What Is the Real Purpose of Money?

We were on a winter trip a few years ago and I was talking to the thirtysomething driver of the shuttle taking us to the ski slopes. He was a college graduate who spent his winters driving a van and skiing and his summers working at the national parks. He said his parents were putting pressure on him to do something with his life. I told him that my clients work their whole lives to do what he was doing now.

"When people make enough money to meet their needs, they just find new things to need and new lifestyles to aspire to; they never quite manage to keep up with the Joneses, because whenever they're in danger of getting close, they nominate new and better Joneses with whom to try to keep up," writes Oliver Burkeman in his book "Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals." Money can't make you happy, but if used appropriately, it can make you happier.

We spend a lot of time in conversation with clients about the purpose of their money. The essence of sound financial planning is trying to get clarity around what is most important to them and why, and then monitoring and recalibrating. We all get off track at times, either holding too tight to what we have or mindlessly letting it slip through our fingers.

It is not worth comparing because you can't know what someone really has or how happy something makes someone. Focus on what matters most to you.

People who are afraid of money are imagining what hasn't happened yet. Look at how things are now and make your next best decision.

Don't punish yourself for your money decisions that turned out poorly, but don't ignore them, either. Every money decision we make has an expectation attached to it. We can only know after the fact whether what we thought we would experience actually happened.

Evaluate your discomfort. Sometimes it is a habit, and sometimes it is a signal that you are doing something you may not want to be doing.

The shuttle driver was happy with his life; it just didn't match what others expected from him. Did they really know better?

Related: The Must-Dos for Retirement Planning, Including a Medical Directive and Adhering to New IRA Rules