Weekend Reading: The Survival Instinct of Money

This article appears as part of Casey Weade's Weekend Reading for Retirees series. Every Friday, Casey highlights four hand-picked articles on trending retirement topics and delivers them straight to your email inbox. Get on the list here.
Weekend reading survival instinct of money Weekend reading survival instinct of money
Weekend Reading

Money (more specifically, the thought of not having enough of it) can elicit fear for many reasons, but often, the biggest is due to it triggering a sense of survival.


When dollars dictate: Money is what keeps you sheltered, fed, clothed, etc., however, even when your basic necessities are met, it can still trigger a survival instinct fear that is impossible to shake. As author Lawrence Yeo states, this is due to two reasons:

1) Our attachment to preservation: It is well known in the investment world that you feel far more impact from loss than gain, which explains why preserving what you have also falls in line with your survival instinct. As you familiarize your life with its “contents”, anything that threatens those (shelter, food, etc.) becomes fear-inducing. Attaching yourself to a certain lifestyle you’ve grown accustomed to can even lend itself to becoming your identity, which in return, may also cause you to wonder why your preservation is so important in the first place

2) Our tendency to use growth as a proxy for survival: Money is measurable and trackable, which means it can also be used as a barometer for gauging growth and self-worth. Independent of the necessities it can buy, money is also often tied to social status, reputation and above all, acts as the universal symbol of success. While more money makes some feel powerful, less might also lend to feelings of failure. As a result, an addiction to this growth and measurability of money can also spur the survival instinct to never lose it.

Take the long-view: To turn your survival instincts toward money into more objective feelings, the key is to recognize your cognitive biases. In the end, this can make for a much happier life, and a sense of scarcity might just be part of that.