I’ll tell you what money means to me, but what does money mean for you? Think about it.

We all have our own specific relationships with money – some are productive, some stressful, and some ambivalent. Perhaps, like me, you savor seeing your 401(k) contribution settle into your account, or you eagerly look forward to adding up your monthly savings to deposit into your emergency fund. Or maybe, your paycheck seems thin and more fragile every month; the bills pile up and deep down you know you should be investing for your future but the funds always seem to come up short. Eh, maybe you shrug your shoulder, and think, #YOLO! And you have a casual nonchalance towards any money matters whatsoever. In this post, I’ll share two reflections on what money means to me today, helping me to grow in my relationship with it.

First, money is never the end, but only the means. Here, what I mean to say is that money is the channel through which I can full my dreams, my goals and my hopes. I am personally antipathetic to the notion of “keeping up with the Joneses,” and I have never felt like my worth is a function of my wealth and income. But, still money is important. I see money helping to empower me to, first, live the lifestyle I want, and second, to achieve my future goal of financial independence. First, I love socializing with friends and family, going to restaurants to enjoy an evening out, as well as taking in the cultural amenities of the city that I live in (Chicago). When my money is well-budgeted, I can enjoy these life experiences, enriching myself with arts and culture, while at the same time saving for my future self through retirement investing as well as short-term to medium-term saving. Secondly, I want to be financially independent. What does this mean? This means that at some point in the future I will have greater influence on what I want to do with my precious time. With a sound investment portfolio and emergency safety net in place, I will have greater opportunity to do exactly as I envision my life to be. As I continue my journey towards this independence, I’ve found that saving and investing, using credit wisely and growing my net worth has helped to engender more personal self-confidence, and more overall optimism for what’s to come and more resiliency to tackle life’s challenges.

Second, money is a reservoir of good, when used properly. Money has the potential to achieve so much good when used right. There are two ways that I use money for the greater good – philanthropy and investing. First, money allows me to give generously to the charities that I care for, which in turn help to nurture and empower at-risk communities in my local and global community. While I could volunteer my time, which I still do, my time is limited and so my money, which is an extension of me, can do so much greater good when deployed. Second, as a DIY investor, when I invest in the stock market through low-cost index funds I am gaining small slivers of ownership in hundreds of businesses. Do you invest in a S&P 500 index fund? If yes, then you are an owner in all 500 of those companies! The money I invest in those businesses is allocated for new research and product development for a multifaceted range of technology, financial and medical innovations that help to improve the quality of life for all of us.

In my upcoming book on 401(k) investing, I tweak this question, asking you to think about what retirement planning and investing means to you. Yeah, you can save all the money in the world for retirement, but for what purpose? My advice is to take a step back and ponder first what lifestyle and what good you want to achieve in retirement, and then only afterwards begin to work through the step-by-step exercises on knowing how much to save up.

Follow me on Twitter @MatthewKMiller.

Want to learn more? Pick up a copy of my book …

From Millennial to Millionaire: DIY 401(k) – 5 Do-It-Yourself Steps for the Digital Generation to Design and Manage their 401(k) on Amazon.