all gravy from here” 🙂

    Time to grow and diversify money!!!

  9. I would like to argue that for some people, money can buy happiness.

    I think joy is a more appropriate term to use in your post. Joy, to me, is the feeling that you experience when you walk your daughter down the aisle, when you hold your grandchild for the first time, or when you are with your loved ones. The joys of life are the overwhelmingly positive moments that shape your life and can not be bought or boxed or shipped. Joy cannot be measured by time or cost, but by the lasting affect it can leave on our minds. Joy makes you happy inside, every time you think about it.

    Money can not buy Joy, but happiness is a different story. Happiness is more of a day-to-day, satisfaction derived emotion. If we are satisfied with our lives, we are generally happy people. If I can buy myself a motorcycle to satisfy my want for speed, a painting to satisfy my love for art, or a new house to satisfy my families needs, then money can sure too buy happiness.

    Ask any person living paycheck to paycheck about the most joyous time of their life. And then, follow up by asking them if their heart and soul glows every payday like it did at that time. They may respond with a funny look. But I bet they would say that payday brings them happiness because they can finally go out and get the things to satisfy their everyday needs, wants and desires.

  10. Because money can buy options and give security, I see it as buying happiness and contentment. Seeing as my husband and I are both HUGE on needing financial security, in a way, our mutual fiscal philosophies helped us love each other too, lol…but that’s stretching it a bit. I’ll give you that money can’t buy true love or respect. 🙂

  11. All very true. I think that poverty can make you miserable but there is a limit to what wealth can achieve.

    I’ve known (worked for) business owners that were very wealthy, but they could not take the time for a holiday with their family. Totally mad in my opinion.

  12. I think the best part of the post is how you separated peace and contentment. ALthough I might disagree with this just a bit (maybe it is just the wording) it gives a clear understanding and fine line in what money can and cannot buy.

    In regards to contentment, I think money can buy it depending on the person. If a person is very good at practicing self control and learning to appreciate what he or she has in life, then money can definitely buy content. Money can make a person very comfortable in life knowing that he or she has the basic necessities, no matter what income level they are at.

    Appreciating the things that you have rather than wishing for the unnecessary commodities that you neighbor has is key. I believe the biggest reason people are never satisfied with what they have is because they always compare themselves to others, whether their neighbors, brothers, or co-workers. If you can take out this need to compare, content will definitely come in regards to how much money you have.

    Sorry for the rambling, but with that said, it is easier for the person making more than their neighbors to be content, rather than to be the one making less than everyone else.

    Nonetheless, you have a great insight on what money can buy in one’s life.


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